Parnassus Books is thrilled to welcome Tena Clark, author of Southern Discomfort.
Award-winning songwriter and music producer Tena Clark presents what is sure to be one of 2018’s major memoirs with Southern Discomfort, an extraordinary story of a girl coming of age in the Civil Rights-era Deep South.
Tena Clark was born in 1953 in a tiny Mississippi town close to the Alabama border. From the outside, her childhood looked like a fairy tale: her father, a brilliant businessman, had worked his way from nothing to become one of the wealthiest men in the state and her mother, a regal beauty, dreamed of becoming a songwriter and took frequent trips to a recording studio in New Orleans. The family lived on a sprawling antebellum farm that had the only swimming pool in town, and Tena was given her first car, a royal blue Camaro, at the age of twelve.
But behind closed doors, Tena’s life was chaotic and deeply lonely. Her parents’ marriage had rapidly dissolved as each was consumed by their vices—alcohol (her mother) and rampant infidelity (her father). By the age of thirteen, she had witnessed a shootout and a failed suicide, watched her father commit her mother to a state mental institution, and broken up more of her parents’ fights than she could count by snatching a gun out of their hands and throwing it in the swimming pool. Adding to the turmoil, Tena understood from a very young age that she was different from her three older sisters. She didn’t want to be a beauty queen or majorette—she wanted to marry one.
Amidst the chaos of her childhood, Tena learned to rely on the only stable presence in her life: the family’s black maid, Virgie, who became Tena’s surrogate mother and confidante. Virgie’s love and acceptance gave Tena the strength to be herself, and to challenge the cruel prejudices that governed life in the Jim Crow South. As she grew older, she began to confront the bigotry and hypocrisy she saw all around her, even standing up to the dangerous Ku Klux Klan.
As a songwriter and producer Tena Clark has worked with some of the biggest stars in music, including Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, Jennifer Holliday, Gladys Knight, and many more. Clark is CEO/Chief Creative Officer for DMI Music & Media Solutions. As pioneer, thought-leader, and innovator, DMI is at the forefront of entertainment and music marketing. She lives in a rural community outside of Atlanta with her partner.