I was born and raised in Arkansas, but after living in Los Angeles for 15 years, I know the state is often overlooked, ignored, and even mocked (for being country or backwoods or… where is it again?)
But on this trip back — as my national book tour for my bestselling novel Oil and Marble took me through my home state — I was reminded of why Arkansas should never be overlooked. And why everyone should know exactly where it is on the map.
Others might name President Clinton or Walmart or Tyson Chicken or the Razorbacks as reasons for Arkansas’ significance… and yes, all of those things are important. But what puts Arkansas on the proverbial map for me is a bit different.
It’s KARK, the Little Rock NBC affiliate, with their sparkling daytime anchor Mallory Brooks who could’ve stepped off of any Hollywood set. It’s the way my interview was handled: low-stress, professional, easy and fun. Sometimes in Hollywood, we make media stressful and desperate — in Arkansas, media was an easy, friendly experience that made me feel happy to be on a set again.
For me, what makes Arkansas special are the museums — that’s right. I said museums. Now I know those of you who don’t live in Arkansas may not associate the Natural State with museums, but Crystal Bridges up in Northwest Arkansas is one of the best overall art museum experiences in the country, and in Hot Springs, there’s a science museum — called Mid-America — that attracts visitors from all over the country. This week, I was lucky enough to do a book signing at that museum, and as I signed books, I met smart, funny, thoughtful parents and kids who came into the museum to learn and be inspired. They all raved about the museum: “I can’t believe it’s here” many of them said. But it is here. In my hometown. In Arkansas.
And maybe when others think of Arkansas, they picture woods and mountains, but do they think of a world-class botanical garden? Garvan Woodland Gardens is a sprawling garden on the shores of Lake Hamilton. My mom is a garden fanatic; I’ve been to plenty of gardens in this country and abroad, but Garvan Gardens is one of my favorites — it doesn’t just show nature to me, it makes me feel like I’m part of it. It was also home to another one of my book signings where people lined up, listened to me speak, and bought all the books we had available… before heading out to see the tulips in bloom.
And most importantly, what I found on this trip back to Arkansas were some of the best people in the country. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more loved than I have during this most recent trip because of people like Deborah Shannon who came out in the rain to get books signed even when she was sick. Because of Cynthia Purnell and Stacy Hudgens who arrived at the gardens with a “David” birthday card with a cake covering (well you know) and made me laugh at just the right moment. Because of Kathy Farrar who served up an Oil and Marble cake. Because of Suzi Burton who was my savior over and over again when the crowds and the whole experience got a little overwhelming. Because of every single person I know and love who turned out: teachers and family and even strangers who exuded nothing but joy and support.
Sometimes, living in LA, I hear people giving “flyover” states like Arkansas a bad name, but let me tell you, at this moment, sitting in a hotel room on the road, I can’t imagine a better place than Arkansas. The state reminds me to never dismiss anything… because within that “small state” there are giants living: giants in media, museums, gardens and love.
Those are some of my reasons for loving Arkansas. What are yours?