Thursday, June 21, 2012

Arkansas Read to Investigate Arkansas Crimes

            Authors Mara Leveritt and Brooks Blevins will talk at the Garland County Library’s Great Arkansas Read summer reading program when its focus turns to two notorious Arkansas crimes the weekend of June 23rd and 24th.  The reading program, sponsored by the Friends of the Garland County Library, encourages readers to review books either about or written by Arkansans in order to have their names placed in a drawing pool for prizes, to be drawn July 27th, including an i-Pad and Amazon Kindle e-readers. 
            “Two of the most fascinating crime cases we’ve ever had in Arkansas are the West Memphis Three murders and the Connie Franklin case,” Karen Covey, Circulation Supervisor at the library, said.  “We had Mara Leveritt here about a year ago to talk about her book, ‘Devil’s Knot,’ and she gave a really great talk, not just as an author, but also as an advocate for the convicted men.  So much has happened since she was here, including the release of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Miskelly, that I can’t wait to hear what she has to say about all the developments in the case.”
            Leveritt will talk at 2 pm Saturday, June 23rd.  Her presentation will be preceded by a screening of “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” the 1996 documentary directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, at 11 am.
            “We wanted to show the most recent installment in the documentary series, “Purgatory,” but the DVD doesn’t come out until August,” Covey said.  “I haven’t seen it yet, but I don’t know how it could top the power of ‘Paradise Lost.”
            Mara Leveritt is a veteran Arkansas reporter, editor at Arkansas Times, and author of two nonfiction books about crime and public corruption. She has focused her writing for the past 30 years on police, courts and prisons. Leveritt has served as a state leader of Amnesty International and president of the Arkansas ACLU. In her capacities as a journalist and activist, she has been named Arkansas Journalist of the Year for her investigative reporting and Arkansas Abolitionist of the Year for her work to end the death penalty. 
            Brooks Blevins will talk about “Ghost of the Ozarks: Murder and Memory in the Upland South” at 2 pm on Sunday, June 24th.  “Ghost”  takes the reader back to 1929, to a remote county of the Arkansas Ozarks, where the gruesome murder of harmonica-playing drifter Connie Franklin and the brutal rape of his teenaged fiancĂ©e captured the attention of a nation on the cusp of the Great Depression.
            National press from coast to coast ran stories of the sensational exploits of night-riding moonshiners, powerful "Barons of the Hills," and a world of feudal oppression in the isolation of the rugged Ozarks. The ensuing arrest of five local men for both crimes and the confusion and superstition surrounding the trial and conviction gave Stone County a dubious and short-lived notoriety.
            “ ‘Ghost of the Ozarks’ is one of the best books I’ve read this year,” Covey said. “In fact, some of our staff at the library have argued over certain points of the case, which indicates how intriguing a crime that took place almost a century ago can continue to be.  We can’t wait to hear what Brooks has to say about writing his book.”
            A native of the Arkansas Ozarks, Brooks Blevins is the Noel Boyd Professor of Ozarks Studies at Missouri State University. His other books include Arkansas/Arkansaw: How Bear Hunters, Hillbillies, and Good Ol' Boys Defined a State and Hill Folks: A History of Arkansas Ozarkers and Their Image.
            A limited number of “Ghost of the Ozarks” will be available to buy at the event for Blevins to inscribe.  For more information about The Great Arkansas Read, call the library at 623-4161 or 922-4483.  Visit the library’s website at