Documentary about Elizabeth Spencer to premiere
Go and Do
WHAT: Premiere screenings of “Landscapes of the Heart: The Elizabeth Spencer Story”
WHEN: Today. Screenings are at 4 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. (the 6:15 screening depends on demand)
WHERE: Hanes Art Center Auditorium, Corner of East Franklin and South Columbia Streets, next to the Ackland Art Museum, Chapel Hill
ADMISSION: Screenings are free. A 5:30 reception fundraiser will be held at the Ackland between screenings. Admission is a $65 minimum donation.
Fair or not, Chapel Hill writer Elizabeth Spencer is probably known to many for her novel “The Light in the Piazza,” which was made into a movie, and later a Tony Award-winning musical. “Landscapes of the Heart,” a new documentary funded by Durham’s Southern Documentary Fund should help introduce new readers to the full body of work of this Southern writer.
She was born in Carrollton, Miss., during times when segregation was settled law. Spencer (now 91) from an early age looked beyond the myth that all was well between black people and white people. That sense of injustice informed her early novel, “The Voice at the Back Door,” about an election for sheriff in which one of the candidates seeks to introduce a more tolerant view toward racial matters.
The Pulitzer Prize committee recommended the book for the literature prize in 1957, but for some reason resisted giving the book the award. No literary award was given in 1957, which author Allan Gurganus in this documentary calls “a curious fact.” Her first novel, “Fire in the Morning,” scandalized her hometown, and caused a rift in her family.
She spent much of her life outside of the United States in exile. She met John Rusher while writing a novel on a fellowship in Rome. Later, they married, and lived in Canada. Spencer came to UNC Chapel Hill to teach in 1986, where she still lives.
Many local writers and scholars pay tribute to Spencer in this documentary – Gurganus, Lee Smith, Randall Kenan, William Ferris, Hodding Carter III and more. “Nothing human is foreign to her,” Smith says of Spencer’s writing. Spencer’s simple warmth comes through in the filmmakers’ extensive interviews with her, and in her readings from her works.