I am embarrassed that Maud and them got to this first (I’m a Mississippian), but life goes on. We’ll just have to one-up them.
The ranks of Mississippi’s literati have been thinned since 1998, with the death of Larry Brown capping off a string of losses that included Eudora Welty. So what does Mississippi’s Literary future look like? According to the article, it looks okay.
“I think first, of course, about Larry’s family,” says John Evans, owner of Lemuria Book Store in Jackson. “But I also think about the books that his readers lost out on over the next 20 years. You don’t replace a Larry Brown.”
Just like you don’t replace Eudora Welty or Willie Morris or Margaret Walker Alexander â€” all legendary Mississippi writers who have died since 1998.
With renowned authors and Mississippi residents such as Barry Hannah and Ellen Douglas not writing much anymore, the question begs: Who is going to carry Mississippi’s literary torch â€” lit by William Faulkner in the late 1920s â€” over the next 10, 20, 30 years?
“There is no possible way to know,” says Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books in Oxford. “You don’t just grow writers and have them pop out of the ground. There are so many different paths writers take to greatness … it’s just impossible to predict.
“I think back to 1980. Larry Brown was a fireman who was trying to read enough good books to see if he could maybe learn to write. And look what happened.”
But there are some Mississippi writers showing great potential.
Steve Yarbrough, 47, a native of Indianola who now lives and teaches in Fresno, Calif., but still writes novels set in his home state, had huge success with The Oxygen Man. His latest book, Prisoners of War, was a finalist for this year’s prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for the best published work of fiction by an American author.
Olympia Vernon, who attended South Pike High School and is the writer-in-residence at Southeastern Louisiana University, has written two novels and has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Her next book, A Killing In This Town, has been purchased by Grove Atlantic Press. It is due out in January. And Vernon has a new editor â€” Elisabeth Schmitz, who worked with Charles Frazier on Cold Mountain, the 1997 National Book of the Year.
Brad Watson, 49, grew up in Meridian and is the writer-in-residence at Ole Miss after spending a year teaching creative writing at Harvard University. His collection of stories, Last Days of the Dog Men, and novel, The Heaven of Mercury, have captured the attention of booksellers and earned him the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Watson says one of the toughest challenges for current literary writers from Mississippi is “trying to get the same vision Faulkner did back in his day about the changing South he was living in, then writing about it.”
Hmm. Call me jaded, but trying to attain Faulkner’s “vision” seems a tad much. I think it is impossible to be a Mississippi writer cognizant of the past and not be in some way influenced or informed by Faulkner, but to try can only lead to derivative works that will never live up to the original. The new blood will have to learn to break out of the “southern writer” mold. There is a uniformity in southern writing that amounts to a uniformity of attitude rather than style, form, or even subject matter. The next Great MS author will be an innovator of attitude.
Aside #1- I graduated from LSU less than six months ago and had NO idea that Olympia Vernon was affiliated. Then again, I made a point of avoiding all academic study of modern/contemporary literature, so I have an excuse.
Aside #2- I sold my only Larry Brown first edition (signed) a week before he died. My rationale: Larry’s always around, I can get another. RIP.
And now for the one-upmanship:
Literary Mississippi author left out of the article: Donna Tartt.
Need to brush up on your knowledge of Mississippi’s great literary tradition? Check out The Mississippi Writers page.
And speaking of Faulkner, I am eternally grateful to the French for bringing him to our attention. What was all that about translating literature being worthwhile and useful?!?.
Aside #3- The French scholar in that last link offers an interesting critique of the American literary scene:
In France, Faulkner is still seen as the paradigm of authors, of courage in writing,” said Francois Pitavy, whose Monday lecture is “William Faulkner’s Reception in France: The Making of William Faulkner.”
“What you might call political correctness in the United States has made all authors equal to each other, so to speak. This political correctness hasn’t gone through French universities. Great authors are not forgotten there, as they tend to be in this country.”