Fannie Flagg hasn’t even set foot in town yet, but she’s already the most popular author Mansfield Reads! has ever had.
“They called and told me they had chosen my book,” Flagg said. “I was so flattered. I’m a cheap date.”
Flagg, a nationally known actress and author, was thrilled to be heading to Texas, where part of her newest book, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, is set. The Friends of the Library chose Flagg’s book for this year’s Mansfield Reads!, where they ask the community to read the same book, then invite the author.
By Saturday, the 12th annual event had 644 people slated to attend the author reception. Anticipating the large crowd, the Friends had decided to move the party from the Mansfield Public Library, which can only hold 160, to the Mansfield ISD Center for Performing Arts. Even then, the response has already caused the event to be moved from the west hall into the main floor of the auditorium, which can hold up to 900.
Flagg may be better known for her 1987 novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, which was turned into a feature film in 1991. Fried Green Tomatoes actually led to The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, Flagg said.
“My great-aunt, Bess Fortenberry, owned a little railroad cafe outside Birmingham, Alabama,” she said. “She sold it to Mrs. McMillan. That little cafe has become a tourist thing.”
Flagg needed a recipe, so she called McMillan and wound up with the ingredients for her latest book.
“She said we’ve got the cutest bunch of people here, they’re WASPs, ladies that used to fly airplanes in the Second World War,” Flagg recalled. “They’re having a reunion here.”
Flagg told McMillan that she would pay for the ladies’ lunch, and soon started receiving thank you cards.
“They sent me books that they had written about themselves,” she said. “I was so impressed.”
The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion tells the story of the WASPs, the Women Airforce Service Pilots, who trained in Sweetwater. The novel starts out in opposite sides of the country, with Flagg’s trademark funny and flawed characters.
Sookie Poole is a middle-aged mother of four in Point Clear, Ala., who is kind to everyone but pushed around by her own domineering mother. When she finds out she is adopted, and that her birth mother is actually a Polish woman named Fritzi Jurdabralinski from Pulaski, Wisconsin, her world is turned upside down as she dares to dig up her roots.
The novel inserts flashes back to Fritzi, who comes from a large Roman Catholic immigrant family that pulls together to run her father’s filling station when the men in the family go off to fight in World War II. Fritzi is soon barnstorming with a traveling pilot, eventually winding up training and flying with the Women Airforce Service Pilots in Texas along with her sisters.
The character of Sookie Poole is “one of my best friends from high school, who was very scared of her mother,” Flagg said. Sookie’s mother had some characteristics of Flagg’s own grandmother.
“My grandmother was rather imperious,” Flagg said. “My cousin took her to Washington and drove her past the British embassy. She said ‘That’s where I belong, drinking tea with the queen.’”
The Polish family in The All-Girl Filling Station had an equally entertaining origin.
“Certain writers will catch on in certain countries,” Flagg said. “For some reason, I am very popular in Poland. I appreciate it so much I wanted to write some Polish characters.”
For her appearance at Mansfield Reads!, Flagg says she plans to read parts of the book, talk about how she gets ideas and how she started writing.
“We’re obviously thrilled that she is that well-known and well-liked and we think it’s going to be a great event,” said Paula Highfill, a member of the Friends of the Library.
Response has been so great that the pre-event reception at 6 p.m. is filled, but people can still RSVP for the author event at 7 p.m. at www.friendsofmansfieldlibrary.org. Admission is free, but RSVP is required.
Amanda Rogers, 817-473-4451
7 p.m. Friday
Mansfield ISD Center for the Performing Arts
1110 W. Debbie Lane