The power of Oprah

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By Special to the Monitor

Having Oprah Winfrey be associated with a book can definitely push it into the spotlight.

Bret Lott, the bestselling author of “Jewel” and “The Difference between Women and Men” and the editor of “The Southern Review,” can attest to Winfrey’s literary power.

Lott’s fourth novel, “Jewel,” had been out of print by the time Winfrey came across it in 1991. The following year, a friend of Lott’s called to ask him whether he had seen the latest issue of “Redbook.” Inside was a two-page, photo spread of Winfrey standing in front of a bookcase containing several books. One of the books was “Jewel.”

Seven years later, in January 1999, Winfrey called Lott to tell him she would like to feature his book in her book club. The day she called, his book was ranked number 1,069,713 in sales at Amazon.com. By that evening, it was number 1.

“It was a weird thing. It was the exact same book,” Lott said. “My publisher called and said, ‘You don’t understand, you’ve written a classic.’

“I went on the show, and got to eat a meal with Oprah and these other women who had read the book,” he said. “Oprah is incredibly brilliant. She’s so well-read. It’s really cool that this person who has all this power to reach people actually reads books that aren’t just commercially popular.”

Lott’s fame doesn’t stop with Oprah. He has rubbed elbows with people like author Tom Wolfe and First Lady Laura Bush, and he saw Farrah Fawcett play the lead role in a television movie based on his novel “Jewel”—a work based loosely on his grandmother.

“Jewel” is the story of an American family’s odyssey from the dense backwoods of Mississippi to the dry heat and bright hope of the city streets of Los Angeles. It is a journey out of poverty and out of ignorance driven by one woman’s unbendable will, and an unstoppable love for her family.

With five healthy children and a war that allowed for steady work for Leston Hilburn, Jewel’s husband, “a twisted sort of blessing,” as Jewel noted, the Hilburns were happy and believed life would continue in a slow-paced Mississippi way. But when Jewel and Leston’s sixth child is born a “Mongolian idiot,” as the New Orleans doctor declared, their life changes, and Jewel leads her family on a journey to California that will bring all manner of hardship and joy.

Lott will sign his newest book, “Ancient Highway,” from 1-3 p.m. at Otowi Station Thursday. Before the singing, a luncheon with the author will be held at 11:30 a.m. at the Hill Diner. Tickets to reserve a seat at the event are available free at Otowi Station.

“It’s exciting to host a writer and teacher of Bret’s stature,” said Michele Vochosky, co-owner of Otowi Station. “We hope that our community of writers and readers will join us for lunch and the signing.” All of Lott’s titles will be 20 percent off this week and in August at Otowi Station.