Wednesday, March 13

Director's Cut: Hoping for "Counter Culture" at the 2013 Symposium

"Director's Cut" is a new(-ish) weekly series on our blog, chronicling the travels and musings of our director, John T. Edge.

We’re now programming the 16th Southern Foodways Symposium, set for October 3-6 and focused on Women, Work, and Food. Although most of the speaking and cooking gigs are booked, we’re still in conversations with a few folks.

Candacy Taylor is one of those folks. She’s the author of Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress, published in 2009 by Cornell University Press. The two of us are set to talk early next week about her possible appearance. To get ready for that conversation, I’ve been reading her book.

Counter Culture portrays women at work. Through photographs, oral histories, and essays, based on 59 interviews in 43 cities, Taylor catalogs the skill sets required, the lives lived, and the intimacies exchanged, all while steering clear of “Kiss my grits” stereotypes.

Southern coffee shops figure large in her work, including George J’s in Glasgow, Kentucky, the Busy Bee in Atlanta, and Betsy’s Pancake House in New Orleans. In Taylor’s work, the voices of restaurant lifers ring true.

“Waitressing is my life,” Linda Exler of Colonial Cottage in Erlanger, Kentucky, told Taylor. “It’s my calling. This is what I was born to do… I have some customers I’ve waited on for almost forty years. I’ve waited on four generations of the same family… I waited on one gentlemen from the age of 75 until he was 104 years old and then he finally passed, but I gave him his hundredth birthday cake.”

Here’s hoping Taylor is willing to share those stories at our 2013 Symposium.

Editor's note: If you want to check out more of Taylor's recent ethnographic work, watch this clip about beauty shop culture.