Personal Souths

Personal Souths: Interviews from theSouthern Quarterly

Edited by Douglas B. Chambers
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Personal Souths
    Book Description:

    Personal Souths, a collection of 20 interviews with famous southern writers, will mark the 50th anniversary ofThe Southern Quarterly, one of the oldest scholarly journals (founded in 1962) dedicated to southern studies. The figures interviewed range from Erskine Caldwell, Eudora Welty and Tennessee Williams (all from the 1970s), to a virtual Who's-Who of southern literature in the second half of the twentieth century. All of these interviews were originally published in the journal in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, and are collected here for the first time. The South is represented broadly, with writers from eight states; at least four represent the "mountain South" (Donald Harrington, Bobbie Ann Mason, Robert Morgan, Lee Smith), while another four typify a "cosmopolitan South" (Reynolds Price, Mary Lee Settle, Elizabeth Spencer, Tennessee Williams). The greatest number of voices, at least eight of the authors, speak for or from the "poor white South" (Larry Brown, Erskine Caldwell, Harry Crews, Donald Harrington, Bobbie Ann Mason, Robert Morgan, Del Shores, Lee Smith). Though there is only one African American writer, Ernest J. Gaines, another interview (William Styron, Pulitzer Prize-winning author ofThe Confessions of Nat Turner) also focuses on a conversation about African American literature.

    The interviews are all fascinating. Not only do they reveal the personalities of these southern literary stars, they also represent a self-conscious community of writers. It is a testament to the quality ofThe Southern Quarterlythat many of these writers, when discussing their most important contemporaries, often refer to other writers whose interviews are also in this collection. These first-hand discussions will continue to illuminate and inform our understanding of their creative work.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-292-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction Personal Souths and the Southern Quarterly
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    In 1962 Mississippi Southern College, which had been founded a half century earlier as a state teachers’ college, transformed itself into the University of Southern Mississippi. As an integral part of this new vision of Southern Miss as a comprehensive state university, then-president William D. McCain (1907–1993) established theSouthern Quarterlyin the same year, under the editorship of James L. Allen Jr., a professor of English.

    Allen’s inaugural editorial introduced theSouthern Quarterlyas “a scholarly journal of studies done in the humanities and social sciences by members of the faculty of the University of Southern Mississippi,” and...

  5. Part I 1970s

    • Erskine Caldwell 1971
      (pp. 3-12)
      JAC THARPE and Erskine Caldwell

      I interviewed Erskine Caldwell ten years ago, in August 1971, for the Mississippi Oral History Program at the University of Southern Mississippi. He was very pleasant throughout the two afternoon sessions, though he warmed somewhat on the matter of truth in art. I don’t know whether he felt strongly or had often replied to such a question. I regret that I am unable in these excerpts to convey his personality as well as his opinions.

      These remarks are published with his permission and that of the Oral History Program, and I am grateful to both for the privilege of the...

    • Eudora Welty 1978
      (pp. 13-28)
      MARTHA VAN NOPPEN and Eudora Welty

      The following interview is part of a taped conversation with Eudora Welty at her home in Jackson, Mississippi, on August 9, 1978. I arrived at Welty’s Tudorstyle home at 1:30 in the afternoon, after receiving perfect directions from her over the phone, and was warmly greeted and shown to a sofa in front of a large window. Miss Welty, sitting in a wing-back chair, immediately put me at ease with her lyrical, distinctly Southern voice. Beginning the interview with a reassuring “Don’t worry” she generously discussed her work and beginnings as a writer. Excerpts from that discussion follow.

      QUESTION: In...

    • Tennessee Williams 1979
      (pp. 29-38)
      JERE REAL and Tennessee Williams

      “Just introduce me as the world’s oldest promising playwright from Key West, Florida!” he had told his hosts. Tennessee Williams at age sixty-eight was in Lynchburg, Virginia, making a rare college campus appearance as part of a month-long Tennessee Williams Festival in September 1979. His personal appearance was the capstone of an event that included screenings of the major films based on his plays(A Streetcar Named Desire;Sweet Bird of Youth;Suddenly, Last Summer;Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; andNight of the Iguana), a drama department production of hisSummer and Smoke, special lectures about the playwright,...

  6. Part II 1980s

    • Harry Crews 1981
      (pp. 41-54)
      DAVID K. JEFFREY, DONALD R. NOBLE and Harry Crews

      Harry Crews was born on June 7, 1935, in Bacon County, Georgia. The son of a tenant farmer, he was raised in poverty; violence and disaster were commonplaces in his early years. He was the first in his family ever to graduate from high school. He then enlisted in the Marine Corps and served for four years. After attending the University of Florida for two years on the GI Bill, he quit to roam the country on a 650cc Triumph Champion, taking whatever odd jobs and experiences presented themselves. Eighteen months later, he returned to the university and completed his...

    • Ellen Douglas 1985
      (pp. 55-61)
      CHRISTINE WILSON and Ellen Douglas

      I interviewed Ellen Douglas in January of 1985 for a feature in ArtsNews, a Jackson quarterly, as she was beginning spring semester as Professor of Southern Studies at Millsaps College. Jo (that’s what I call her) was in good spirits over the forthcoming publication of her new book,Can’t Quit You, Baby.

      QUESTION: Like Eudora Welty, you’ve been a writer working in Mississippi almost all of your life. What were the forces that kept you here?

      DOUGLAS: Well, the main thing that kept me in Mississippi for thirty-five years was that I was married to a man and had three...

    • David Madden 1984
      (pp. 62-75)
      JEFFREY J. FOLKS and David Madden

      David Madden has authored and edited over twenty-five books. His works of fiction include among othersCassandra Singing,Bijou,The Suicide’s Wife, andOn the Big Wind. Mr. Madden is writer-in-residence at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, a position he has held since 1968. He was interviewed on 11 November 1984 in Athens, Tennessee, following a reading at Tennessee Wesleyan College.

      QUESTION: Let me start with Henry James, where he says that art lives on discussion, on experiment, and on curiosity. As I read that, I really thought of your work, of some of the things you tried to...

    • Bobbie Ann Mason 1986
      (pp. 76-85)
      ALBERT E. WILHELM and Bobbie Ann Mason

      Bobbie Ann Mason was born in Mayfield, Kentucky, on May 1, 1940. After receiving a B.A. degree from the University of Kentucky in 1962, she worked briefly in New York City as a writer for the fan magazinesMovie Stars,Movie LifeandT.V. Star Parade. Later she earned an M.S. degree from the State University of New York at Binghamton (1966) and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Connecticut (1972).

      Mason’s first book was her doctoral dissertation,Nabokov’s Garden: A Nature Guide to Ada(1974). In 1975 she paid tribute to the heroines of her favorite childhood...

    • Reynolds Price 1988
      (pp. 86-100)
      ASHBY BLAND CROWDER and Reynolds Price

      “Waiting at Dachau” is the fourth story in a volume of Reynolds Price’s short stories entitledPermanent Errors(1970) and is grouped with three other stories—“The Happiness of Others,” “A Dog Death,” and “Scars”—which together constitute the first division of the book, “Fool’s Education.” This “fool” is an American living in England working on a university degree and on becoming a writer. The fool, Charles Tamplin, is involved in a relationship with a girl named Sara, and some years after the Third Reich they visit together the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau.

      In a recent visit to Hendrix...

  7. Part III 1990s

    • Doris Betts 1996
      (pp. 103-120)
      W. DALE BROWN and Doris Betts

      Doris Betts is an elder, a Sunday school teacher, and part-time organist in the Presbyterian Church. A former chairperson of the faculty at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, she has taught in the English Department for more than twenty-five years. From 1978 to 1981, she served on the Literature Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts and since 1980 has occupied the position of Alumni Distinguished Professor of English. Mother, grandmother, and wife, Professor Betts lives on a farm near Pittsboro, North Carolina.

      Since 1954 she has produced three collections of short fiction and four novels. Her most...

    • Larry Brown 1991
      (pp. 121-135)
      SUSAN KETCHIN and Larry Brown

      Larry Brown was born in 1951 and raised in Yocona, Mississippi, a crossroads community near Oxford. After graduating from high school in 1970, he served a two-year stint in the Marines, and in 1973 returned home to marry and raise a family. From 1973 until early 1990, he was a member of the Oxford Fire Department, attaining the rank of captain in 1986. He and his wife, Mary Annie, and three children have made their home outside Oxford on farmland that was Mary Annie’s family homeplace.

      As a young man, Brown worked variously as a housepainter, carpet cleaner, lumberjack, and...

    • Donald Harington 1998–1999
      (pp. 136-154)
      LARRY VONALT and Donald Harington

      The following interview consists of conversations I had with Donald Harington on two late October Saturday afternoons, one in 1998 and the other in 1999. On both occasions we sat across from each other at the dining table in the great room of the brick house Don and his wife Kim built in 1994 in the eastern part of Fayetteville, Arkansas.

      The focal point of the great room is a large fireplace above which are the twenty pencil drawings of Don’s that head each of the chapters ofThe Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks(1975). On the other walls in...

    • Josephine Humphreys 1992
      (pp. 155-164)
      ALPHONSE VINH and Josephine Humphreys

      In one of her essays, Josephine Humphreys writes, “To tell the truth the South is once again in ruins.” There is much truth in her comment. That enigmatic American region, more written about than any other part of the United States, a country within a country, has had its rises and falls. The new ruins are to be found in the constant destruction and reconstruction of the southern landscape by the developers of the New South, frequent objects of satirical attack by Josephine Humphreys. But more than simply speaking of a new reconstructed South, a South of glittering skyscrapers and...

    • Mary Lee Settle 1994
      (pp. 165-169)
      JENNIFER HOWARD and Mary Lee Settle

      Mary Lee Settle has made her name writing novels, including the much-praised Beulah quintet—O Beulah Land(1956),Know Nothing(1961),Prisons(1973),The Scapegoat(1980), andThe Killing Ground(1982)—andBlood Tie, which won her the National Book Award in 1978. Though she’s famous for it, the form is a late love for Settle, who began her literary career as a journalist and writer of plays—six of them, all but two (“The Enormous Purple” and “Juana La Loco,” which can be found among her papers at Boston University) now lost. Born in Charleston, West Virginia, in 1918,...

    • Elizabeth Spencer 1994
      (pp. 170-191)
      DAVID HAMMOND and Elizabeth Spencer

      I first met Elizabeth Spencer in 1987, when she brought the manuscript of her play, For Lease or Saleto PlayMakers Repertory Company, the resident theater at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she had recently joined the faculty. Over the next year and a half we worked on revising the manuscript, and I directed the play’s premiere in early 1989. It was warmly received and was subsequently published by the University Press of Mississippi in Volume IV ofMississippi Writers: Reflections of Childhood and Youth.During the months spent preparing the play, Elizabeth and her husband,...

    • William Styron 1995
      (pp. 192-198)
      VIRGINIA GUNN FICK and William Styron

      In 1968, in the heat of the civil rights struggle, William Styron was awarded a Pulitzer Prize forThe Confessions of Nat Turner, a work of fiction based on an actual slave uprising in Southampton County Virginia, in 1831. Weighing against the prize and the popular success of the book was fierce criticism from blacks and whites alike, who charged Styron with distorting the truth and, worse, being a racist.

      Styron himself called the book a “meditation on history” and said he had written, not as a sociologist or historian but as a novelist, trying to understand the master-slave relationship...

  8. Part IV 2000s

    • Ernest J. Gaines 2006
      (pp. 201-219)
      ANNE GRAY BROWN and Ernest J. Gaines

      He’s your favorite uncle.

      You know, the one who takes you by the hand and lets you buy anything you want at the candy counter despite the “rules about sweets.” He’s the one who introduces you to his personal motley crew, a rag-tag bunch, drinking “shooters,” slapping the table in a serious game of bid-whist being played under the shade tree on a simmering August afternoon and who says, with great pride and a thousand-watt smile, “This is my niece!” He’s the one who slips you a few dollars at the family gathering when no one’s watching and gives you...

    • William Hoffman 2001
      (pp. 220-227)
      CASEY CLABOUGH and William Hoffman

      William Hoffman, considered by many critics to be Virginia’s finest living writer, was born in Charleston, West Virginia on 16 May 1925. He spent his early years in West Virginia, before attending Kentucky Military Institute. He graduated in 1943 and joined the army, serving as a Medical Corpsman in the 91st Evacuation Hospital. The bloody fighting he witnessed during the Normandy Invasion and subsequent allied drive toward Germany informed much of his early fiction. After the war Hoffman received his BA from Hampden-Sydney College (1949). He then enrolled in law school at Washington and Lee, only to discover his passion...

    • Robert Morgan 2000
      (pp. 228-239)
      PETER JOSYPH and Robert Morgan

      For the documentaryActing McCarthy: The Making of Richard Pearce’s “The Gardener’s Son,”my collaborator Raymond Todd and I asked novelist and poet Robert Morgan to speak with us, on camera, aboutThe Gardener’s Son. Based on the murder of James Gregg by Robert McEvoy in the mill town of Graniteville, South Carolina, in 1876, the picture was co-produced by Richard Pearce and Michael Hausman on a budget of $200,000, which was provided by Public Television station KCET’s Visions series. Directed by Richard Pearce from an original screenplay by Cormac McCarthy, it was shot by cinematographer Fred Murphy on 16mm...

    • Del Shores 2007–2008
      (pp. 240-254)
      ANDREA POWELL WOLFE and Del Shores

      Actor, playwright, director, and producer Del Shores was born in Winters, Texas in 1957. He resided in Texas throughout his childhood and much of his early adult life until he moved to Los Angeles, California, to pursue acting. He has published five plays,Cheatin’(1984),Daddy’s Dyin’ (Who’s Got the Will?)(1987), andDaughters of the Lone Star State(1992), which comprise his Lowake, Texas series, andSordid Lives(1998) andSouthern Baptist Sissies(2001), which treat the suppression and denial of gay identity in small Texas communities and the struggles of gay men to overcome the oppression of cultural...

    • Lee Smith 2008
      (pp. 255-280)
      LINDA BYRD COOK and Lee Smith

      In mid-May 2008, after completing the necessary tasks to conclude a busy spring semester of teaching, I made a journey that will be imprinted forever in my mind and on my heart. I traveled to Hillsborough, North Carolina, to visit Lee Smith at her home, and together we drove to her cabin nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. Sitting out on the front porch, in this breathtaking setting that transported me to Lee’s fictional world, we talked extensively about her writing and her spiritual vision.

      QUESTION: You’ve often commented on your attraction to the more intense forms of religion, the letting...

  9. Literary Interviews Published in the Southern Quarterly
    (pp. 281-284)
  10. Index
    (pp. 285-294)