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Tongues of flame

de Mary Ward Brown

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These beautifully crafted stories depict the changing relationships between black and white southerners, the impact of the civil rights movement, and the emergence of the New South. Mary Ward Brown is a storyteller in the tradition of such powerful 20th-century writers as William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Flannery O'Connor, and Eudora Welty-writers who have explored and dramatized the tension between the inherited social structure of the South and its contemporary dissolution. With Tongues of Flame, her first collection of short stories, Brown bares the awkward, sometimes hopeful, and often tragic suffering of people caught in changing times within a timeless setting. Here we meet such memorable characters as a dying black woman who seeks the advice of a now-alcoholic white doctor whom she knew in better years; a young woman, jilted at the altar, driven crazy by an illuminated cross erected by the church opposite her house; and a 95-year-old woman buying a tombstone for her long-deceased husband only to discover that he had been adulterous throughout their marriage. Brown constructs her characters in a disarmingly plain style while breathing life into them with compassion and honesty as they confront the large moments of their lives. First published by E. P. Dutton in 1986 to immediate critical acclaim, Tongues of Flame won the 1987 PEN/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award. The judges commended Brown for "seeing life whole, without prejudice, without sentimentality, without histrionics. Her voice may be quiet-sometimes she speaks in a whisper-but her words are, nevertheless, always forceful, clear, and ultimately lasting." With this new publication of Tongues of Flame and its inclusion in the University of Alabama Press's Deep South Books series, a whole new generation of readers may once more discover Mary Ward Brown's profound stories of pain, loss, and hope.… (més)
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Mary Ward Brown! Even the name falls trippingly from the tongue, does it not? Only in the last two years has this great woman of letters died. She lived an amazing life. This collection of stories was published when she was no spring chicken (nearly 70 years old).

She published most of the stories individually in literary magazines from the time she graduated college until the time she published the collection. She wrote like Chekhov. One of my favorite lines from the collection comes from the titular story where the narrator is discussing her love for a man named Frank. The narrator says, "Spring was Frank in a short-sleeved shirt." Ah, I think I dropped the book on the floor after reading that. The book is filled with these gems, these perfect sentences. (Her method of writing was always to compose in long-hand. She would write her stories on paper and then rewrite them on paper, always removing unnecessary words, which gives her prose the quality of poetry.)

I live in the state where she lived, Alabama. If I were asked to give one book that best portrays Alabama, I would give them this book. And although these stories are set in the South, they contain universal themes- love, loss, class, race, death, aging, and surviving. (I can't remember which one of those literary devils said something along the lines of this: in order to write about universal truths, you must first write from a particular place. Mary Ward Brown wrote from Alabama, but she could have and would have written well from anywhere.)

I cannot recommend these stories enough.


( )
  HunterMurphy | Jun 26, 2015 |
This is a book of short stories. I think my aunt gave it to me a few years ago. I remember nothing about it except the first story which was about an old woman picking out the dress she wanted to be buried in. ( )
  DameMuriel | May 1, 2008 |
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These beautifully crafted stories depict the changing relationships between black and white southerners, the impact of the civil rights movement, and the emergence of the New South. Mary Ward Brown is a storyteller in the tradition of such powerful 20th-century writers as William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Flannery O'Connor, and Eudora Welty-writers who have explored and dramatized the tension between the inherited social structure of the South and its contemporary dissolution. With Tongues of Flame, her first collection of short stories, Brown bares the awkward, sometimes hopeful, and often tragic suffering of people caught in changing times within a timeless setting. Here we meet such memorable characters as a dying black woman who seeks the advice of a now-alcoholic white doctor whom she knew in better years; a young woman, jilted at the altar, driven crazy by an illuminated cross erected by the church opposite her house; and a 95-year-old woman buying a tombstone for her long-deceased husband only to discover that he had been adulterous throughout their marriage. Brown constructs her characters in a disarmingly plain style while breathing life into them with compassion and honesty as they confront the large moments of their lives. First published by E. P. Dutton in 1986 to immediate critical acclaim, Tongues of Flame won the 1987 PEN/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award. The judges commended Brown for "seeing life whole, without prejudice, without sentimentality, without histrionics. Her voice may be quiet-sometimes she speaks in a whisper-but her words are, nevertheless, always forceful, clear, and ultimately lasting." With this new publication of Tongues of Flame and its inclusion in the University of Alabama Press's Deep South Books series, a whole new generation of readers may once more discover Mary Ward Brown's profound stories of pain, loss, and hope.

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