TALLADEGA — Award-winning author Susan Beckham Zurenda will be in Anniston and Talladega this week to speak about the history of “cousin culture” and “small-town South in the '60s” in connection to the deep bond between first cousins Delia Green and Eli Winfield in her Southern literary debut novel, "Bells for Eli."
Her book tour includes a visit to the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County on Oct. 13 for a meet and greet at 11:30 a.m., followed by her presentation at noon, and guests are invited to bring a bag lunch. The library will provide drinks and dessert.
She will be at Talladega Armstrong-Osborne Library Oct. 14 at 6 p.m. for a book signing and presentation.
"Bells for Eli," published by Mercer University Press in 2020 and as a paperback in March, is a coming-of-age story that tackles common, widespread social issues such as bullying and exclusion, drug use, and taboo love, but through the eyes of first cousins growing up in a Southern small-town in the 1960s, it becomes a compelling and memorable story of compassion, triumph, loyalty and unbreakable bonds.
Zurenda is being hailed as a vibrant and exciting new voice in Southern fiction with a gift for storytelling reminiscent of Pat Conroy.
She taught works by Conroy and other Southern literary greats to high school and college students for 33 years before writing her own novel.
“There is no greater teacher for writing fiction than teaching fiction," she said in a news release. "I used works by William Faulkner, Peter Taylor, Robert Penn Warren, Pat Conroy Ralph Ellison, Harper Lee and Zora Neale Hurston, to name a few, not just because they are Southern, but because of the tremendous impressions their stories create. They show us the truth: the good, the bad, and the ugly of who we are.”
Bells for Eli is inspired by her first cousin, Danny, and his life after a tragic childhood accident in the late 1950s.
“I began to imagine a boy growing up with physical limitations and disfigurement like Danny had, confronting the cruelties and bullies of his world," she said. "At some point I decided to give the character I named Eli a close companion who would defend him no matter what. Thus, Delia was born, and the novel began.”
The book has been selected the Gold Medal (first place) winner for Best First Book—Fiction in the 2021 IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Awards), a Foreword Indie Book Award finalist, a Winter 2020 Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, a 2020 Notable Indie on Shelf Unbound, a 2020 finalist for American Book Fest Best Book Awards, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for 2021.
Zurenda has won numerous regional awards for short fiction as the South Carolina Fiction Prize twice, the Porter Fleming Competition, The Southern Writers Symposium Emerging Writers Fiction Contest, The Hub City Hardegree Contest in Fiction, Alabama Conclave First Novel Chapter Contest, The Jubilee Writing Competition, and has been published in numerous literary journals.