Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cassandra King at the Southern Festival of Books

Cassandra King appeared at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville to discuss her book, The Same Sweet Girls' Guide to Life. She said they couldn't find her name tag when she arrived, so someone was running around with a badge that said "Cassandra King". She called it a metaphor for her life; she was never where she should be.

King thanked everyone was coming. She's been writing for twenty-some years. It still amazes her that people love reading enough to come out and hear writers. She thanked everyone for joining her to discuss the love of books and reading.

The book came about because King was asked to write the commencement speech for Wesleyan College in Georgia. Commencement speeches are usually boring. Since the college was a girls' school, she decided to talk about her friends, "the Same Sweet Girls". They met in college at a girls' school, and they were the inspiration for her third novel, The Same Sweet Girls. When she told her editor what she was doing, she said they wanted top publish it as a gift book. King had just arrived home from a book tour, and now she faced another book and another tour sooner than she expected. The Same Sweet Girls' Guide to Life: Advice from a Failed Southern Belle is her first nonfiction book.

Cassandra King was raised in Lower Alabama "LA" on a farm. Cassandra was the oldest of three girls, and her mother's fondest dream was that she'd be the perfect Southern lady, a Southern belle. King commented "Bless her heart. She failed miserably." Her mother wanted her oldest daughter to be the ideal daughter, a combination of Betty Crocker, Melanie Wilkes and Susanna Wesley (mother of John & Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist church). Cassandra had different ideas. She wanted to be Zelda Fitzgerald or Dorothy Parker, off the farm and out of the sticks.

King said she did have a blessed childhood. The family farm had been in the King family for generations. Her mother tried to make her into the perfect Southern lady. But, an event that happened when Cassandra was seventeen, a metaphor for the problem with the whole idea, should have told her mother that it wasn't going to work.

Cassandra King was Christmas queen for the town. She was excited, and could see herself on a float. But, the town was too small to have a float. Instead, they decorated the only convertible in town. In her green dress, King looked like Miss Scarlett after she re-did the curtains. She was sitting on the back seat in her crown, with her dress all spread out, waving to everyone. It was her mother's finest day. And, then the convertible made a quick stop, Cassandra fell over with her head down. Her hoop skirt went up, and she mooned the whole town. Hoop skirts were just not meant for her.

King's mother enrolled her in Methodist College in Montgomery, Alabama. But, Cassandra didn't want to go there. She had visited Alabama College outside Birmingham. It seemed to be more a place for aspiring writers. She talked her mother into letting her go there. And, then she arrived and found it was run like the girls' school it used to be. King felt she made a terrible mistake. The college had some of the prissiest girls she'd ever seen. This was the mid-sixties, and the girls were wearing matching cardigans and pearls. They could only wear dresses on campus. She thought, "I messed up." But she couldn't admit it and go home, so she decided to stick with it for one year. She doesn't own a dress to this day.

The Dean of Women terrified everyone. There was required convocation on Thursdays, and everyone had assigned seats. The dean watched them from above. And, then one Thursday there was a serendipitous event that changed King's life. That day, the National Maid of Cotton was the speaker. She told about her year representing Alabama and the U.S. When she said, I traveled the world, met the President, the Pope, and all kinds of people, but "I'm still the same sweet girl I've always been," Cassandra started laughing, and couldn't stop. Then, she noticed other girls laughing, too. Naturally, they all got in trouble, but they were all confined to the same dorm. So, King got to know the other girls who had been laughing. Whenever they saw each other, they'd ask, "Are you still the same sweet girl you've always been?"

Those girls became Cassandra King's lifelong friends. They still get together yearly. She won't say how old they are, but most of those "Same Sweet Girls" graduated in 1967. The relationships made in college can be some of our most important ones.

Cassandra King took a number of questions about her mother, her sisters, her father, and, finally, her husband, Pat Conroy. She said everyone asks her about living with him, and she said he's actually quite easygoing and funny, despite the tone of his books.

Cassandra King's website is


Beth Hoffman said...

Thanks for sharing such a detailed summary of Cassandra King's appearance/talk. I've always liked her work.

I was thinking about you last night! Hugs to you and your kitties.

Lesa said...

Hmmm. Something must be going on with my life that I don't realize. I had a couple people email me in the last two days saying they were thinking of me.

You're welcome, Beth. Cassandra was fun to listen to.

Hugs back, my friend!

Kaye Barley said...

This is just delightful!!!! Thank you, Lesa!

I do love her work.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Kaye. Wonder why I knew you might appreciate this piece? Hugs!

James Montgomery Jackson said...

This is such a great story -- thanks for sharing it for and reminding all the young girls and boys that change is good and uniformity is dull (and dangerous).

My favorite Cassandra King line was when she was asked what it was like living with a famous southern author and her response was, "Why, I guess you'll just have to ask Pat!"

~ Jim

Lesa said...

My pleasure, James. I enjoyed hearing her tell the story. Thanks for sharing that line! I can't wait to share it tonight with two Pat Conroy fans.

Nancy said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences, Lesa. I love the same sweet girl story.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Nancy. I love it, too. But, I also loved James' comment.