The poet Andrew Hudgins has identified the King James Bible as the most important work in Southern literature, and the crowd that gathered at William Carey University for the panel discussion, “Living in the Belt with the Good Book,” would agree. William Carey faculty members Dr. Tom Richardson, Dr. Lorie Watkins Fulton, and Dr. Allison Chestnut led a wide-ranging discussion of Biblical influences on Southern literature, and in particular, the writings of Mark Twain, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty.
Richardson, chair of the Department of Language and Literature at William Carey, opened the discussion with reflections on Twain’s complicated, irreverent, and iconoclastic views on the Bible and religion. “It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.”—Twain’s Letters from the Earth, published posthumously in 1962.
Fulton, author of William Faulkner, Gavin Stevens, and the Cavalier Tradition (Peter Lang, 2011), recounted the story of Faulkner’s grandfather, who demanded that each grandchild recite a verse from the King James Bible each morning before breakfast. No Bible verse, no breakfast. Fulton surmised that perhaps this early training directly inspired the many Biblical allusions in Faulkner’s novels.
The influence of parable on the short stories of Eudora Welty was the subject of Chestnut’s presentation. Chestnut argued that Welty’s stories imitate both the style and structure of Biblical parables.
The “afterlife” of the King James Bible is clearly on display in the works of these great writers that we Southerners claim as our own. A timeline of the King James Bible’s literary influences is viewable on the Manifold Greatness website.
Sherry Laughlin is Director of Libraries at William Carey University.
Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible is currently on view at William Carey University in Hattiesburg, MS; the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis/St.Paul; and the University of Texas at Brownsville in Brownsville, TX. Later this month, the exhibition opens at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
Both William Carey University and the University of Minnesota have shared photos from events related to the Manifold Greatness exhibition. The University of Minnesota hosted two events over the weekend, including a “Manifold Greatness Colloquium” on Friday. Over 70 people gathered to see the traveling exhibit, as well as a local exhibition entitled “The Word Made Flesh” which showcased rare Bibles. The colloquium included presentations by scholars from the University of Minnesota, Bethel University and Luther Seminary, as well as a reception with music, tea, and scones!
On February 5, a “Share Your Bible” workshop for adults and children encouraged participants to share family Bibles and memories. William Carey University is also showcasing family Bibles, and has photographs of many of these heirlooms on display along with the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition.
To view photos of events at William Carey University and the University of Minnesota, please visit Flickr.
Amy Arden is a communications associate at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The Folger partnered with the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, to produce Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible.
Manifold Greatness arrived at the William Carey University Library in Hattiesburg, MS , in January. One of the highlights of the exhibition to date has been a “Family Bibles Road Show.” The program featured a workshop on the care and preservation of family Bibles. Community members brought about a dozen family Bibles to be photographed for the exhibit. These treasured heirlooms, held together with tape, bound with faded ribbon, or enclosed in a box, were carefully opened and examined. And what interesting things we discovered!
Two of the Bibles contained Family Temperance Pledge documents, designed to be signed by family members who “solemnly promise by the grace of God to abstain from the use of all intoxicating drinks as a beverage.” Neither of the Family Temperance Pledge documents in our Bibles was signed, but we heard rumors of a temperance pledge in another family Bible which was signed by two individuals, who, upon further reflection or perhaps after a nice apertif, crossed out their names!
Another family Bible, an 1815 American imprint, had multiple pages of family birth, death, and marriage dates. Clearly visible water stains in the text were explained by a family legend, which held that the ancestor who acquired the Bible was forced to flee from pursuing Indians as he returned home with his new purchase. At the height of the chase, he dropped his Bible into the creek, but fortunately, was able to retrieve it.
Still another family Bible was noted to have won the Highest Prize Diploma of Merit at the International Cotton Exposition in Atlanta in 1881. And another, found in the Clarence Dickinson Collection in the William Carey University Library, was Dickinson’s family Bible. Dickinson, who was a pioneer in the training of church musicians in the early 20th century, was a cousin of poet Emily Dickinson.
The “Road Show” revealed fascinating local lore in family Bibles. Photographs of these treasured Bibles have become a popular supplement to the Manifold Greatness panels at William Carey University.
Sherry Laughlin is Director of Libraries at William Carey University.
Manifold Greatness may have left the Folger Shakespeare Library this week, but a traveling banner version of the exhibition is currently in full force. Forty libraries across the United States will receive the display – the traveling tour began in fall 2011 and will run through summer 2013. The American Library Association (ALA) Public Programs Office is coordinating the tour to public and academic libraries, who are all presenting a variety of free humanities programs in conjunction with the exhibition.
Program highlights so far include:
- Kennessaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia presented a program titled, “Music, Text, and the 1611 King James Bible,” in which Dr. Tamara Livingston, Associate Director of Museums, Archives & Rare Books, discussed the interplay between early 17th century music, text, and the production of books, as exemplified by the King James Bible.
- At Northwest Christian University in Eugene, Oregon, Dr. Jim Earl, professor of English at the University of Oregon, spoke on “The King James Bible and the Invention of Readable English.” Dr. Earl’s lecture explored the influence of the King James Bible on the development of the more direct style of language that is commonplace today.
- And the Burke Theological Libraryat Union Seminary at Columbia University, New York, hosted “The King James Bible at 400: A Conversation with Dr. David Burke,” Emeritus Scholar, the NIDA Institute, American Bible Society.
The traveling Manifold Greatness exhibition provides host libraries with the opportunity to connect with their communities in new and fun ways – through lectures by scholars, panel discussions, book and film discussion series, school and college class tours, concerts, and more.
We look forward to seeing the creative ways the remaining tour sites will engage with Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible!
Jennifer Dominiak is a program officer in the Public Programs Office at the American Library Association. The ALA Public Programs Office has a highly regarded program of traveling exhibitions; during 2011, the Public Programs Office toured 11 traveling exhibitions to 123 public, academic, and special libraries. Visitors to these exhibits numbered more than 300,000. An estimated 46,000 library patrons attended exhibit-related public programs.
With 2011, the 400th anniversary year of the King James Bible, now firmly in the history books itself—and with the world now turning its attention to Charles Dickens’s 200th anniversary—you might think that Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible would be wrapping up, too.
Not so! Although Manifold Greatness was created to mark the 400th anniversary of the 1611 King James Bible in 2011, the project continues throughout 2012 and into 2013. And, of course, we hope the Manifold Greatness website and Manifold Greatness publication continue to provide helpful resources to online visitors and readers even longer.
A quick overview of what’s on right now… and what lies ahead:
- The Folger Shakespeare Library’s Manifold Greatness exhibition remains on view in Washington, DC, every day through its final day on January 16. By happy coincidence, January 16 is also the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., whose rhetorical use of biblical passages and cadences is noted in the Manifold Greatness exhibition itself, as well as our online Modern Life gallery, and curator Hannibal Hamlin’s blog post on Washington’s new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
- After closing at the Folger Shakespeare Library, the exhibition travels to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, where it will be on view from February 28 to July 29, 2012, incorporating rare works from the Ransom Center collection as well.
- In Claremont, California, the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition may be found at Claremont Graduate University through January 6 (see CGU’s Manifold Greatness web page for visitor info, video links, and photos); until just before the recent holiday break, it was also displayed at Arizona State University (ASU Manifold Greatness web pages, student reporter video) and Rhodes College in Memphis (Rhodes 1611 web page with many links, our earlier blog post).
- In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Manifold Greatness programs will begin well in advance of the traveling exhibition opening on January 19, with two film screenings this Thursday—and a family Bibles consultation and workshop next Thursday—at Hattiesburg Library; the traveling exhibition itself opens at William Carey University on the evening of January 19, with more free, public programs to follow, including talks, panel discussion programs, a book discussion of Adam Nicolson’s God’s Secretaries (on the King James Bible translators), and a final film screening.
- Two other complete traveling exhibitions will also be on view by mid- to late January at the University of Minnesota (opening January 25), which is hosting a February 3 colloquium, its own exhibition “The Word Made Flesh,” and other public programs, and the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.
And that’s not all! During 2012 and 2013, the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition will be displayed at another 31 libraries around the United States, each of which—like all of the host institutions so far—plans multiple public programs. Many are exhibiting rare works from their own collections as well. Try our traveling exhibition schedule to follow the travels of the panel exhibition in the months and years ahead.