Jo Carson’s Books

Several of Jo Carson’s books are available through the excellent auspices of TCG:

Spider Speculations Jo Carson lays bare her personal investigation into her own creative process after a spider bite on her back begins a series of life-altering events. Spider Speculations applies cutting edge mind-body science, quantum physics and ancient shamanistic techniques to describe how stories work in our bodies and our lives, and what happens when real stories are used in a public way. Carson, whose ability to capture the spoken word hallmarks her community-based work, sets down this story in her own distinctive voice, interspersing the journey with examples of her performance work. This truly original American book will speak to anyone thinking about art and community or engaging with people’s stories.

Liars, Thieves and Other Sinners on the Bench  A uniquely American writer and performer, Jo Carson spent twenty years working with peoples’ stories in communities across the country, crafting more than thirty plays from the oral histories she collected. In performance, these works have illuminated and invigorated the communities in which they were forged, as the people see themselves onstage in a new light. This book collects Carson’s favorite excerpts from the plays—stories that range from the homespun to the extraordinary and together create a portrait of America in an amazing diversity and authenticity of voices. They are slices of life, passed beyond the circle of family and neighbors.

Jo’s plays for the Orchard at Alta Pass are available through Ohio University Press:

Teller Tales: What Sweet Lips Can Do & Men of Their Time  Following an oral tradition that has strong roots in her native Tennessee, Jo Carson invites the reader to participate in events in a way that no conventional history book can. Both stories in this book are set in East Tennessee in the mid-eighteenth century and share certain characters. The first narrative, “What Sweet Lips Can Do,” recounts the story of the Overmountain Men and the battle of King’s Mountain, a tide-turning battle in the American Revolution. “Men of Their Time” is an exploration of white-Cherokee relationships from early contact through the time of the Revolution.




Reading of Jo Carson’s play DAYTRIPS on Sunday, March 25

The Down Home in Johnson City, TN will host a reading of Jo’s play “Daytrips” on Sunday, March 25, at 7:30 pm.

Former members of The Road Company, Emily Green-Cain, Christine Murdock, Laurene Scalf and Eugene Wolf, will be reading the parts.    “Daytrips” was first produced by The Road Company in 1988 at Blacksburg, VA, and received its regional theatre premiere at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in 1989.

In a 2008 interview, Carson said of the intensely personal piece, “God, that play was so scary to put on.”    Because it dealt with her mother’s decline caused by Alzheimer’s disease and her grandmother’s growing confusion, Carson refused to stage the play in Johnson City as long as her father was alive. Not long after he died, Carson was diagnosed with cancer, and plans to produce the play were put off.

Having the play produced in Johnson City was something she wanted to do, however.   Carson spoke with Ed Snodderly, co-owner of Down Home and a longtime member of The Road Company, about doing what she called a Month of Sundays — performances or readings of her work, including “Daytrips,” on four consecutive Sundays at Down Home — as soon as she regained her health.

“Of course, that didn’t happen,” Al Bentz, her longtime companion and literary co-executor, said.    Carson’s cancer returned in August, and, in September, she died.

After Carson’s death, Murdock approached Bentz about doing a reading of the play. “We still want to do that,” she said of Carson’s Month of Sundays.    Instead of four consecutive Sundays, however, there will be four seasonal presentations throughout 2012, beginning with “Daytrips.” Carson considered it her breakthrough work.

“After ‘Daytrips’ I began making my life as a writer,” she said in 2008.    In addition to Blacksburg and Los Angeles, “Daytrips” was produced at the Hartford Stage Company, the Women’s Project in New York, on stages in St. Louis and Atlanta and at Barter Theatre. In 1989, it won the prestigious Joseph Kesslering Award for Best New Play in America.

Murdock, who performed in the Los Angeles production, will reprise the role of Pat. Wolf will return to the role of Rose, which he performed at Barter Theatre’s Stage II in 1999. Scalf will read the part of the narrator, and Green-Cain will play Ree. Laura Leal is in charge of stage direction.

“It’s a reading,” Murdock explained. “There will be no sets, no props, no costumes.” It will be Carson’s words interpreted by actors who worked with her, knew her well and understood her work.    Down Home was the obvious choice for the venue because of its long association with The Road Company and Carson.    “(It) has always been the place where The Road Company did plays,” Snodderly said. “We’re carrying on that tradition.”

“Jo would be very pleased to know that we were going to carry this on,” Bentz said. “The thing she was most insistent upon — she wanted to be remembered for her work, and this does exactly that.”    Tickets are $15 and are available at Down Home and Morrell Music. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the restaurant will be serving food.    For more information, call 929-9822.

Adapted from an article for the Johnson City Press by Jan Hearne


Dispatch from DC: Funerary Edition

Rodger French, a long-time friend of Jo Carson’s, sends out occasional emails to an ever-growing list of readers, under the headline “Dispatches from DC.”  While he was in Africa, these were published as “Greetings from Ghana” and “Postings from Pretoria.”  Enjoy.

Dispatches from DC #13
I’ve lately had the privilege of being asked to play at memorial services for two rather extraordinary women, one of whom I knew pretty well, one of whom I never met. So, in remembrance of the recently departed, please permit me to offer a few thoughts.

Josephine Catron Carson: October 9, 1946 – September 19, 2011

Jo Carson was the finest writer I’ve ever known. More erudite observers than myself have written about her contributions to the world of letters and you would not regret doing a search and having a look-see. Her work is simply wonderful. And Jo was also a really interesting character. The stories told at her memorial reflected a life lived well, with a keen intellect and great good humour.

I had numerous interactions with Jo over the course of 30+ years and she was never shy about offering encouragement and constructive criticism, sometimes whether you asked for it or not. I sincerely appreciate that she made me a better bandleader. (Her critique of the early days of The DeLuxe Vaudeville Orchestra? “Too many damn tangos.” She was correct, of course.) She also told me that she liked my writing (specifically “Greetings From Ghana” and “Postings From Pretoria”). I can only begin to express how much that means to me.

Jo was felled by colon cancer that had gone untreated for too long. But even while dealing with that pain and terror, she managed to brilliantly orchestrate her passing. Her last days were spent surrounded my friends and well-wishers, among them some of the most creative artists in the country. Her memorial service was moving, inspirational, and a really good show.

And the accordionist played a tango in her honour.

[Sidebar - The service also featured perhaps the best line ever spoken in a church. Citing Jo's fatal illness, one of the speakers opined that Jo's passing should be used by members of the congregation as an incentive to "stick your head up your ass and take a good look around." Righteous.]

Emily Clevenger Haseltine: May 31, 1912 – August 15, 2011

In addition to playing accordion with the Washington Balalaika Society Orchestra, I occasionally sub with a smaller group, Ruuskie Musikanti. It was in this context that I learned about Emily, who had taken up the balalaika at the age of 84 and performed with the WBSO for several years.

Over the course of 99 (!) years, she also raised four children (followed by eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren), spent fifty-four years in the church choir, and worked enthusiastically on civil rights and immigration issues as a volunteer coordinator. She was, by all accounts, a great lover of life, a bit of a scamp, and a wonderful and entertaining person. I left the service wishing I had had the opportunity to make her acquaintance.

Reflecting on this posting also reminds me of words spoken at a memorial in Atlanta some years ago for a musician friend who passed on unexpectedly and too soon. The gist was that it is shortsighted to put off visiting people you love and respect; the end can come anytime and you may spend the rest of your days regretting your lack of initiative. And then the speaker proffered this simple advice: “Spend the money. Go.”


After the Wake


–for Jo


Now that you have crossed that river

now that we have sung you

to the other side

have taken leave

of your service and feast

your ashes

your house


Now that it is all behind us

and you far beyond us

what do we have

but your words

planted in the bygone dirt of your days

words which are still, by Dog,

climbing the trellis

of this unparalleled

(yes, I know) moment

and blooming like the Dickens

and the Welty bloom

against the always-turning pages

of their skies


Oh, Jo, I am trying to say

the unsayable again

because, after all, it’s my

rich and unpaying job—

same one you showed up for

at the door of every blessed day

Lift the lid on the brain-pot

stir up the heart-fire

and see what’s cooking


I realize I’ve traipsed in

from garden to kitchen

wordwise, but so did you,

Bear following close


Unceasingly at your wake

that old black dog

searched for you

among mourners eating

cheese dip in your kitchen-

dining-living-dying room,

playing ukeleles and stand-up bass

by the firepit in your yard,

talking and singing

their hearts out.  Bear

beseeched each guest

to be you or, failing that,

to bring you or, failing

that, to take her somehow

to you.  She could not rest.


We had each other—

distraction, consolation,

Spirit-drinking and conjuring.

No one wanted to leave

and take your absence

with them.  But we did, Jo,

saying goodbye to your dying

in that red-spread bed, in that

cinder-block nest with your

Day-of-the-Dead walker

foursquare in the corner,

with your walking stick/

mage’s staff collection hung

like the rungs of a ladder

on the wall


Now I want to make

a poetic finish

saying how at last

your ever-reaching spirit

has climbed another ladder


to the next world


but you say, “That’s bullshit,

George.  It’s pretty, and pretty

ain’t what it took to get me

out of my body, out of

that house, to let go

all that held me.  Say

what I said:  we are

by design supposed

to let go the hard stuff

and live in love.”

–George Ella Lyon


Jo Carson Celebration of Life with Feast to Follow, video in 5 parts

Jo Carson Celebration of Life with Feast to Follow video part 1 of 5

Jo Carson Celebration of Life with Feast to Follow video part 2 of 5

Jo Carson Celebration of Life with Feast to Follow video part 3 of 5

Jo Carson Celebration of Life with Feast to Follow video part 4 of 5

Jo Carson Celebration of Life with Feast to Follow video part 5 of 5

The “Celebration of Life with Feast to Follow” for Jo Carson on Saturday September 24th, 2011 was attended by hundreds of people traveling to Johnson City, Tennessee from all over the country. This is a video in 5 parts, with program notes and details in the fifth part.This was a public event and the sharing of it here is intended to include those who could only attend in spirit. Jo Carson Celebration Video courtesy Val Lyle 2011