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Larry Brown and the Blue-Collar South

Larry Brown and the Blue-Collar South

Jean W. Cash
Keith Perry
Foreword by Rick Bass
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 240
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    Larry Brown and the Blue-Collar South
    Book Description:

    With contributions from Robert G. Barrier, Robert Beuka, Thomas Ærvold Bjerre, Jean W. Cash, Robert Donahoo, Richard Gaughran, Gary Hawkins, Darlin' Neal, Keith Perry, Katherine Powell, John A. Staunton, and Jay Watson

    Larry Brown is noted for his subjects--rural life, poverty, war, and the working class--and his spare, gritty style. Brown's oeuvre spans several genres and includes acclaimed novels (Dirty Work,Joe,Father and Son,The Rabbit Factory, andA Miracle of Catfish), short story collections (Facing the Music,Big Bad Love), memoir (On Fire), and essay collections (Billy Ray's Farm). At the time of his death, Brown (1951-2004) was considered to be one of the finest exemplars of minimalist, raw writing of the contemporary South.

    Larry Brown and the Blue-Collar Southconsiders the writer's full body of work, placing it in the contexts of southern literature, Mississippi writing, and literary work about the working class. Collectively, the essays explore such subjects as Brown's treatment of class politics, race and racism, the aftereffects of the Vietnam War on American culture, the evolution of the South from a plantation-based economy to a postindustrial one, and male-female relations. The role of Brown's mentors--Ellen Douglas and Barry Hannah--in shaping his work is discussed, as is Brown's connection to such writers as Harry Crews and Dorothy Allison. The volume is one of the first critical studies of a writer whose depth and influence mark him as one of the most well-regarded Mississippi authors.

    Jean W. Cash is professor of English at James Madison University. She is the author ofFlannery O'Connor: A Life. Keith Perry is associate professor of English at Dalton State College and the author ofThe Kingfish in Fiction: Huey P. Long and the Modern American Novel. Rick Bass is the author of novels and collections of nonfiction and short stories, most recentlyThe Lives of Rocks: Stories.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-636-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. FOREWORD: A Tribute to Larry Brown
    (pp. vii-xviii)

    My friend Larry Brown, whom I admire as much as any writer I’ve ever known, was beloved by so many for his innocence and tenderness, for his thoughtful consideration for the voiceless, the disempowered, and the disenfranchised: for children, dogs, wild nature under assault, and, always, the poor. He was a complex man, extraordinarily gentle-hearted even though steeped in the practices and traditions of a culture well-versed in the functional and pragmatic and daily execution of brutality and violence. With the moral precision of our greatest novelists, he wrote not just of the world he inhabited but of a world...

  4. LARRY BROWN: An Introduction
    (pp. xix-2)

    When Larry Brown published his first collection of short stories in 1988, Harry Crews, whose work Brown had read and admired since 1980, announced, “talent has struck.” From this propitious beginning—recognition would soon follow from other celebrated writers and critics—Larry Brown, a one-time firefighter from Oxford, Mississippi, emerged as one of the breakout talents in Southern fiction. Brown publishedFacing the Musicafter spending most of the 1980s training himself to write, then published five novels,Dirty Work(1989),Joe(1991),Father and Son(1996),Fay(2000), andThe Rabbit Factory(2003); a second collection of stories,Big...

  5. Facing the Music: What’s Wrong with All Those Happy Endings
    (pp. 3-17)

    Reviews ofFacing the Music(1988), Larry Brown’s debut collection of short stories, rarely make more than passing mention of its female characters. When anonymous reviewers wrote inPublishers Weeklythat its contents “pierce the macho armor” (40) or inAntioch Reviewthat the stories are “uncluttered by any attempt at literary effect” (115), they ignored Brown’s deliberate use of Southern gothic narrative strategies to deconstruct the still-present Victorian mythologies of the angel in the house and the heroic male whose role it is to protect her. The stories inFacing the Music, by revealing the suffering still hidden beneath...

  6. Implicating the Reader: Dirty Work and the Burdens of Southern History
    (pp. 18-35)

    InAfter Southern Modernism: Fiction of the Contemporary South, Matthew Guinn takes note of the problem that Larry Brown’s fiction poses for traditional Southern literary critics nurtured on the techniques and ideologies of such figures as Cleanth Brooks. For Guinn, Brown’s “particular attention to the oppressive hierarchies of [the Southern] community is something new that cannot be assimilated into orthodox reading strategies” (36). Addressing Brown’s connection to the lower-class Southern experience, Guinn writes, “Brown does not fit the old paradigms by which critics have defined Southern Renascence literature. One may indeed find in Brown’s work the conventional motifs of loyalty...

  7. Saving Them from Their Lives: Storytelling and Self-Fulfillment in Big Bad Love
    (pp. 36-48)

    Larry Brown’s second volume of short stories is in some respects a continuation of his first,Facing the Music(1988). Both focus on what Brown knew best, the working-class denizens of rural Mississippi, men (for the most part) whose lives, though often rife with sordid adventure, are seldom fulfilling. A new focus—and obvious autobiographical emphasis—inBig Bad Love(1990), however, falls on certain members of the working class who, by aspiring to become writers, find greater fulfillment than those with nothing to cling to, no Holy Grail to pursue, as Brown once characterized his own desire for literary...

  8. Economics of the Cracker Landscape: Poverty as an Environmental Issue in Larry Brown’s Joe
    (pp. 49-57)

    American ecocriticism suffers from its own peculiar version of the old “West versus the rest” problem, a regional bias that assigns iconic status to the American West as seedbed and Ground Zero of American nature writing, landscape photography, and ecopolitics, relegating other regional landscapes and ecosystems—with the possible exceptions of Thoreau’s New England and Aldo Leopold’s Wisconsin—to supporting roles. I therefore want to lobby in this essay for the value of more fully and actively incorporating Southern texts, landscapes, and perspectives into the ongoing project of American environmental studies. More specifically, I want to concentrate on a Southern...

  9. The White Trash Cowboys of Father and Son
    (pp. 58-72)

    InWest of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns, Jane Tompkins asserts that the aesthetics of the pulp and cinematic Western have saturated twentieth-century American culture. The well-known archetypes of the genre—the cowboy, his horse, the gunfight, the good-hearted saloon girl, the immense and indomitable landscape—have inspired, pervaded, even overpowered an entire culture, often without our awareness (5–6). Southern novels have proven no less susceptible to their influence: Cormac McCarthy, Barry Hannah, William Gay, Chris Offutt, Ron Rash, and Larry Brown have all written fiction that bears the imprint of the Westren.Joe(1991), Brown’s second novel,...

  10. Hard Traveling: Fay’s Deep-South Landscape of Violence
    (pp. 73-85)

    Larry Brown begins his 2000 novelFay, the gripping and violent tale of a young woman’s experiences upon escaping an abusive home life and traveling alone through Mississippi, with the following imagistic paragraph: “She came down out of the hills that were growing black with night, and in the dusty road her feet found small broken stones that made her wince. Alone for the first time in the world and full dark coming quickly. House lights winked through the trees as she walked and swung her purse from her hand. She could hear cars passing down the asphalt but she...

  11. Home and the Open Road: The Nonfiction of Larry Brown
    (pp. 86-98)

    This passage, taken from late in Larry Brown’s life as a firefighter but relatively early in his life as a published writer, captures specifically and poetically the place and native types of his nonfiction volumesOn Fire: A Personal Account of Life and Death and Choices(1994) andBilly Ray’s Farm: Essays from a Place Called Tula(2001). It also says much about his now larger-than-life persona and ultimately implies almost as much about the content and character of his fiction. Brown is known far more for that fiction, forDirty Work(1989) andJoe(1991) andFather and Son...

  12. The Rabbit Factory: Escaping the Isolation of the Cage
    (pp. 99-110)

    Reviewers of Larry Brown’sThe Rabbit Factory(2003) tended to stress either its unconventional form or its characters’ desperation. Those who emphasized the former noted that the book represents a departure for Brown in that it combines—some would say not very successfully—both the short story and the novel, two genres at which he is certainly accomplished. Some commentators implied that Brown was either confused or indecisive in doing so, as if he did not know whether to write a novel or a collection of stories and therefore balked, producing a perplexing combination of the two. David Finkle’s comments...

  13. A Miracle of Catfish and the Recursions of Art
    (pp. 111-129)

    Early in Larry Brown’s posthumously publishedA Miracle of Catfish(2007) we ride along with one of the principle characters through familiar narrative, descriptive, and thematic territory. The vehicle is a ’55 Chevy that the character—always referred to in the narrative as Jimmy’s daddy—has undertaken as a project to occupy much of his time, money, and mental energies. We witness both the aesthetic reverie and the frustration of turning the concrete details of life into an artistic machine, and in the tension between these two states we find a fitting analogue to the critical reception to Brown’s final...

  14. Fireman-Writer, Bad Boy Novelist, King of Grit Lit: “Building” Larry Brown(s) at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
    (pp. 130-156)

    The photo shows a man of about forty sitting at a table in a firehouse. He has a dark mustache and is wearing a uniform complete with patches, a badge, and a nametag, and atop his head is a baseball cap bearing the outsized letters “OFD.” He looks tired, perhaps even weary, but he stares directly into the camera and leans forward rather than slouching back. His eyebrows slightly raised, his head slightly tilted, he not only seems to challenge the photographer but looks as if he is about one photo shy of asking him to step outside. In the...

  15. AFTERWORD: On The Rough South of Larry Brown: An Interview with Filmmaker Gary Hawkins
    (pp. 157-174)
    KATHERINE POWELL and Gary Hawkins

    Gary Hawkins, an independent filmmaker from North Carolina, began planning a documentary on the life and work of Larry Brown in the late 1990s. Hawkins saw the film as something of a sequel to a previous project, his Regional Emmy-winning documentaryThe Rough South of Harry Crews, produced in 1991 for North Carolina Public Television. After enlisting Brown’s participation in the venture, Hawkins took three trips to Mississippi to visit the writer and his family. Brown’s wife Mary Annie quickly became an integral part of the interviews that followed, and as the project progressed, Hawkins and Brown decided to film...

    (pp. 175-178)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 179-184)