Anthony Grooms, author of Bombingham, a novel that captures the historical upheaval of 1963 in Birmingham, Ala., will visit Claflin University on Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 23-24, to engage students in a discussion about the book.
Members of Claflin’s freshman class are reading Bombingham in their first-year English course. This year marks the 50th anniversary of not only the March on Washington, but also the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that claimed the lives of four little girls, both of which were pivotal events in the civil rights movement.
During his visit, Grooms will take part in a creative writing workshop for students beginning at 11 a.m. Monday, Sept. 23, in the Grace Thomas Kennedy Building Room 123, and a panel discussion with Claflin history professor Dr. Millicent Brown followed by a question-and-answer session and book signing at 5 p.m. Monday in Ministers’ Hall. He will be the guest speaker at the 11 a.m. Freshman Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 23.
Since 1995, Grooms has been a professor of creative writing at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta, Ga. He teaches a range of writing and literature courses, but specializes in creative writing and American literature.
Dr. Melissa Pearson, an English professor and director of the Claflin University Writing Center, said this is the second year the University’s freshman class has tackled reading a common novel.
Bombingham begins with the main character in Vietnam dealing with the death of his best friend in battle. The book then flashes back to the young man’s childhood in Birmingham, “where there’s also a sense of war going on, a sense of loss going on,” Pearson said.
“It’s really compelling,” she said of the novel, much of which is told through the eyes of a 12-year-old protagonist. “It has very rich characters who are brave, yet flawed, and it’s accessible for any reading level.”
Bombingham is a book, Pearson said, that many of her students are devouring.
“On certain days, I want them to be in a certain place in the book, and just about all of them have read beyond where my benchmarks are,” she said. “When they say they cannot get away from the reading, I’m just like, ‘My semester is made.’ I think that when Professor Grooms gets here, he is going to meet an audience of students who are going to want to just really tackle his brain.
“They’re very excited about his visit. It’s not every day that you get to talk to the person who wrote the book. I think that Professor Grooms’ visit will immortalize this book in the lives of some of these students.”
Grooms, the eldest of six siblings, was born in 1955 and reared in rural Louisa County, Virginia, 120 miles south of Washington, D.C. His parents encouraged his education, and in 1967, he was enrolled in the Freedom of Choice plan that brought about limited integration of white public schools, an experience that contributed to a perspective evident in many of his writings. Grooms later earned a bachelor’s degree in theater and speech from The College of William and Mary and a master’s degree in creative writing from George Mason University.
Grooms is the author of a collection of poems, Ice Poems, and a collection of stories, Trouble No More. His stories and poems have been published in a number of literary journals and anthologies, as well. Though the subject matter of his work varies, Grooms’ most notable work has focused on characters struggling with the uncertainty of the American civil rights movement.
Grooms is a two-time recipient of the Lillian Smith Prize for Fiction, a finalist for the Legacy Award from Hurston-Wright Foundation, and the winner the Sokolov Scholarship from the Breadloaf Writing Conference, the Lamar lectureship from Wesleyan College and an Arts Administration Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, among other awards. In 2010, The Georgia Center for the Book selected Bombingham to its list of 25 books that all Georgians Should Read. In 2013, the Humanities Council of Washington D.C., selected the novel as its common reader.
Pearson said she hopes the concept of a common freshman novel continues at Claflin. It’s a concept she would like to see extended to all classes on campus and even into the community.
“There are so many great reads out there, and so many that will tell us a local story as well as a national story as well as a global story,” she said. “I’m just really turned on by this experience, to where we need to catch hold of that and sort of keep it going.
“I just want students to have an appreciation, to really learn to appreciate real scholarship and real scholars, and to be able to feel a sense of privilege and honor to actually sit with them and learn with them. It can be both enlightening and transformative.
“You can never know when somebody like that comes in and can touch a student and change their lives forever.”
For more information about Grooms and Bombingham
, visit anthonygrooms.com.