Memphian Audrey Taylor Gonzalez is a true inspiration and modern-day Renaissance woman. An award-winning journalist, reverend, and the author of six books, Gonzalez has dedicated her career to helping disadvantaged youth in Memphis to change their lives through institutions such as the Soulsville Foundation and Memphis Juvenile Court. Gonzalez has received many awards for her outstanding work, which was acknowledged by Mother Teresa in a personal letter.
Gonzalez’s most recent book, South of Everything, is inspired by her life. At Home Memphis & Mid South recently chatted with the author about the novel, her life and her passion for helping others.
At Home Memphis & Mid South: Congratulations on your new novel South of Everything. Tell us a little about it.
Audrey Taylor Gonzalez: I began South of Everything in the 1990s when I lived in South America and it took lots of work. The book world is tough. But my friend Deanie Parker (former Stax recording artist and retired president of the Soulsville Foundation in Memphis), loved it and together we decided to resurrect it and hopefully get it to be a film. The book was written to remember how it used to be in the 40s and 50s in the deep South, and to tell about the wonderful people (African American) who were part of my life and made me who I am today, and who built my faith. Of course, it is a novel, though based on truths, it is mostly fiction. Barbecue becomes a religious experience, there is a magical tree where problems are solved, there is violence, craziness, romance and unusual horses. It is about racism at that time seen through the eyes of a young girl who just sees things with a different bent. This is part one. There is also a second book to come.
AHMMS: What inspires you to give back?
ATG: I believe those who have the most are the ones chosen to give the most. It’s from the Corinthians, because in the giving God is glorified. I was just born giving. I don’t know why. Even as a kindergartner, they put me in charge of the Red Cross (that was the only charity we knew of) and I would weep and weep whenever I saw poor people because, I guess, it was so unfair and I wanted to help.
AHMMS: You have lived and traveled many places around the world, so why do you choose to live in Memphis?
ATG: My roots, my children. And there is so much to do here to improve the lives of the poor, the prisoners, juvenile delinquents, foster-care kids, and all the sadness and poverty in this county is atrocious. I’m also dedicated to our Memphis Police Department, because their lives matter too, and am chaplain at South Main Precinct where I pray for them at roll calls.
AHMMS: What advice would you give Mid Southerners who are interested in giving back and/or getting involved in a charity?
ATG: Just that—get involved. Don’t be afraid. People need people who care. Mostly the male youth, especially juvenile delinquents, in this town are desperate for someone to care about them since so many have never seen or known a father. Men need to become mentors, to take a few hours a week through some program, and befriend a youngster. It will change your life, and it will certainly change the young man’s life. Kids are violent because that is all they have known. There are so many opportunities: JIFF, SMA, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Memphis Athletic Ministries, and MARRS. Churches need to go outside their own congregations and help the kids who really are in trouble and need someone to acknowledge that they are human. We must listen to our kids and hear what they are telling us. There is always a truth in what they say, even when it seems they are conning you.
AHMMS: What are some of your hobbies?
ATG: Mostly sports (the Grizzlies and anywhere DeAngelo Williams is playing football), exercise like aerial yoga and gyrotonics, I needlepoint and knit, and try to duplicate the great food I have experienced in my travels.
AHMMS: What’s your favorite place to travel?
ATG: Uruguay, where I lived 20 years. Bangkok, Beijing, anywhere I can ride elephants or take a challenge.
AHMMS: And your favorite thing to do in Memphis?
ATG: Grizzlies games, Delta Fest, the Riverwalk and (eating) BBQ ribs. But first of all is being with my grandkids.