Most Southern women are all Cracker Queens, when it boils down to it — the kind of woman who can stare death in the face then turn around and whip up a casserole. Or write a few lines of bawdy poetry to shoulder grief from a jilted boyfriend.
Women who refuse to be victims of whatever befalls them.
“A true Cracker Queen is someone who’s decided to live life with a purpose and face it with resilience and humor. It’s someone who can use the bad things that happen and turn them into her mojo — so that they become the very things that make her stronger and better,” said Lauretta Hannon, the self-proclaimed Cracker Queen who headlines a Columbus luncheon April 20.
The event will benefit the Samaritan Fund at the Pastoral Institute, for women and children who otherwise cannot afford counseling.
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She’s the author of “The Cracker Queen: A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life” (Gotham Books, April 2009); it’s just been released in paperback. Southern Living magazine has called her the funniest woman in Georgia.
Hannon, 41, could have easily played the victim role. When she was 17, her father John died of a heart attack right in front of her.
“He was my best friend, my stability. I was crushed. I thought, ‘Either I can let this damage me for life or I could really try and fight the fears.’ We were living, of course, in a double-wide and I called the ambulance but he died after about 40 minutes.”
She grew up in middle Georgia, south of Macon. Like most Cracker Queens, she has colorful relatives. Hannon met her uncle Buddy and his son, her cousin, while both labored on a chain gang. Her mother drove her passed the line of prisoners one day to toss them cigarettes. Hannon’s mother figured inmates shouldn’t have to go without.
She calls him Scooter in the book. He’s now free. “It’s amazing how he’s still alive,” she said.
More color: Her mother and father met around a moonshine still.
Throughout her childhood and beyond, finding characters has been a staple. She’s lived in Athens, Ga., where she went to college; in London; and Savannah, Ga., where she wrote for Creative Loafing magazine. She’s found both Georgia cities, particularly, to be quirky and conducive to the work of a creative person like herself.
“Unbeknownst to me,” she says on her Web site, “Athens was Mecca to bohemian freaks everywhere. I had poetry/performance shows, wrote like a fiend, and met the people who would become my dearest friends to this day. Life was all about art and flamboyant non-conformity. Still is.”
She graduated in 1992 from the University of Georgia with a degree in comparative literature. She counts the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy as a favorite.
A few years before graduation, she wandered into a locally owned music shop and set eyes on the man who would eventually become her husband. His name is Jim Kilgore, and he owned the store. They now live in Powder Springs, Ga., west of the capital, and Hannon practices her writing craft in an outbuilding behind their house.
The couple have been together 20 years.
From early influences of her father, she’s also a music lover.
“But he probably wouldn’t approve of what I have on my iPod,” she said, laughing. Her father was classically trained, traveled with bands and later became a band teacher.
“When music is done well, there’s a divine connection. It can take us to places we couldn’t go otherwise,” she said. “He preferred jazz. We had many conversations about music when I became a teen-ager. We spent hours listening to jazz and classical music. He was a total music snob.”
Hannon’s resume reaches far beyond writing: She’s been a vice president of an advertising agency, a university executive, a fortune teller, an independent radio producer, a cocktail waitress and a writing instructor. As a marketing consultant, she has advised clients as diverse as Drexel University and The League of Women Voters.
Full-time cracker queen
Last year, at the height of the recession, she quit her job at Georgia Technical College. She worked in the office of the President. With a steady paycheck and benefits, it was risky but she felt it was time to become a full-time Cracker Queen.
“Cracker Queen” the book came about after she got a call from a book publisher in Boston. Georgia Public Radio has aired her stories since 2000, and the publisher heard her pieces on National Public Radio. On May 1, she’s having a “Porch Party” in Powder Springs to celebrate the release of the “Cracker Queen” in paperback.
Another Georgia-grown celebrity, Nancy Grace of CNN, mentioned “The Cracker Queen” book on her show Jan. 5.
“We were both at an author luncheon put on by Mercer University Press. My mother loves her some Nancy Grace. And we started chatting and realized we grew up five or 10 miles apart,” she said.
When she lets her hair down, Hannon is drawn to lunch counters.
She likes to find them when traveling because she finds they reveal the local flavor. One of her favorites is the Add Drug Store in Athens’ Five Points neighborhood.
“I’m on this quest to go to as many as possible,” she said. “There seem to be fewer and fewer of them. Last month I did a writing residency at Rabun-Gap (in north Georgia) and I went to two, one in Clayton and the other in Dillard. You really get to meet the people that way. I was there two weeks. They know you’re not from there because they know everybody by name. I ate so many grilled cheeses and bowls of tomato soup.”
In addition to writing and listening to music, Hannon has long been interested in spiritual matters.
By the seventh grade, she was studying Eastern religions. But don’t try to pin her down.
“My spirituality centers around love and living in a way that you’re receiving people in love and sending it on. I try to live with gratitude and forgiveness. I don’t like to define (faith) too narrowly. My mission in life is continue to get closer to God. All this material stuff doesn’t matter. But I’ll never be the sweet and airy spiritual type. I’m a warrior. I like vengeful angels.”
Allison Kennedy, reporter, can be reached at 706-576-6237