Nashville-based artist Amelia Garretson-Persans has been supplying Country Life readers with spine-tingling tales and quirky illustrations for more than a year with her snappily titled "Notes From the 422nd Annual Wraiths for Writing Conference." But time is running out for her series — the last of the Wraith Notes is scheduled for next week. Thank God Garretson-Persans has plans to bring the whole series together — read on for details about an exhibit curated by Austin Peay's Paul Collins, as well as a bit of backstory about where the stories come from. And join us next week for the sad farewell to Professor Algernon Dogwood and his ghoulish ilk.
Country Life: Where did the idea for "Wraiths" come from?
Amelia Garretson-Persans: Almost everyone has a ghost story. I'm not great at parties, so for me it's a great conversation propeller. All the stories in "Wraiths" are loosely based on the experiences of friends and family. I liked the format of a literary conference because it can basically be an anthology of all these stories, and also, conferences are funny.
I've always loved the form of the classic written ghost story (usually relayed secondhand to compromise the authenticity of the report, making buildings into characters, and featuring unclear endings). At the turn of the century, when spiritualism gripped the Western world, an incredible body of ghost stories was created by some of the most colossal of literary giants. I like the idea of the ghost story as a literary exercise that these authors submitted themselves to (I imagine a party game where Henry James and Edith Wharton are making up rules like "for this next story one of your characters must be invisible"), but also as something that a lot of the educated nineteenth century world truly believed in. I think that's what makes these stories so great; they're the result of brilliant minds tussling over the strangeness and unknowableness of the universe, a situation that continues to perplex artists and plumbers to this day.
One last thing I like about ghost stories is how conveniently they suit the needs of writing about memory. Like Morel's invention in Adolfo Bioy-Casares' great story, ghosts to me represent a kind of physical manifestation of memory, playing out the same scenes of something terribly tragic or mundane. As a human it's hard to cope with the fact that with every death little things are forgotten. A ghost takes one or two of those little things and makes sure everyone remembers them, even if everything else is lost.
Country Life: Which came first, the text or the art?
Amelia Garretson-Persans: The text and the art were pretty much created simultaneously. Typically, I'd get a germ of an idea for a story, then start scrawling thematic associations in my notebook to get the ball rolling on the art. I've always made a visual component to accompany my writing. Whether I'm cowering behind one or the other, I can't say.
Country Life: What's your plan for exhibiting the work/story?
Amelia Garretson-Persans: Now there's an exciting question! The artwork and selected parts of the story will be exhibited this coming May at the Track One building in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood. The incredible artist and professor Paul Collins has agreed to curate it.
The idea of the show is to create a haunted space using 2-D and 3-D installation, projections and sound design. We hope to arrange the work in such a way that a viewer will experience a piece in solitude. Prerecorded excerpts from the series will accompany certain works, and local musician and sound designer Stanton Edward is onboard to provide live sound. The Track One space is really great because it is a big, open, unfinished space, which an inside source confirms is genuinely haunted.
The evening will also coincide with the launch of the "Wraiths for Writing" book, which combines all of the posts in one convenient location and brand new pen and ink illustrations. It will basically be the best night ever.