Pensacola, Florida
Saturday October 20th 2018


For Slim

By Shelby Nalepa

A night of poetry, prose and folk music at Open Books will honor a prolific Florida poet, writer and musician as well as celebrate the bookstore’s 10th anniversary.

University of West Florida English instructor Scott Satterwhite and several others started Open Books in 2007 as a way to continue the Prison Books Project. The nonprofit program currently sends around 6,000 books each year to inmates in Florida prisons.

The brainchild of Satterwhite and his wife Lauren Anzaldo, the closing of the project’s original location at Subterranean Books prompted the opening of Open Books, originally at Barrancas Ave., as a way to continue the nonprofit. Open Books has been at its location on Guillemard St. since 2012.

Run by the proceeds of the bookstore and the time of generous volunteers, Open Books will celebrate 10 years with performances from musicians, singers and poets that include Mad Happy, Satterwhite, Mike Potters, Northwest Florida Poet Laureate Jamey Jones, hip-hop duo Black Superheroes, Aminah, Patrick Hutchinson, Charles McCaskill and LaChelle McCormick.

The event will also honor Slim McElderry, a profound but underappreciated poet, writer and musician associated with Pensacola and the Gulf Coast. McElderry passed away in November 2013, but those who knew him want to preserve his memory with Slim Fest, an event dedicated to remembering his legacy.

“His given name was Ronald Emmett McElderry, but he often went by Slim or Mac,” his son Sun McElderry, from Seattle, said. “He was an artist and professor who was really committed to preserving Gulf Coast culture through his art.”

McElderry was also a writer and completed many books and wrote memoirs, novels, poetry and plays, and was also a folk and blues singer-songwriter.

“Essentially capturing through his stories and songs the second half of the century in the South was what his life was all about,” his son said. “He loved the simple rhythm of life there, the peace and quiet, and he hoped very much that his work would serve as this reference and archive knowing that it would change over time, as the old ways of life disappeared and artists were eventually replaced. He wanted to preserve that magic.”

McElderry had a small cabin in Panacea in Wakulla County, which was home base as he travelled—with a typewriter and guitar—to teach at several different colleges. He helped to establish the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory with marine biologist and conservationist Jack Rudloe and lived right next to the lab.

“They were partners and Dad would document the cultural side,” he said. “They track the impacts on coastal wildlife and collect all sorts of marine life for biomedical purposes. Dad helped to make the lab well recognized.”

Sun said that Pensacola was McElderry’s favorite city in Florida and he had many close friends there.

“If he hadn’t owned a home in Panacea, he would have owned one in Pensacola,” he said. “He would travel back and forth frequently. He thought he could find kindred spirits, fellow artists and thinkers who appreciated his worth there, and the folks at Open Books were like a community for him. Scott Satterwhite has done a lovely job of helping to preserve Mac’s memories and the artists’ community in general.”

Eerily, three months after his death, McElderry was featured on NPR’s This American Life, as an unknown voice speaking about living off the coastal land in an episode called “Day At The Beach.” The segment he was featured in was from a public radio show recorded in the ‘70s produced by Florida State University.

“They didn’t know who it was because it was recorded anonymously,” Sun said. “Ira Glass introduces the segment by saying this is his favorite piece of radio ever. It’s about two or three minutes of this stream of consciousness monologue and that person is Dad. It was very fitting and eerie that it was so close after his death. He always knew that his work would become more valuable and appreciated and this was sort of a sign.”

Sun said that he is very thrilled to see his father’s legacy carried on and that Pensacola is the perfect place for it to happen as a creative center.

“I think Open Books really understands the spirit of Dad’s work and appreciates what he was trying to create,” he said. “It’s very precious that they’ve chosen to carry this on.”

McElderry was acquainted with poet Allen Ginsberg and was associated with the folk music revival movement of the ‘60s, including banjo player Mel Lymon of the Lymon Family commune.

“He was associated with a lot of well-known people, but never got a lot of recognition for his own work,” Sun said. “However, he died at peace feeling he had wrapped up his body of work and committed his stories to paper. He left it to us to remember and carry it forward and keep it alive. Open Books has an archive of his work and can help anyone explore his books if interested.”

WHAT: Semi-Annual Folk Fest honoring Slim McElderry
WHEN: 4-10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4
WHERE: Open Books Bookstore, 1040 N. Guillemard
COST: Free