Be inspired: Meet “Walking to Listen” author Andrew Forsthoefel in Birmingham

There is something about America and the personal journeys taken to discover its landscapes and human spirit, that produces great authors and great literature.

 

Thoreau’s Walden. Mark Twain’s many writings about life on the Mississippi River. Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. And my personal favorites, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge and Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood.

 

Andrew Forsthoefel’s Walking to Listen – 4000 Miles Across America One Story at a Time taps into that American tradition.

 

4000 miles, 15 states, 85 hours of audio tape, interviews with 1000s of people,  and 5 pairs of shoes, Forsthoesfel  begins his journey from his suburban Northwestern Pennsylvania home and ends it in San Francisco. Along the way, at a critical juncture in Walking to Listen, Forsthoesfel discovers Alabama and his desire to “do something.”

 

On Saturday, March 25th, 2:00pm at the Brookwood Village’s Books a Million, Forsthoesfel will be holding a book-signing and talk about Walking to Listen. On Monday, March 27th, 4:00pm, he travels to the Black Belt and will be speaking and signing books at the Selma and Dallas County Public Library.

Earlier this week, Bham Now talked with Forsthoesfel about his journey through Alabama and the power of listening.

 

About Alabama:

Forsthoesfel : Alabama blew me away.  Both fell in love and my heart fell into a blender. I saw the repercussions of slavery. My part of it. My history. Perpetrating the pain or healing…. Alabama woke me up with its generosity.  It felt like coming home – “like family.”   But even though you love your family, you don’t always get along with it.

About America:
Forsthoesfel: Alabama helped me fall in love with America.  There is a lot of hatred and intolerance, but by listening I saw their humanity, coming from a place of love.

Biggest influence:

Forsthoesfel: Walt Whitman is my biggest influence.  Also my mother. She was my teacher and mentor.

About the book and listening:
Forsthoesfel: On my journey I got to listen to thousands of people, a mother with 10 children, a cotton farmer, a racoon hunter – listening with ears tuned to the “frequency” of wisdom.”

The book is filled with stories, but the passages about Forsthoesfel’s time in the Black Belt and Selma stand out.  On MLK, Jr. Day, he was given a tour of the city by the Police Chief of Selma, William Riley, one of the town’s first African Americans in that position. When the police chief took him to the jail cell Martin Luther King, Jr. had stayed, Forsthoesfel was clearly moved.

 

An excerpt from Walking to Listen:

“Then he (Selma’s police chief) gave me a tour of the police station, taking me inside the jail cell where Dr. King had been incarcerated. Standing in that cell was one of the most humbling moments of my walk, getting close like that to such an important spirit. It struck me that this spirit had had a body once, just like I had a body now, hands that once touched these bars that I was touching, feet that once walked this floor. I didn’t see Dr. King’s ghost, but I did feel connected to him. It made me want to go out and do something.”

And Forsthoesfel did “do something.”  In the great tradition of America’s greatest writers and their personal journeys, and by listening, he has captured within the pages of Walking to Listen,  the soul of our nation.

 

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.