Tuesday, October 11, 2011


When I first saw Barbara Bates Smith do her one woman show based on Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies, I was so overcome that by the end, I needed a box of kleenex.  I think Barbara was a bit taken aback by my emotional response!   So was I.  I had become Ivy Rowe as I listened to Barbara become Ivy--girlhood, childbirth, widowhood, old age.  Each time I see Barbara perform, whether it's Lee's On Agate Hill or several of her short stories, I have a similar reaction, though I know by now to keep the tissue close by so as not to embarrass myself.  Or Barbara.
I remember Barbara telling about presenting Ivy Rowe in Lee's hometown of Grundy, Virginia.  The only correction Lee had to make during rehearsal was her pronunciation of "bury."  
 It had to be "burry."  Yes, indeed.  And I still remember the announcement in the Sylva Wal-mart a few years back, "Will the woman who wanted the chocolate covered churries please come to Health & Beauty."  Barbara offers her post on the rewards of performing Lee's characters, followed by a video of the closing scene of  On Agate Hill.  
And for those of us in the Jackson County area, Barbara will be presenting a Christmas program, Deck the Halls with Southern Writers at the new Jackson County Library in Sylva on November 29th.  She will read from work by Lee,  Allen Gurganus, Truman Capote and she's included one of my own poems.  Don't miss it.  And don't worry if your memory is as fallible as mine.  I'll keep reminding everybody about it.

Barbara Bates Smith as Ivy Rowe

Lee Smith
She’s turned into a mountain woman. She’s moved to the mountains, she plays the dulcimer, she clogs, she’s taken up quilting.  She’s turned into Ivy Rowe!” That’s what prizewinning novelist Lee Smith has said about me. I’m proud of that. An actress by trade, I’d been touring with my one-woman show, “Ivy Rowe,” based on the spunky Appalachian heroine of Lee’s novel, Fair and Tender Ladies. And I’d moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina, a perfect base for touring. I’d taken a lot of teasing from my peers: “You’re just trying to become this mountain woman you’ve been portraying.”  Yes! AndIvy Rowe” and I are still going strong with close to 700 performances.
Lee says that when she wants to empower a heroine, she sends her to the mountains. And I myself have become further empowered thereby—adding a musical accompanist and other Lee Smith works such as “On Agate Hill” to my repertoire.

Lee asks if I ever get tired of playing Ivy Rowe.  Never.  I love it every time. If six months go by with no Ivy, I get restless. This mountain woman both grounds me and lifts me up. The way she looks life in the face, says yes to it, makes mistakes, but always manages to “keep on keepin’ on.”  Sometimes I don’t know where she ends and I begin. I don’t care. I’m having too much fun.



  1. Mountain Woman? The mere phrase sends me all of a dither!

  2. Dave, I wish you could see Barbara perform "Ivy Rowe"!