Love at first bite

By Eric Gallippo

Writer to share about her pilgrimage to land of Dracula

Decades before Buffy, “Underworld,” “Twilight” or “True Blood,” London production company Hammer Films turned an earlier generation onto vampire and monster mania with several movies featuring classic creeps, like Count Dracula and Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. During the “Hammer House of Horror” heydays from 1959 through the early ‘70s, the company put out more than a dozen Frankenstein and vampire flicks.

Among the young “ Hammer Heads” following the studio’s output was Jane Congdon, then a teenager living in West Virginia, who remembers seeing her first Dracula film, with Christopher Lee playing the title role of the Count. “The first movie I ever saw, I wanted to go to Romania to see the real place,” she said. “It just struck me.”

About 45 years later, Congdon finally made the trip in 2005. While visiting the world of Vlad the Impaler, the historic inspiration for the Dracula tales, Congdon took copious photographs and careful notes, amassing 36,000 words worth of observations.

It wasn’t the movie set she grew up watching — a fact she was prepared for — but Congdon said she “loved every minute” of her visit. “To stand on a ruin of what was supposed to be Dracula’s castle, for a girl from West Virginia, that was pretty big stuff,” Congdon said.

Now Congdon, who taught English and worked in journalism and publishing before retiring last spring, is working on a memoir about her experience called “It Started With Dracula: A Travel Memoir.” A second draft is being reviewed now, and Congdon hopes to find a publisher for it once her manuscript is complete, hopefully before vampires have been done to undeath. Even the old guard of suckers are getting in on the fresh blood; a sequel to Bram Stoker’s original “Dracula” novel is due out next month by his great nephew, Dacre Stoker, and Lee is back at Hammer working on yet another “Dracula” sequel.

But even if people have had their fill of vampire stories by the time her book is published, Congdon said her story is really something different than your typical Transylvanian tale. “It’s a memoir, but it’s really about me, which is a whole ‘nother challenge,” she said.

Congdon, who lives in the Cincinnati area, will visit Michigan State University’s Residential College of Arts and Humanities next week to talk about her travels and writing.

In addition to “It Started with Dracula,” Congdon is working with her brother, a school custodian, to help put his stories about students, teachers and haunted schools into print in a book called “Mr. Joe.”

‘Two Voices’

reading by Jane Congdon 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30 Lookout! Gallery,
Residential College of Arts and Humanities, Michigan State University

With the banned

In observation of National Banned Book Week (Sept. 26 through Oct. 3), the Lansing Area Branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and Everybody Reads Books & Stuff will celebrate freedom of speech in print with a Banned Book Reading next week.

Dennis Hall, a board member with the ACLU of Lansing and one of the organizers of the reading, said during the event board members will read selections from books that have been banned or threatened with banning in various parts of the United States over the last 20 to 30 years and also share information on when and why a move was made to ban it.

“We’re just trying to get people in the Lansing area to be aware that it’s an ongoing concern,” Hall said.

Hall said over the years different groups have tried banning everything from Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and William Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” to J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

“You can’t take our freedoms for granted, because there’s always someone out there thinking we shouldn’t have those kind of freedoms in print and in voice,” Hall said.

When it comes to his own reading, Hall said he was waiting for his peers to make their selections first, but if he had first dibs, he might go for something from Michael Willhoite’s “Daddy’s Roommate” or John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”

“We invite the public to come in and listen and add their concern or give some food for thought,” Hall said. “Maybe they’ll buy a banned book.”

The banned book reading is from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29, Everybody Reads Books & Stuff, 2019 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing.