Cover image for Back home : journeys through Mobile
Back home : journeys through Mobile
Hoffman, Roy, 1953-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Tuscaloosa : University of Alabama Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xii, 380 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F334.M6 H56 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



After twenty years in New York City, a prize-winning writer takes
a "long look back" at his hometown of Mobile, Alabama.

In Back Home: Journeys through Mobile , Roy Hoffman
tells stories--through essays, feature articles, and memoir--of one of
the South's oldest and most colorful port cities. Many of the pieces here
grew out of Hoffman's work as Writer-in-Residence for his hometown newspaper,
the Mobile Register , a position he took after working in New York
City for twenty years as a journalist, fiction writer, book critic, teacher,
and speech writer. Other pieces were first published in the New York
Times , Southern Living , Preservation , and other publications.
Together, this collection comprises a long, second look at the Mobile of
Hoffman's childhood and the city it has since become.

Like a photo album, Back Home presents close-up
portraits of everyday places and ordinary people. There are meditations
on downtown Mobile, where Hoffman's grandparents arrived as immigrants
a century ago; the waterfront where longshoremen labor and shrimpers work
their nets; the back roads leading to obscure but intriguing destinations.
Hoffman records local people telling their own tales of race relations,
sports, agriculture, and Mardi Gras celebrations. Fishermen, baseball players,
bakers, authors, political figures--a strikingly diverse population walks
across the stage of Back Home .

Throughout, Hoffman is concerned with stories and their
enduring nature. As he writes, "When buildings are leveled, when land is
developed, when money is spent, when our loved ones pass on, when we take
our places a little farther back every year on the historical time-line,
what we have still are stories."

Author Notes

Roy Hoffman is Writer-in-Residence for the Mobile Register. His writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Esquire. He is also the author of the Lillian Smith Award-winning novel Almost Family

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

After 21 years in New York City, Roy Hoffman (Almost Family) returned with his wife and daughter to his hometown of Mobile, Ala. Back Home: Journeys Through Mobile is a collection of his writings feature stories, memoirs, essays about the town, many of which were previously published in the Mobile Register. Hoffman interviews many of Mobile's distinctive characters, like Joseph Langan, a longtime Mobile mayor now in his 80s, who was once vilified as a Communist by whites who thought he was too sympathetic to blacks, and a racist by blacks who didn't agree. Herbert Aaron Sr., father of the great home-run hitter Hank Aaron, tells Hoffman why so many great baseball players are Mobile sons. These stories were written to explore what Hoffman calls a "sense of place," and they eloquently answer the question that so troubles the author upon his return: "[W]hat's left to tell me where I am?" (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Hoffman (Almost Family), who had left his hometown and lived in the New York metropolitan area for 20 years, returned to the South when the Mobile Register offered him a job as "writer-in-residence." Here he collects essays, a memoir, and feature articles originally published in the Mobile Register, New York Times, Southern Living, and other publications. Hoffman's work transcends region while celebrating it. He writes about what makes Mobile and its inhabitants both the descendants of the town's founders and the newcomers a rarity. The best traditions of this unhomogenized city Mardi Gras, the bay, good food, fine storytellers, and Southern hospitality are traits that newcomers adopt rather than ignore. Hoffman, whose grandparents came to the city as immigrants, has a special affection for other newcomers, and it is impossible to miss the humanity in this collection. Belonging on the same shelf as Rick Bragg's Somebody Told Me (LJ 5/1/00) and Larry McMurtry's Roads (LJ 7/00), this is recommended for all libraries. Pam Kingsbury, Alabama Humanities Fdn., Florence (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One                                  If you drive downtown on a weekday afternoon in the last years of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st you may find, at first, a quiet place where time seems to have curved just beyond the boundaries. It even seems haunted in places, the names of old stores faint signatures on peeling walls. There are new places thriving, to be sure--a children's science museum called the Exploreum, a high-rise Government Plaza, rock-n-roll emporia that do not begin to fill until 10 P.M.--but most stores and offices have moved toward suburban west Mobile, out where Airport Boulevard and I-65 cross amidst a sprawl of shopping centers and American eateries.     Three centuries have passed since the French first settled upriver, got flooded out and moved down to the present site of downtown Mobile, at the mouth of the Mobile River. The flags that flew over the realm changed through the eras--French, British, Spanish, United States, Confederate and, of course, United States again. But the site of Mobile's heart, close to the boats and the trains, stayed the same until automobiles took it far away.     I start my journeys through Mobile like my grandfather--on Dauphin Street. My stories are 20th-century ones, and now that the century has astonishingly come and gone, we can sec what we had, and what we lost--many of our downtown family enterprises, the bakeries and drugstores and movie houses and retail stores that made "going downtown" a special event, one you got dressed up for. That's what many people remember and long for--not out of nostalgia, I don't think, but yearning to be somewhere distinctive, somewhere that says it's truly your home.     To go downtown today can be a melancholic experience, since so much has vanished even after these pieces were written. But if you remember some of the businesses and lives that flourished there, and replay the stories of some storekeepers and families, it can be a rich, involving experience, too. Copyright © 2001 Roy Hoffman. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. xi
Introductionp. 1
Part I Going Downtownp. 7
My Grandfather's Worldp. 11
A Walk Down Dauphinp. 11
A Contract for Watermelonsp. 18
The Enduring Ringp. 21
Corner Drugstores, Moviehouses, and Breadp. 25
The Lost Counter Culturep. 25
Moviehouse Dreamsp. 30
Our Daily Breadp. 36
Pictures of Overbeyp. 45
Bienville Square Bus Stopp. 53
Part II On the Dock of the Bayp. 57
Reading the Lightsp. 60
On Fairhope Pierp. 63
Coming to Portp. 71
A Night With a Bar Pilotp. 71
Bearing the Loadp. 80
Shore Leavep. 85
Hurricane Chroniclesp. 91
Hurricane Peoplep. 91
Old Hurricane Storiesp. 92
Waiting for Georgesp. 101
A World of Waterp. 104
Jubilee!p. 106
Part III Through the Countrysidep. 111
Old Highway 90p. 114
King Cotton's New Facep. 121
The Miller's Talep. 129
The Music of "Pah-cahns"p. 136
Part IV Colorful Competitionsp. 141
Baseball in the Bloodp. 145
Tommie Littleton: Gentleman Boxerp. 155
Men of Steel: Wheelchair Basketballp. 163
The Great Anvil Shootp. 170
Part V Tangled Legaciesp. 175
Peter's Legaciesp. 179
Search for a Slave Shipp. 185
Alexis Herman Comes Homep. 194
Long Lives the Mockingbirdp. 199
Part VI Newcomers Among Usp. 205
Las Familias de la Tierrap. 209
By the Sweat of Their Browsp. 209
Helping Hands for Childrenp. 218
On the Asian Coastp. 224
Khampou's Villagep. 224
Buddhist Templep. 234
Part VII Intriguing Portraitsp. 245
Sage Voicesp. 249
Joe Langan's City Limitsp. 249
Albert Murray's House of Bluesp. 259
Alma Fisher: Out of Auschwitzp. 268
Past Triumphsp. 280
Dr. James Franklin: Healing Us Stillp. 280
Ben May: The Quiet Philanthropistp. 288
U.S. Attorney Armbrecht: A Matter of Willp. 295
Close Ties Far Awayp. 303
Morocco to Mobile: Paul Bowles' Secret Journeyp. 303
Monumental Talent: Tina Allen's Heroic Sculpturesp. 309
Part VIII The Seasonal Roundp. 317
As the Calendar Turnsp. 320
Rain Town, U.S.A.p. 320
Azaleas at 8 mphp. 321
Point Clear P.O.p. 323
In My Parents' Dancestepsp. 326
The End-of-Year Recitalp. 329
Summer Heatp. 331
The First Music of Fallp. 333
Already Home for the Holidaysp. 337
Snow!p. 340
Holiday Lightsp. 342
Marking Timep. 345
Part IX Mardi Gras Drumsp. 349
Let the Good Times Rollp. 354
Welcome Millenniump. 363
Acknowledgmentsp. 371
Permissionsp. 375