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Featured Library   

Alabama Athenaeum
Bay Minette Public Library

by Joyce Dixon


Librarians not only act as caretakers for the written word, but as movers and shakers to introduce new books to readers and guides to those hoping to join the world of literature.  Charlotte Cabaniss, Director of Library Services at Bay Minette Public Library, is such a librarian.  Bay Minette (located about 29 miles northeast of Mobile, Alabama) has become a siren to authors as word of the Alabama Athenaeum continues to spread. 

Six years ago, Charlotte Cabaniss noted the opportunity to schedule Frye Gaillard through Alabama Voices, a project of Auburn’s Center for the Arts and Humanities.  Bay Minette Public Library had local speakers and writers as part of their ongoing author’s series.  The following year, Jay Lamar at Auburn offered Cabaniss an author unknown to her at that time, Rick Bragg.  His reading and signing of All Over But the Shoutin’ was a marvelous success, according to Cabaniss, and she began dropping his name when she approached other writers about participating in the author’s series. 

The readings at Bay Minette Public Library were followed by a social, and the writers were treated as special guests.  Word spread about Bay Minette Public Library from writer to writer.  According to Cabaniss, “the first time I met William Gay, prior to his tenure at Sewannee, he’d just come off a sailboat in the company of my good friend, Tommy Franklin (Poachers), at Fly Creek Marina in Fairhope, Alabama.  As Tommy hugged me, he turned to William and said, ‘This is Charlotte.  You need to see if she’ll let you read at her library; all the Big Guys do.’”    

The first five years experienced ups and downs.  Cabaniss made excellent contacts through Sonny Brewer, owner of Over the Transom Bookstore and Incoporator of Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts.  His Southern Writers Reading event – purposely set on the same day as the Auburn/Alabama football game each November – has been a good source for talent for the library’s program.  Cabaniss stays up to date on literature by attending writing conferences and bookselling events.  Cabaniss glows, “The 2001 Oxford Conference for the Book was a mountain top experience for me.”  She attended the National Book Expo in New York City this past May, which she says, “gave me excellent networking opportunities as well as insight into what is happening in the national literary community.” 

In the sixth year, the author’s series was officially named: Alabama Athenaeum.  Cabaniss could see her program was well-grounded and would preserver.  According to Cabaniss, “Publishers began contacting me inquiring when their writers might be on the program.  There has been a magic about the entire program; I feel it is a part of something much bigger than me or my library.  When Knopf sent Rick Bragg to me in December – our house of over 500 paid nothing to get in.  The ticket printer (to keep count of heads for fire safety) donated the tickets, a local caterer gave free food and service – it seemed since it was a gift, it would have been tainted to charge admission.  Thus far, we have never charged admission and the Athenaeum is a separate line-item in our budget which gets no income from the taxpayers.” 
March 2002 Alabama Athenaeum Lecture Series, Bay Minette Public Library, picture left to right: (standing) Brewster Milton Robertson, novelist and book critic for Publisher’s Weekly Magazine; Alan Cronenberg, director of Auburn University’s Center for the Arts and Humanities at Pebble Hill; Roy Hoffman, novelist and writer-in-residence for the Mobile Register; Jake Reiss, owner of Birmingham bookstore The Alabama Booksmith; (seated) Charlotte Cabaniss, director of Library Services for Bay Minette Public Library; and Sena Jeter Naslund, Alabama Author of the Year 2001.

The author’s series has been duplicated by other libraries in the area, which Cabaniss considers a high complement as she shares her contacts and program tips with other librarians.  She smiles, “The more this happens, the better for everybody – especially the appreciation for the written word and those who bring it to us.”

Bay Minette Public Library fosters future writers through the Alabama Athenaeum.  The program has featured Dale Short (A Writer’s Tool Kit) and Bob Bahr (Dramatic Technique in Fiction); and this month is putting on the Southeast Mystery Writers Workshop. English classes give extra credit points for student attendance at the Alabama Athenaeum; and writers’ groups and aspiring authors attend the program on a regular basis.  The library offers a good selection of books on the craft of writing.  Charlotte Cabaniss writes a column – Charlotte’s Web – for the Baldwin Times, which she uses as a forum for promoting the library’s literary activities and to promote writers in the area. 

Bay Minette Public Library in partnership with the local high school has created a local history project that combines the curriculum of the high school Creative Writing class, the Southern Culture class, the Gifted Program, the upper level Art classes, the photography class, the television production class, and the technical school to build a traveling display with exhibits and looped television footage.  Students developed creative writing projects inspired by their interviews with community elders.  One of the poems created has won the regional prize and is going to compete at state level.  The library will retain copies of the complete transcripts and interview videos as well as the creative projects. 

Bay Minette Public Library has a growing Alabama Collection, which houses works of local authors of all genres and subjects.  The collection also includes rare local and state histories, and genealogical sources.

Alabama Athenaeum
Upcoming Programs
Programs begin at 2pm in the Special Program Room (upstairs).
July 14, 2002. Carolyn Haines. Author of Splintered Bones.
July 28, 2002. Wayne Greenhaw. Author of  The Long Journey.
August 25, 2002. Whitney LeBlanc.  Author of Blues in the Wind.
September 1, 2002. Mary Ward Brown.  Author of It Wasn't Only Dancing.
September 8, 2002. Joe Taylor.  Publisher, Livingston Press.
September 15, 2002. Jeanie Thompson & Jay Lamar. Editors of The Remembered Gate.

Bay Minette Public Library
205 North 2nd Street
Bay Minette, AL  36507
For more information or to make contributions, contact Charlotte J. Cabaniss at:
334-580-1648 (phone)
334-937-0339 (fax)
Bay Minette Public Library web site:


Library Hours:  
Monday 9AM - 6PM
Tuesday 9AM - 8PM
Wednesday 9AM - 6PM
Thursday 9AM - 8PM
Friday 9AM - 6PM
Saturday 10AM - 2PM
Sunday 2PM - 4PM

© 2002, Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved