DAPHNE SIMPKINS is a native of Alabama and a great admirer of Southern eccentricities. She has been writing about the South and faith for about almost thirty years. Originally a writer of essays for major periodicals throughout the United States, most notably The Chicago Tribune, she began writing short stories as the newspaper industry changed. She has written over 200 essays and short stories, which have been published in the U.S. and Canada.
CLARICE: Daphne, I did a little research on you as an Adjunct English Instructor at Auburn University in Montgomery. Here’s what some of your students had to say:
- “She is so full of life and really loves her job.”
- “She is a nut case sometimes, but she is down to earth.”
- “She is a very out of the box thinker.”
- “It’s easy to get her off topic though.”
- “I LOVE this woman! She is the best teacher at AUM! So helpful, nice, and funny! She actually cares and wants you to do well in her class.”
So what do you say? Is any of this true? What do you enjoy most about teaching?
DAPHNE: I love teaching more than ever. I teach business writing and it’s so practical. I just heard from a student this morning via email who took a class with me in 2010. First, I was shocked that she could remember my name, and then I was delighted that she did. She wanted me to check her current resume. I did—offered some comments and told her how proud I was of her and to let me know if she got the job. She wrote back: “It means a lot to me that you believe in me.” I do.
Do I get off topic sometimes? Sure. Am I a nutcase sometimes? Of course. You can’t live in the South without being a little nutty. Do I teach business writing in spite of all of that? Yes, I do—with a glad heart that I can help young people prepare to succeed in the business world by learning how to tell the truth well and bravely. That’s my mission as a teacher.
CLARICE: Let’s talk about your books. Nat King Cole: An Unforgettable Life of Music was written for 5th and 6th graders. How did you come about writing it?
DAPHNE: I was asked by a publisher to write it, and I was home taking care of my father at the time who had Alzheimer’s disease. It was a good way to fill the days with music while he and I kept each other company in new ways. My daddy liked to sing, and we sang quite a lot back then—a nice memory to have now.
CLARICE: Your second book, The Long Good Night: My Father’s Journey into Alzheimer’s was a personal memoir inspired by columns you wrote primarily for The Chicago Tribune. Can you tell us how writing the column and subsequently the book helped you process the experience of caring for your father, a victim of Alzheimer’s?
DAPHNE: People still like that book because the experience of caregiving is the same—challenging, frustrating, lonely and, in ways you don’t expect, freeing. I think it keeps caregivers company without dictating to them how to process their own experience or make demands of them to become a kind of caregiver they are not. I am presently writing a follow-up called WHAT AL LEFT BEHIND. Should I change that title? I don’t know. Still thinking about it……This collection of essays is about the ways that taking care of an Alzheimer’s patient broke my heart, and in powerful ways reshaped my values and changed my vocabulary for the better, I believe. I see aging and caregiving differently now and in very positive ways that have wrought peace in my life.
CLARICE: I first met you through your Mildred Budge columns, which I found delightful. When your book Miss Budge In Love: The Short Adventures of Mildred Budge came out, I knew I’d love it since I enjoy your humor and character-driven plots. Tell us how you developed this character and how has she has evolved in A Mildred Budge Adventure: Cloverdale and A Mildred Budge Adventure: Embankment?
DAPHNE: Well, thanks for liking Mildred Budge. I started writing the Mildred short stories when I developed new friendships with older people who were not aging as sadly as someone does with Alzheimer’s. They were vibrant, lively, witty people who were such a distinct contrast to people who aged sadly with dementia of the Alzheimer’s variety. When I looked around, the people fading sadly got some of the attention, but the people aging well—the Auntie Mame sorts—were not getting any attention at all. I decided to celebrate them. Oddly I chose a nondescript sort Mildred Budge to be the center of the stories and let the other people around her shine. She likes it that way. And I really like Mildred. And, yes, she did pose nude in that last short story, so she’s got some surprises in her.
From those early stories, I began to see larger ones and the first novel Cloverdale was imagined and written. It’s set during a Missions Conference at her church, but the reader sees pretty quickly that the real missionaries are not only the world travelers who come in with exciting stories to tell but the quiet behind-the-scenes folks in a community who keep the good works going in the name of Jesus—the name that Mildred breathes in and out all day long because Jesus is her very breath, her water, her food—the substance of her faith and her life.
CLARICE: A Cookbook For Katie: Upon the Occasion of Her Marriage Recipes and Reveries for the Bride is your latest book, which you classify as “a Southern memoir masquerading as a cookbook.” I agree. I smiled my way through this book, enjoying your sweet and savory stories and wit. Did you originally intend on writing this cook book for your niece? Or did it just turn out that way?
DAPHNE: I had no plans at all to write a cookbook. Truly. My niece fell in love with an airman who is stationed in Utah. When it was obvious that she was moving to Utah as soon as she could, Katie asked me to put together some family recipes so that she could make home style meals in her home. I had been writing about the child I have always called Beloved while she was growing up, but I hadn’t shared very many of those stories with her. I thought it was time to do that, so I put those stories in the Cookbook, too. Also I had a number of stories about family members Katie could barely remember or had never met—a few of them had been published– and so I decided to layer the recipes with the portraits and stories of family members and family life, so that she would have a taste of home if she got homesick and the recipes that went with them to ease the strain of our being apart. A Cookbook For Katie was truly the most fun I ever had writing a book, and others seem to be enjoying it too. Mothers of brides are buying it for their daughters even if the bride’s name isn’t Katie. I like that a lot, and I hope my niece doesn’t mind sharing her love story with the world that way. Just because other people like the book I wrote just for her doesn’t mean it isn’t still just for her—it just means that stories about love and recipes have a broader appeal.
CLARICE: What does an average day in the life of Daphne Simpkins look like? Besides writing, do you have any other interests?
DAPHNE: I am the happiest person I know. My average day is trying not to be too happy in front of other people because often people are suspicious of very happy people, but I am very happy, very healthy, very optimistic and I spend my days singing, praying and writing about how good life is when you know the rescuing love of Jesus. He had a job to do. He did it—is still doing it, and people like me are the beneficiaries of his mercy. That’s my story and all the stories I write eventually work towards saying that.
“A happy heart makes the face cheerful . . .” ~ Proverbs 15:13a (NIV)
To learn more about Daphne Simpkins, visit her website at www.DaphneSimpkins.com. You can also look for her and Mildred Budge on Facebook.