Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Pen to Podium Event Highlights Arkansas Quirks

Joe David Rice, author and former tourism director, talks about
his book during the last Pen to Podium event of 2019.
About 50 people gathered on a cold, November evening to hear author Joe David Rice talk about the quirky characters and odd past of Arkansas during the last Pen to Podium event of 2019.

“These little stories just disappear,” said Lee Ann Matson, who attended the lecture with her husband Russell Matson. Small historical facts are important and must be preserved, Russell added. “They are the reason for the way things are,” he said.

Author and former tourism director Joe David Rice spoke about his two volume book set, “Arkansas Backstories: Quirks, Characters, and Curiosities of the Natural State,” at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, at Arkansas Heritage at 1100 North St. in Little Rock. Rice’s book is chalked full of forgotten stories that helped shape the way Arkansas is today, attendees said.

Rice’s lecture was part of the 2019 quarterly “Pen to Podium: Arkansas Historical Writers’ Lecture” series, which was sponsored by the Arkansas State Archives and the Friends of the Arkansas State Archives. The event was free.

“The stories involving robber barons, scoundrels and wannabe politicians are fascinating,” Rice said about his book. “I think even non-history buffs will enjoy learning about some of the incidents and characters that have helped shape this state.”

Rice, a well-known writer, researcher and adventurer, has investigated Arkansas’s unique and lesser-known historical facts, places and people. His book delves into details like how the first sitting member of Congress was shot to death in Monroe County and how the CIA used secret contracts with an Arkansas organization to train animals for clandestine activities. He talked about how Arkansas had, then lost Watson State Park, which was the first state park exclusively for African Americans. He also talked about how diamond tycoons kept Arkansans from industrializing and profiting from what is now Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Rice first published “Arkansas Backstories” in 2018. A companion to his original book was published this past April. Both books, volumes 1 and 2, are available through stores online.

Ann Beck, who attended the lecture, said she learned a lot of interesting facts about Arkansas and is now interested in visiting places like Zack, Arkansas. The community in Searcy County is little-known and rural but has cabins and was once home to Elton Britt, a famous country and western artists who ran for U.S. president in 1960.

For more information on Arkansas history, contact the Arkansas State Archives at state.archives@arkansas.gov or 501-682-6900. Visit the Arkansas History Channel, by Gary Jones, for a summary video of Rice's lecture. Other Pen to Podium lectures are available on YouTube