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OPINION | PAPER TRAILS: Arkansas author releases book of short stories about life on the Delta

by Sean Clancy | September 10, 2023 at 4:01 a.m.

The new book by Arkansas author Denise White Parkinson continues her mission of telling the stories of the people who lived on the lower White River in the early part of the 20th century.

"The River Sisters: Tales & Legends of the Arkansas Delta" is a short book of young adult historical fiction set in the late 1930s in St. Joan, a community based on St. Charles in Arkansas County. Parkinson will sign copies during a book launch at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Electric Strawberry, 500 West Grand Ave., Hot Springs.

The 56-page book is made up of nine chapters and features illustrations by Parkinson.

"It takes place right before the run up to World War II, so there's this calm period on the river," Parkinson, 60, says. "Each chapter is a sort of stand-alone story with a moral at the end, like a fable."

Her first book, 2013's nonfiction "Daughter of the White River: Depression-Era Treachery and Vengeance in the Arkansas Delta," was about the life and tragic death of Arkansas folk hero Helen Spence, who grew up on a houseboat near St. Charles and was convicted of manslaughter after she shot and killed Jack Worls during his 1931 trial in DeWitt for the murder of her father.

Parkinson has spent years telling the story of Spence, who died on July 10, 1934 after being shot by a prison trusty during an escape attempt from the State Farm for Women in Jacksonville. Along with Julie Williams, Parkinson co-directed "Daughter of the White River," a 2018 documentary about Spence that features old footage of life along the White River, interviews and re-created scenes from Spence's life.

The movie will be shown Oct. 6 as part of Filmland: Arkansas at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in Little Rock.

Spence is among the real-life characters, including Spanish Civil War flying ace and Ernest Hemingway pal Frank Tinker, who appear in "River Sisters." Several of Parkinson's kin also show up in the book's pages including her great-grandmother, who had a houseboat at Clarendon where Parkinson spent idyllic summers during her childhood until, she says, her great-grandmother was forced from the spot by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

She was inspired to write "The River Sisters" seven years ago by her son, Cason, after he asked her to write a story of historical fiction inspired by their family, Spence and river culture in Arkansas. She dedicated the book to him and her daughter, Grace Norton. It's also dedicated to her eldest son, Jasper White-Williams, who died on May 11 at age 36 and to "river sisters & brethren everywhere."

"I call it an 'imbridgenous' culture," Parkinson says of river society. "They were multi-ethnic ... a bridge ... and no one has told our history."


Print Headline: Author tells tales of life on Delta


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