Reading Corner | Sweet southern column turned into a book

For those of you who have wondered if there is a difference between sweet tea and tea that’s been sweetened, there is.

At least, according to the Sweet Tea Evangelist Jay Grelen there is.

Sweet tea has become so steeped in Southern culture, it is now considered the house wine of the South. If your curiosity has been peaked, then pick up a copy of “Jay Grelen’s Sweet Tea Times Volume 1” to find out more about the South and, of course, sweet tea.

Grelen was a newspaper journalist for 35 years and is best known for his Sweet Tea Times column that ran in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for more than seven years. Out of more than a thousand columns, he has handpicked a small percent to gather into a collection, some slightly edited for more cohesive storytelling.

The stories in his tri-weekly column varied from snippets of daily life to a series of well-researched journalistic feats published over the course of weeks. No matter what he wrote, it always had something to do with the South.

One of the most charming parts of Grelen’s writings is his ability to put meaning into the mundane. Many times he documents the “small things” in life that he’s heard about from friends and family, or from his own experience. Many of his writings don’t have so much to do with spreading news as they do spreading the stories of people (who, more often than not, were in the news).

His talent as a journalist shows itself in a number of ways in this collection, especially with the intensive research when a topic comes along that Grelen sinks his teeth into. Yes, his writing skills are fantastic, but he also has the determination fueled by curiosity (and dare I say, shamelessness?) to get the story he wants. At least, most of the time.

One of Grelen’s series of columns that best amplifies his passion as a journalist is when he pursued an interview with the elusive and ever popular Southern author, Harper Lee. Technically, he never crossed the boundaries and invaded her privacy. He just showed up to her hometown, visited a few of the spots she frequented, and eventually received a polite message to stay away from her. And he never did get that interview, but in the last of the column talking about it, he lets it be known that he hasn’t quite given up hope.

Grelen’s Sweet Tea column has been a much loved part of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, as has much of his work been throughout the many years and different papers. He may be retired as a journalist now, but his talent lives on, and through him, many individuals and families will live on forever too.

Here’s to hoping more of his humor and Southern insight will soon be available in a second volume.

Emily Smith, For The Sun News

Local author and coffee

Otis L. Lee, Jr. is scheduled to present a program at Sunset River Marketplace art gallery in Calabash, N.C., as part of the gallery’s ongoing Coffee With the Authors series. The event will take place on Sept. 10 from 10 to 11 a.m. Coffee and breakfast treats will be served.

Lee’s memoir, “From South Boston to Cambridge: the Making of One Philadelphia Lawyer,” is written as a novel. Through the course of the book Lee traces the history of his own family, one of Charlottesville, Va.’s notable families. Highlighting personal and professional experiences, including some from his childhood and teen years in Charlottesville in the ‘60s and his trials in Chicago as an aspiring lawyer to his triumphs in Philadelphia, his story is one of courage, perseverance, business acumen and success.

The event at Sunset River Marketplace is free, but seating is limited so reservations are required. Call 910-575-5999, send an email to or register online: click News/Blog and then select Coffee With the Authors.

Sunset River Marketplace is located at 10283 Beach Drive SW, Calabash, N.C. Regular hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information call 910-575-5999 or visit

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At a glance

Title: “Jay Grelen’s Sweet Tea Times Volume 1”

AUthor: Jay Grelen

Publisher: Sweet Tea Society

Cost: $20

Length: 137 pages