Interview with Ann Walling, author of the new book Sunday Dinner
11 Oct 2015
Sunday Dinner is about the South. Southern society was, and some ways still is, shaped by a rigid hierarchy and system of expectations and behaviors I call “right order.”
I learned about “right order” as a child visiting my grandmother in Tupelo, Mississippi. In Sunday Dinner, I share stories about my family and about how the traditions we observed conditioned me to obey the rules of right order (or suffer the consequences). The characters in the book—my family and the people in their orbit—are so imbued with the notion of right order, that many no longer have eyes to see the injustices it enforced.
What’s on your writing desk?
A stack of instructional DVDs, mostly about dog training
A file folder of articles about recent racial confrontations in the U.S.
A note pad
A copy of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Who are your literary heroes working today? Why do you admire them?
Marilynne Robinson, author of books of fiction and non-fiction, writes with such passion and grace—I want to slow down and savor every word. She confronts moral and spiritual quandaries in the lives of characters so familiar, they might be my best friends. In so doing she rescues John Calvin from puritanical interpretation and walks the reader into a depth of spiritual embrace that enriches her daily life.
John Egerton, Jason Sokol, John Lewis, Taylor Branch, Ta-Nehisi Coates and others who write about civil rights and white supremacy are also heroes of mine. They are brave and prophetic.
What makes your world go ‘round? Why does it bring you joy?
My world revolves around my farm, my family, my dogs, my kitchen stove, and my church. My farm is beautiful. I can look out my back window, take a deep breath, and find peace. My children and grandchildren blow in and out bringing whatever joy or crisis that is currently in their lives. My dogs adore me. I touch them and feel life and warmth and genuine affection. Someone once said, “Dogs make our lives better.” It’s true. Cooking creates a space for relationships to happen. Shared meals can become a symbol and sign of shared relationships. My church finds its identity in the pursuit of social justice. The biblical mandate to care for the least of these finds a voice there.
What books are currently on your night stand?
Our America, The Latino Presence in American Art
Outside the Magic Circle – The Autobiography of Virginia Foster Durr
Being with Dying – Joan Halifax
Women of the Way, Discovering 2,500 years of Buddhist Wisdom – Sallie Tisdale
Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own – Kate Bolick
The Death of Adam, Essays on Modern Thought – Marilynne Robinson
Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts – Aglaia Kremezi
My book, Sunday Dinner, Coming of Age in the Segregated South, Ann Boult Walling
What advice would you give your teenage self?
Believe in your own ideas. It doesn’t matter if anyone else agrees with you.
What’s your favorite line from Sunday Dinner?
“As a little girl, Sunday dinner at 640 Jefferson Street defined my universe. It was the air I breathed. People can breathe a poisoned atmosphere for a very long time before the lungs seize. Before it takes their breath away. Breathless moments were woven into my childhood until I finally understood the source of the poison. Until I really understood how wrong right order was.”
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
“We all do better when we all do better.” I wish I knew the source.
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Taylor loves books with a heavy dose of absurdity, hilarity, and beautiful prose. She is a marketer, adventurer, nature-lover, Hufflepuff, wannabe world traveler, and advocate of laughter.