The Associated Press reported this morning that Barry Hannah, Southern author extraordinaire and creative writing professor at the University of Mississippi, died Monday. He was 67. Hannah’s death came just a few days before the 17th Oxford Conference for the Book; his work is the subject of the conference.
Hannah’s first novel, Geronimo Rex, was nominated for a National Book Award in 1972. It received the William Faulkner prize for writing. Short story collection High Lonesome was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1996.
Richard Ford, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Independence Day, was a friend of Hannah’s. He said, ”Barry could somehow make the English sentence generous and unpredictable, yet still make wonderful sense, which for readers is thrilling. . . You never knew the source of the next word. But he seemed to command the short story form and the novel form and make those forms up newly for himself.”
In a 2001 interview with BookPage, Hannah talked with Ellen Kanner about his book Yonder Stands Your Orphan—and about writing sober and Southern:
“All my idols were alcoholics—Joyce, Hemingway. I bought into the notion you had to have some drinking and a bit of pain if you had anything to say,” says Hannah. “Much of it was phony.” He hasn’t had a drink in a decade and Yonder Stands Your Orphan is the first novel he wrote sober.
Hannah misses nothing of his boozy self. It’s his younger self he thinks of with a bit of nostalgia. “The young are privy to truths that become blurred for older people. I had no history when I started writing in the 1960s, when I was writing as well as I ever did. You don’t need to know everything, thank God. I knew nothing of publishing, didn’t know I was going to make a dime. I miss that freedom in relative poverty,” he says. . .
Writing about the South and living in Oxford, home of William Faulkner, Hannah has been called that dirty name, a Southern writer. “I don’t like it used in the connotations of local color—I despise that—or somebody making hay out of weird relatives or funny names,” he says. “No really good writer could be merely Southern. A fiction writer isn’t provincial, ever. He should be sending back news from the front, news somebody else might not know about and it should be interesting and entertaining.”
Read the complete interview here. And tell us: What’s your favorite work by Barry Hannah? I love the short story “Testimony of Pilot,” from the classic collection Airships (1978).
Related in BookPage: An interview with Richard Ford.