Author Miriam K. Center (photograph by John Zeuli)
Already a dedicated advocate for the empowerment of women, a world traveler, successful real estate agent, and author of the scandalously irreverent Scarlett O’Hara Can Go to Hell, Miriam K. Center recently added the title of playwright to her list of things to accomplish while living on earth. Center has long been a fan of theatre who lists Edward Albee, Neil LaBute, Sam Shepherd, “and of course Tennessee Williams” among some of her favorite playwrights. Curtains are currently scheduled to go up on her own first play, Johnny and Me, at the Landings’ Plantation Club in Savannah, Georgia, June 3 and 4, 2009; and at the Exhibit Hall in the Savannah Civic Center on July 11. Ms. Center recently took a few minutes out of her schedule to talk with me about the play, her old friend Johhny Mercer, and what it means to be Miriam K. Center.
Aberjhani: How would you describe your journey as a writer up this point?
Miriam: Writing has brought up every insecurity I could imagine. Some I didn’t know about. I have never felt that I know anything at all about writing, just that I have something to say, and this is a way to say it. To regurgitate my feelings if you will.
Aberjhani: You say you have never felt that you know anything at all about writing, yet you have been a journalist and authored the novel Scarlett O’Hara Can Go to Hell . Does your statement mean that despite these accomplishments you do not consider yourself to be a writer, or author, per se?
Miriam: I feel that I don’t know the techniques of writing or what the books tell you when you study journalism or anything that has a formula or technique to follow. I did take some courses but I never feel that I have been trained academically in the field of writing. Journalism is my favorite form because it is succinct.
Aberjhani: What is the most important thing this specific mode of communication, writing, has allowed you to say to the world thus far?
Miriam: My truths about what I have seen or experienced in the world. I have had amazing comments and feedback from people who have read my book or a particular article that has been published.
Aberjhani: What role does spirituality play in your pursuits as an author and human being?
Miriam: As an author I feel that truth, which is spirituality, is necessary. Even when writing fiction truth is the most important element. As a human being spirituality is the core of who I am, even though it scares many who were always a part of my life. However, I am true to that core and if others don’t want to cross the bridge to freedom with me, I go it alone, because I always have spirit.
Aberjhani: What would say are some of the sorrows and what are some of the joys of “going it alone” spiritually?
Miriam: The sorrows are that on a spiritual journey I have to leave so many and move on because they are not ready to cross the bridge to spiritual freedom. I want to extend my hand and pull them with me, but all I can do is go my way and wave to them when I’ve arrived. The joy is knowing in my heart where I have been and how far I have come to be me and to claim myself as a full woman.
Aberjhani: A number of tributes in honor of the Johnny Mercer Centennial have been staged in New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, plus more are scheduled. What makes your play, JOHNNY AND ME, different from, or more unique, than these others?
Miriam: Good question. I knew Johnny in his later years when he too was struggling to be free and just be himself, a real wonderful spirit. We sat for hours ideating and philosophizing and just laughing like hell. We shared our thoughts on humanity, politics and families. In my play I attempt to show him as a multidimensional person, not a plastic person. He was wonderful and I cherish that I can recall some of our times together in my play, Johnny & Me!
Aberjhani: How did you first meet Johnny Mercer?
Miriam: I first met him at the Academy Awards in 1963, when he won the Oscar for The Days of Wine and Roses. He wrote the lyrics and Henry Mancini wrote the music. I was a guest of my cousin Hal Kanter, who is a well known producer and has written the Awards for over thirty years.<!–[if gte vml 1]> <![endif]–>
Aberjhani: Why do you feel Mercer has had such universal and long-lasting appeal up to the point that a modern-day Hollywood icon such as Clint Eastwood chose to feature his music in his soundtrack for Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil?
Miriam: Well, in the first place Eastwood chose Mercer’s music because he’s from Savannah and the story of Jim Williams [told in Midnight] is a Savannah story. I’m sure that’s the main reason, but Mercer’s music goes with everything, because he’s universal.
Aberjhani: What is your favorite Mercer song and why?
Miriam: I love “Autumn Leaves.” It is lyrical and mystical and very visual. He was the master of lyric writing.
Aberjhani: In addition to your play, what other creative projects do you have in the works?
Miriam: I have a manuscript on Savannah Crimes that is waiting for the right publisher. And I am working on my book, Daughters Of Destiny, which tells the stories of women who have overcome great challenges and their struggles. It encompasses every drama and humor that anyone could dream up, because they are true stories of real lives. If I live long enough I intend to have a radio talk show called Daughters Of Destiny. That is my spiritual work and my legacy.
Aberjhani: As a founder of several chapters of Daughters of Destiny what is the most significant thing you attempt to communicate to women?
Miriam: Be your authentic self, no pretense, no falseness. Be who you are and follow your heart.
Aberjhani: If Johnny Mercer were alive to sit in the audience of your play do you think he would enjoy it?
Miriam: Without a doubt. He would even add to the manuscript things that are saucy that I omitted. He was his authentic self which is the reason for his beautiful music. He would get on the stage and sing for everyone.
Aberjhani: Is there anything I have not asked you that you would like to add?
Miriam: Yes, I wish that members of the public revered creative writing more than they do. So many of my friends, noted authors included, have to struggle to get their words before the public.
Aberjhani: Thank you for chatting with me. As always, it has been a tremendous pleasure.
Miriam: Thank you. I’ve enjoyed it.
Tickets for Johnny and Me are currently still available for $15-$25. For more information, please call 912-247-4644. To learn about Miriam K. Center, visit her website at http://creativethinkersintl.ning.com/profile/ADaughterofDestiny
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love