Joan Titus was part of the film crew who came to Clayton, Georgia, in 1962 to interview Lillian Smith for "Miss Smith of Georgia," an episode of the March of Time series. Following that meeting, Smith and Titus kept in touch, and Titus interviewed Smith numerous times, in the hopes of one day writing a biography about Smith entitled Trembling Earth. Conducted on June 14, 1966, in Atlanta, "Trembling Earth," as Rose Gladney and Lisa Hodgens returned Titus' title for the piece in A Lillian Smith Reader, provides insight into Smith's early life and her thinking about storytelling, memory, and more. Smith's reminiscences appeared as "The Old Days in Jasper: A Reminiscence," in 1982 in The Virginia Quarterly Review (on the left).
Gladney and Hodges open their edited collection with "Trembling Earth" because, as they put it, "[o]n many occasions throughout her life Lillian Smith introduced herself with a story from her childhood home in Jasper, Florida." "Trembling Earth" does just this, returning us to Smith's childhood to that shaky ground on the border between Florida and Georgia. "Trembling Earth" would be, as well, Smith's final writing, and as Gladney and Hodges note, in it, Smith provides us with "her message to future writers, storytellers, and the creative spirit in everyone."
Collaboration lies at he core of Smith's message. We are all connected, and Smith details this fact in her memories of the times she spent with her friend Marjorie in Jasper. Smith would tell stories and Marjorie collaborating in the formation of the story through her listening. Smith states, "I think I rather remembered her as collaborating. I would say, more actively than just listening because it was her story." Smith and Marjorie took part in a "collaboration of the dream," joining together in their construction and forming of the stories they told.
Smith ponders what collaboration looks like, especially between artist and audience, and she says, "This collaboration of the dream is such a strange, strange kind of thing. And yet there'd be no art without it." To expand this, she talks about the reception of her debut novel Strange Fruit and how some readers didn't get the message she wanted to convey; rather, they picked up the book to see a four letter words they could find on any bathroom wall. We can read Smith's "Trembling Earth" as her artistic statement, as a culmination of her thoughts on the role of art and the artist in society.