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Sometimes stories, songs or plays almost write themselves.

That was the case for New York City-based playwright Kenneth Jones when it came time to write "Alabama Story," a play with courtroom drama, political intrigue, romance, workplace comedy and a love story between a black bunny and a white bunny. It is the latest offering from the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, and it runs weekends Jan. 21-Feb. 6.

A dedicated newspaper reader and former journalist, Jones was reading The New York Times obituaries in May 2000 when he came across the final tribute for Emily Reed, the one-time director of the Alabama Public Library Service Division. After doing some research and talking with Reed's nephew, Jones said in a Zoom interview, "the story just wrote itself."

It all centers around a children's book about two rabbits who meet, fall in love and get married — and the Alabama senators who wanted it banned from state libraries for promoting integration and interracial marriage.

The book, "The Rabbit Wedding," was written in 1958 by Garth Williams, best known as the illustrator for "Charlotte's Web," "Stuart Little" and Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie" series.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County parents, school board weigh in on explicit language, themes in children's books)

"It's a warm and fuzzy book for children," Jones said.

Chattanooga Theatre Centre Executive Director Rodney Van Valkenburg said the play was recommended by the 169-member theater center's book club, which is charged in part with finding plays with social relevance.

"This fit the bill perfectly," he said.

IF YOU GO

Performances are at 8 p.m.Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. on Sundays and 7 p.m. on Thursdays, Jan. 21-Feb. 6.

The play will be presented in the Circle Theatre, where capacity will be limited to 75%. Audience members must present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within the last 72 hours at the time of arrival. Seating is socially distanced, and face masks are recommended.

For tickets, call the Chattanooga Theatre Centre box office at 423-267-8534 or visit TheatreCentre.com.

In 1957, Reed was appointed to head the Alabama library system and as part of her duties, she made recommendations for the purchase of new books, including the bunny tale.

In 1959, Alabama state Sen. Edward Oswell Eddins and the Citizens' Councils — a network of white supremacist, segregationist organizations — launched a campaign against the Williams picture book aimed at kids ages 3-7. Reed refused to remove the book from libraries' shelves, arguing that the free flow of information was essential to libraries and the nation.

"She was essentially grilled in an almost Senate-type of hearing and asked about her politics," Jones said. "She refused to be a participant."

Williams denied having political intent in the book. Jones said the book is all warm and fuzzy, with the animals gathering around for a wedding.

"There is one scene where the two bunnies drink from a cool, clear stream, which I suppose could be interpreted as making some sort of statement, but it is very innocent, like the play," he said.

(READ MORE: Signal Mountain teacher removes two books with African American perspective from reading list)

Controversies surrounding books, libraries, schools and children are hot topics still, with parents recently arguing about certain books either in local school libraries or on students' required reading lists.

Zoom Chat with Kenneth Jones

Playwright Kenneth Jones will be the guest for a Zoom Chat at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25. Register at bit.ly/AlabamaStoryplay.

Jones said the play is very approachable with lots of humor, as well as poignancy. While people will see similarities to other social issues of today, they are not mentioned by name.

"I'm not interested in cliches or stereotypes. The senator is not some Foghorn Leghorn character," Jones said. "He is a real person who believes in what he is saying and doing."

The play has been performed in some form since 2013 in 40 cities. It was presented in Knoxville two years ago, but Jones said he is constantly making edits and this is actually the premiere in Tennessee of the latest iteration.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga Theatre Centre offering reimagined season)

As a bonus, patrons can attend a special Zoom chat with Jones hosted by the theater center at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25. Jones said he has done several such talkbacks and is always interested to hear other people's opinions on the topics and the play itself.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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Photo courtesy of Brad Cansler / Magge Hudgins portrays Emily Reed, a no-nonsense librarian who stands up to political pressure in the Chattanooga Theatre Centre's production of "Alabama Story."
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