Before Ellenette Washington mounted the auditorium stage at the downtown Nashville Public Library on Saturday, Pith was bracing for hostile, pointed questions during the Q&A following the Independent Lens screening of Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story (airing tomorrow night nationally and on Nashville Public Television) — the story of a 16-year-old prostitute convicted of a 2004 murder in Nashville and sentenced to life in prison. Through Dan Birman's lens, they'd just peered into the face of a girl in pigtails — Ellenette's adopted daughter — whose short, often brutal life would stand for an adult accounting in a justice system currently with no other option.
If there was any doubt about the divisive nature of the film, it was dashed when the audience had to be admonished beforehand by moderator Jonathan Martin of WSMV to keep questions respectful. Check the comments section of this week's Scene cover story, "Life Begins at Sixteen." You'll find comments ranging from hellfire and eye-for-an-eye retribution to public-safety justifications for her life-long incarceration. Yet it's a story that may raise more questions than it answers about the questionable circumstances surrounding Cyntoia's presence in the home of a 43-year-old man who was naked when police found his body.
Far from being overtly hostile, though, some of the questions were simply off-the-wall, rendering speechless the panel consisting of Washington, Vanderbilt forensic psychologist William Bernet, Cyntoia's former juvenile attorney Kathy Evans, and victim's rights advocate Jyl Shaffer. The strangest came from a woman sitting behind Pith, who launched into a rambling soliloquy on the parallels between life sentences for juveniles and pedophilia, prison rapes perpetrated by guards and the lawsuits that could subsequently be filed. This way, she assured Washington, Cyntoia could regain her freedom. Upon finishing, she promptly stood up and left the auditorium. There was something almost transcendently nonsensical about the monologue. Performance art?
We've seen the list confirmed so far, and it looks great — not only for the names they've been able to attract thus far, but also for its potential to make Nashville a regular stop for touring authors of renown. The tone is set by the first guest: esteemed narrative journalist Hampton Sides, whose book Hellhound on His Trail (an account of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.) has fervent admirers at the Scene. He'll appear April 2, followed two weeks later by The Clan of the Cave Bear novelist Jean Auel.
The summer months feature literary events involving two of the city's most acclaimed writers: the launch of Ann Patchett's new novel State of Wonder, coming in June, and the launch of Adam Ross' short-story collection Ladies and Gentlemen, set for publication June 28. (This is looming as a banner year for authors with Nashville ties: Only two months into 2011, we've seen Rodney Crowell's hilarious and wrenching Chinaberry Sidewalks, the rare celebrity memoir that's worth a damn as literature, and Vanderbilt associate professor Daniel Sharfstein's The Invisible Line. Coming soon are Holly Tucker's Blood Work — a nonfiction detective story of long-ago medical skullduggery, conspiracy and murder that's already drumming up pre-release excitement — and Madison Smartt Bell's The Color of Night, which sounds in synopsis like an atypical [and hugely promising] venture into the realms of pulp and paperback thrillers, with a chilling post-9/11 spin.)
Below, we've got the confirmed Salon at 615 list so far. In the comments, I'll post the wish list of visiting authors that Scene staffers came up with, and you should list your own.
In an illuminating and aptly titled book, “The Invisible Line,” Daniel J. Sharfstein demonstrates that African-Americans of mixed ancestry have been crossing the boundaries of color and racial identity since the early colonial era. An associate professor of law at Vanderbilt University and an author with a literary flair, Sharfstein documents this persistent racial fluidity by painstakingly reconstructing the history of three families. In a dizzying array of alternating chapters, he presents the personal and racial stories of the Gibsons, the Spencers and the Walls. The result is an astonishingly detailed rendering of the variety and complexity of racial experience in an evolving national culture moving from slavery to segregation to civil rights.
Though Bill Ketron claims that his Sharia Law law would not affect Muslims who only wanted to practice the religious "tentacle" of Islam, one wonders how he can be sure what's in the bill. That's because the bill's actual author turns out to be David Yerushalmi, who has some interesting ideas about whether women, black people, and the "adult retarded man" (pardon while I bite my tongue) should be able to vote.
Already the blogosphere is fuming. Here's The American Prospect's Adam Serwer, in the article linked above:
The Tennessee legislation is blatantly unconstitutional under the First Amendment, and in a particularly dumb form of irony, it also manages to mirror the criminalization of minority religious expression that are the hallmark of repressive Islamist societies. State Sen. Bill Ketron and state House Rep. Judd Matheny of Tennessee should really explain why [they think] that someone who supports literacy tests, and thinks there's wisdom in denying blacks and women the right to vote, has any business writing laws in the state of Tennessee.
Location: Between TSU and the Preston-Taylor Homes
Size of Park: Large
Approximate Age of Patrons: I was the only patron
Topics of Conversation: "I wish I weren't here alone."
Stray Dogs Seen: None
Types of Vehicles in Parking Lots: n/a, I think
Perceived Safety: Very, very low
Number of Gunshots Heard: None
Dog Friendliness: Fine
Number of pitbulls sighted: None
Accessibility: Fine, once you're in the park. I'm not sure how you get in the park, though.
Incorporation of Local History: None
Recommended Patrons: People who like polluted streams and being concerned for their safety
Hey ladies: Do you know what the No. 1 killer of women is? If you said breast cancer, violence or stroking out about what to wear, you’re wrong. Heart disease kills one in three women — making it a silent killer with a chilling body count.
Rumours Wine and Art Bar is trying to do something to change that. This month, they “Go Red” with an ongoing art show and a few special evenings to raise awareness about heart disease for women, and Nashville artist and heart attack survivor Lori Anne Parker contributes to the cause with Atrial Articulations. Parker is one of 15 national spokeswomen for The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign, and her current exhibition muses on her own experience while connecting to a universal message for other women.
During our interview, in which we discussed the three bills (HBs 601, 1088 and 1345) he’s filed to require that the state dictate once-local policies like those prohibiting discrimination or setting a minimum wage, we got into a little thought experiment about the latter. I didn’t have the space to get into it in the dead-tree piece, so I just transcribed that portion of the interview and am posting it here, unedited.
Scene: It seems like [your bills are] aimed at Nashville. Nashville is the city that’s doing this stuff. You’re saying it’s not?
Glen Casada: Absolutely not. For example, I think Memphis has a living wage right now on the books [Ed Note: They do. So does Shelby County. If Casada’s bill passes, wages for some workers could drop by 40 percent, according to the Workers Interfaith Network]. And so I guess Memphis could say you’re coming after us. But no, to make sure that all cities are homogenous in their HR policies, if you will, when it comes to those areas.
Do you think that’s good for people who live in those cities?
I do. And as a parallel example, I would say this: The Interstate Commerce Clause that dictates the way we do commerce in the United States is one of the reasons why we are such a prosperous nation. We have the same laws from state to state. And I would contend that applies to the state of Tennessee in that you must have the same laws from city to city on areas related to doing business.
(Read the rest after the jump)
This is a story sure to divide readers. Some will see a young woman who got exactly what she deserved. Others will see a damaged child deserving of a second chance the criminal justice system can't give her. Cyntoia Brown is the subject of this week's cover, "Life Begins at Sixteen," and a documentary called Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story by Dan Birman, who followed the girl from her juvenile transfer hearing to her trial two years later — and posed tough questions about the logic of adult punishments dealt to those who have not yet reached adulthood.
Before I'd begun researching this piece, the brutality of her crime shocked me — and it still does. After seeing Birman's film and Cyntoia's stunningly young, 16-year-old face, I was left with an emptiness in the pit of my stomach that took me days to shake. Cyntoia's story offers no easy answers, but it should, at the very least, force us to search our souls. We are the last country, aside from South Africa and Israel, that still hands down life sentences to juveniles.
If you'd like to see the documentary, head to the downtown Nashville Public Library library at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday). The film will be preceded by a reception and workshop led by filmmaker/activist Molly Secours. Afterwards, there'll be a panel discussion including Cyntoia's adoptive mother, Ellenette Washington; Vanderbilt forensic psychologist Dr. William Bernet, who worked on Cyntoia's case; victim's rights advocate Jyl Shaffer; Cyntoia's former juvenile attorney Kathy Evans; and moderator Jonathan Martin of WSMV-TV.
If you can't make it to the library this weekend, the film premieres 9 p.m. Tuesday, March 1 as part of PBS's Independent Lens series. Check it locally on NPT (Channel 8).
Jewell’s shots show that Nashville not only can contend with New York and L.A., but surpass them. After all, who wears plaid button-ups, breaks in cowboy boots, or gets old-fashioned glamour better than we do? These girls look cool without trying too hard, layering vintage dresses with boyish accessories, Pendleton patterns with glamorous coats, and skirts and red lipstick with combat boots. New Yorkers, take note.
Great Performances at Vanderbilt’s first event of 2011 is a piece called Invisible Atom, a recent prize-winning entry at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe Festival performed by the 2b Theatre Company. The performing troupe, based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, brings a decade of innovative theatrical work to the stage, their tale roaming across physics, the quest for personal and cultural identity, and where we all go from here in the 21st century.
The show has two performances today at noon and 7:30 p.m. at the Vanderbilt Student Life Center, 310 25th Ave. S. Expect visual and intellectual stimulation, judging from the trailer above. Call 343-0371 for more information.
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