I almost never have trouble getting started when I choose to feature one of Charleston’s “writable women.” Usually I see one little concept, like a particular bright color teeming out, and start describing how that special brand of yellow or pink or green decorates the world everywhere they go. But with Liz Duren I felt like I was trying to catch the entire rainbow as it hurled all its incredible stripes at me. Then I realized, something with so many shades could not be balled up and put into one monochromatic ink for the typical pen. That would just dull all of the layers and come out brown, like dying leaves. It would never do the rainbow justice. There’s just too much present…so many hues. That is Liz Duren. She’s a photographer, a tour guide, an actress, an author, a mother, and a rebellious Charleston legacy. She shines like the pastels on the famed Rainbow Row. She presides over the cobblestone streets, cracks showing proudly–her beauty cancelling them out anyway–a true Charleston staple.
When I asked Liz what she loved the most about being from Charleston, my answer danced in front of me in plain sight. She said, “there are certain cities that evoke a response when they are mentioned and Charleston is one of them… Everyone either wants to go there or wants to go back there. The lucky US that get to live here are surrounded by a city of stories; a luscious past of glory and destruction, of honor and grace.”
The very same is true about Liz. She evokes a response. She is a luscious past of glory and destruction, of honor and grace. She is a woman who stays true to who she is despite whatever may try to tear that truth down. I think the legacy of Charleston is perhaps more woven into her than she even knows. She too is a symbol of destruction and rebirth, of sweet magnolias, and foggy wharfs. She too has risen from ashes.
After I read Liz Duren’s book, All About You: An Adopted Child’s Memoir, I needed to know more about her. I had to meet this woman who so uniquely showed equal amounts of pride and pain about her past, and was so honest in the way we rarely ever see. Her writing introduced me to a woman who revered her family, descended from the Legare line, one of the first in South Carolina. I read of a woman with a certain pride in her heritage, but also a resentment and rebuke of the long-running lie she was told about her adoption. I met a woman who struggled and self-destructed, who faced rejection and retribution on her way to finding out the truth about who she was. I met someone who had failures and embarrassments that she wore on her sleeve (in such the un-southern way), but kept fighting. Probably perceived as rebellious, fickle, and flighty by some, I simply saw a gypsy soul who believed in life and love. Her surroundings tried to suffocate it out of her at times, just like LowCountry humidity in late July…but it failed. She couldn’t be suppressed. She kept going, feeling for walls in the dark, misstepping along the way, but eventually finding the light a little battered and bruised..the blues and reds of injury only coloring her more brightly than ever.
I had to see what a tour of my city was like from this person… someone with such a story and heritage tethered to the old buried pieces of the city walls…and with such an art in her soul. So my husband and I met her in Washington Square, her piercing blue eyes giving her away immediately. And I met the same woman who penned that novel that drew me in so much.
The boasting voice of an actress sprang from her lungs and gave away her enthusiasm for the city that she herself is so laced into. She began showing us unique buildings, alleyways, and treasures not seen on every typical tour; all the while letting us in on all the juiciness, both bitter and sweet, that created the Charleston we know today. She picked out perfect photo ops along the way, making us feel like the main event while we listened to history from the lips of a story-teller. It was magical as we stepped back into another time all together where we could almost smell the gunpowder, hear the cannons ,and taste the Carolina gold.
However, the tour wasn’t only about Charleston itself. Liz was still there, those colors dancing under the warm springtime sun. She celebrated the strength of the city that survived wars, poverty, and pride. She convicted the same town for its role in slavery, secession, and unsavory politics. She showed the good things, the bad things, the raw things…just like she does for herself. She showed the truth, handing out affections and discipline in equal breaths, like a mother does its child. There was a sense of ownership and connection to every part of it. The tour was wonderfully different, just like its guide.
I encourage all of you in the Charleston area, or those who hope to visit, to meet this woman one way or another. Pick up her book, take her tour, or catch her at one of the local theatres. She’s as much an attraction as the pineapple fountain itself, and as equally synonymous with Charleston. You’ll leave her presence with all the feels, a hunger for bold truth, and I guarantee, a lot of amazing pictures to preserve all the color she’s bound to spill all over you.
by Lorna Hollifield
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