Seeking the heart of Southern writing.
Essayist and journalist Eby (Rock and Roll Baby Names: Over 2,000 Music-Inspired Names, from Alison to Ziggy, 2012) pays homage to 10 Southern writers in this illuminating journey to the homes, towns, and landscapes that nurtured them. Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, the author came to understand her identity as a Southerner by reading Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Harper Lee, and, of course, William Faulkner. Besides these usual suspects, she includes the “harsh and haunting” Harry Crews, memoirist Richard Wright, Lee’s irascible friend Truman Capote, and fiction writers Barry Hannah, John Kennedy Toole, and Larry Brown. Eby embarked on this odyssey, she writes, “to see the places they had lived in and written about, to breathe the same air, to hear the same accents and meet the same people.” Many homes have been preserved for visitors. Being in Welty’s, Eby reports, feels “like dropping into one of her stories.” At O’Connor’s Andalusia Farm in Milledgevile, Eby imagined her surrounded by her peacocks, writing in a “small, almost monastic” room with a single bed and plain wooden desk. Both Welty and O’Connor felt cowed by Faulkner’s reputation. He was like “a big mountain, something majestic,” Welty said. “I keep clear of Faulkner so my own little boat won’t get swamped,” O’Connor told a friend. Visiting Faulkner’s home in Oxford, Mississippi, Eby particularly noted his bookshelves, “custom made to store his shotgun shells along the sides,” and his liquor cabinet, replete with bottles of whiskey. She also traveled to Monroeville, a town that finds myriad ways to celebrate Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. She traces Crews’ painful childhood in Bacon County, Georgia, and sensitively evokes Toole’s New Orleans as well as his posthumous novel, A Confederacy of Dunces.
Eby brings fine sensibility to her readings of all her subjects’ works and, in polished prose, offers a fresh look at their lives and literary legacies.