Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Black Hole That Isn't Quite

I’m sure I’m not the only blogger that sees her work as pushing bits into an amorphous black hole. So I was pleasantly surprised to have a phone message waiting for me last Tuesday morning from Ronnie Wise, “the main character” featured in my recent Librarian and Liberator post. His message said:
“Gail, this is Ronnie Wise. I just got through reading your blog on the internet and I wanted to call and thank you for your kind thoughts and I’d like to talk to you for a couple of minutes. My cell phone is [. . . ]. Look forward to talking to you.”
And so I returned his call. He told me a bit more about the article; said that J.R. (Moehringer, the author) had been working on it for five years and had made numerous trips to Cleveland, Mississippi. The original article was 15,000 words, but Moehringer was forced to pare it down to the 5,000 words as published (the organizational changes at the LA Times affected page space allotted to this project).

We spoke about J.R.’s accomplishments as a writer (2000 Pulitzer Prize recipient in feature writing for his multi-part work about Gee’s Bend, Alabama, published in 1999 in the LA Times). Moehringer has also written a well-received memoir (Tender Bar), which I am currently reading. J.R.’s article on Ronnie Wise’s literacy campaign is a current movie project (so I am not the only one that sees the big screen possibilities in this story).

Ronnie also said that, although the article was generally well-received, a few people in the Cleveland area did not take too kindly to Moehringer’s portrayal of their community. Wise is therefore somewhat of a target instead of a hero in these misguided people’s eyes. They’re only a small percentage, he says, but they tend to have the power, the money, and the land.

Thanks, Ronnie, for the phone call. Good luck to you. And I look forward to the movie.
Next Entry: And You Look Back At Me


Anonymous said...

My name is Mark Belenchia; I live in Jackson, Mississippi. I was Ronnie Wise’s brother-in-law for 23 years. After reading the article about Ronnie in the LA Times, I have a few comments to make.

It disappoints me that Ronnie failed to inform the author of my sister or my mother. Without a doubt, they played a significant part in his life’s journey.

My sister, Lady Anne was married to Ronnie for 23 years. During that time she was a loyal wife and supporter of all of Ronnie’s endeavors. While Ronnie attended Mississippi Southern to further his education my sister stayed in Bolivar county working full time, which enabled Ronnie to be away from home. In their early days of marriage when Ronnie was trying to find out what his mission in life was, Lady was working as an LPN in Shelby. She helped him accumulate that awesome comic book collection.

When Ronnie asked Lady for a divorce it was a total shock to my sister.

My mother, May Belenchia, was also a strong influence in Ronnie’s life. She was a teacher and had been involved in the field of Library Science for several years and encouraged Ronnie to get into this field because of the lack of men in library science. It’s my estimation that my mother played a role in his pursuit of becoming the director of libraries in Bolivar County, Mississippi. Also, let me say that my dad helped Ronnie too. He and my mother were always supportive of what Ronnie was doing, which sometime involved helping financially and always involved being available.

Ronnie and I got along and it hurts me to see him block out a big part of his life. My sister has had nothing but good things to say about Ronnie since their divorce. When the article spoke of Ronnie’s attitude they were right on! Ronnie was not the easiest person to get along with even when it involved family.

Ronnie has done some big favors for me, some of which included help from his current wife. For that I am very thankful. Ronnie, I wish you the best in your new life and WE will never forget you.

Mark Belenchia

Gail said...

Mark, thanks for providing us with these further insights. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.