My life as a writer has deep roots in
Birmingham—in Norwood Elementary School,
in Phillips High School, in Norwood Methodist
Church, and in Birmingham-Southern. It also has
roots in the heartbreak and the
triumph of the civil rights days,
during which I was a student at BSC.
I remember standing on the
street corner in 1963, waiting for
the No. 15 Norwood bus to take
me home from my part-time job as
switchboard operator at Yeilding’s
department store and vowing that if
I ever did become a writer, I would
tell the truth about conditions in my beloved city
and its need to seek justice and equality for all its
citizens. It took me nearly 40 years to write, but my
Four Spirits
, dedicated to the four girls killed in
the 1963 racist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist
Church, is set primarily in downtown Birmingham,
in Norwood, and at BSC and Miles College.
One of the things that amazed me during 1963
was how ordinary life kept on going, even
while historic change was occurring. We
were still going to class, to church and to
movies, falling in love and out of love, and
yet the whole social fabric was shifting
toward racial equality and justice. And
we were looking at each other: who was
taking risks for change or at least speaking
up; who was resisting?
At the time, I did have hopes of becoming a
writer, for by then I had left pre-med (having
failed chemistry three times) and was becoming a
happy and devoted English major. I studied with
professors who not only taught me
how to read literature in an analytic
way—Dean Cecil Abernethy, Dr. Bert
Ownby, Dr. Howard Creed—but I
also received inspiration from my
professors in the writing of poetry,
short stories, and a full-length play,
starring Pamela Walburt and directed
by myself. I found the subject matter
for the play
Boadicea, Queen of the
in a history class taught by Dr.
Henry Randall; Dr. Arnold Powell
taught the playwriting course; Department Chair
Richebourg Gaillard McWilliams taught the fiction
class, and Professor Leon Driskell encouraged my
poetry writing.
How their names resonate in my
memory! If you did not have the
opportunity to study with these
remarkable people, I am sure you studied
with other professors at BSC who opened
your eyes, encouraged your progress, and
played a key role in your future. The
extraordinary dedication of the faculty
to both their subject matter and to the
students is what made BSC a beacon for
excellence then and now.
My talented and often brilliant classmates not
only spurred me on in the classroom, but we
also inspired one another with a kind of high
seriousness of purpose and honesty of introspection
that transcended competitiveness. Let us all express
our gratitude with our support for the unique
educational opportunity for which BSC proudly
*Naslund is writing her ninth book,
The Fountain
of St. James Court; or Portrait of the Artist as an Old
which will be published this fall; her
other books have been national bestsellers and/or
selected as Notable/Best Books of the year by major
newspapers such as the
New York Times, Los Angeles
magazine, and translated into many
languages. A recipient of the Harper Lee Award, she
is writer-in-residence at the University of Louisville
and program director of the Spalding University
brief-residency MFA in Writing.
Four Spirits
“He spoke almost accusingly, as though she and
the college students had caused the disruption.
Actually, they’d done very little, and Stella
felt ashamed. Only a few people, like Marti
Turnipseed, had dared to align themselves with
freedom. Tom somebody, too—very quiet,
inoffensive-looking young man.”
by Sena Jeter Naslund ’64
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