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Moment 10: Charles Frazier & The Cherokee Dancers (2007)

10 Great Moments in DBF History
Moment 10: Charles Frazier & The Cherokee Dancers (2007)

Alice Murray was founding board president of the
AJC Decatur Book Festival. After seven years as president, she
remains on the board as secretary. She retired after 26 years with
the AJC and now works as Student Media Adviser at Georgia Perimeter
College where she attempts to help students navigate today’s media

Looking back at each festival since Labor Day 2006, memories surface
like images reflected on water.

One such memory comes from 2007, when Charles Frazier brought Cherokee
dancers to punctuate his keynote address.

Frazier had made the literary A List with his first novel, Cold
Mountain, winning the National Book Award in 1997.

As a native of East Tennessee with deep roots in Appalachia, I was a
fan of both Frazier and Cold Mountain. When Frazier’s long awaited
second novel, Thirteen Moons, arrived in October 2006, I was first
in line to buy it.

For the 2007 festival, Executive Director Daren Wang and Program
Director Tom Bell scored when they convinced Frazier to give a
keynote address.

We knew that Frazier was a somewhat reluctant media star, so we were
not surprised when he wanted to do more than talk about his book. He
agreed to speak only if the evening would focus on the Cherokees.

Frazier agreed to a conversation on stage with former AJC Book Editor
Theresa Weaver if the evening also included an address by native
Cherokee speaker Myrtle Driver Johnson and a performance by a troupe
of Cherokee dancers. Johnson read from a chapter in Thirteen Moons
that had been translated into Cherokee. Afterwards, the dancers
performed outside on the Agnes Scott quadrangle.

Not only was I a fan of Cold Mountain, I was enthralled with Frazier’s
story in Thirteen Moons. The North Carolina native dug deep into
Cherokee history to create his fictionalized account of a real
person — William Holland Thomas — who was the only white man to
serve as chief of the Eastern Band of the Cherokees.

The book coincided with my research about my family’s Cherokee
history. My mother’s maternal grandmother — whose picture hangs in
my guest room — was a Cherokee whose family had assimilated into
white culture in the mid 19th century.

Anticipating meeting Frazier, I arranged to be backstage before the
keynote. That’s when I first met the Warriors of AniKituhwa.

I admit to gasping a bit when I encountered the traditionally
(and scantily) attired male dancers backstage. As Cherokee historian
Dr. Barbara Duncan describes their authentic 18th century attire, the
dancers are “covered in red paint from head to toe, wearing only
breechclouts fastened around their waists and moccasins on their

For this performance, the dancers also wore leggings, but their
attire painted a dramatic picture of my Cherokee ancestors. The
costumes, I learned later, were accurate reproductions of how Cherokee
dancers were described in 1762 and lent authenticity to the traditional
dances they performed by torchlight as the waning moon lit the night

The dancers also imprinted a memory in my mind of one special evening
among the hundreds of moments that have made working with the festival
some of the best times of my life.

—Alice Murray