Barry Hannah

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Barry Hannah

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març 2, 2010, 10:05 pm

Below is a tribute to Barry Hannah penned by Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books and Mayor of Oxford, MS, which will still be delivered at the 17th annual Conference for the Book in Oxford later this week. The Conference is going on, still dedicated to Hannah as originally planned.

Barry Hannah died suddenly at his home yesterday afternoon, March 1, after a long illness, at the age of 67. He was widely regarded as being among the first rank of orginal artists of American fiction, honored by the PEN / Malamud Award for short fiction in 2003. Click below to read Richard Howorth's tribute to Hannah originally written for the Book Conference program.

The literary life of the Oxford and Ole Miss community took a dramatic turn in the spring of 1982 when the late Evans Harrington, long-time University of Mississippi English Department Chairman, hired Barry Hannah to teach creative writing. Hannah had published several books and taught at Clemson and Alabama by 1982, but had met Evans Harrington many years earlier as a student at his home-town school, Mississippi College, in Clinton. Harrington had come to talk to MC students about writing, and Hannah once told me that he knew he wanted to be a writer when he saw Evans Harrington that day, saying that "he was so handsome and cool, with his tweed coat and his pipe."

Barry Hannah became the first student to receive an MFA from the creative writing program at the University of Arkansas. His first novel, Geronimo Rex, garnered critical acclaim when it was published by Viking Press in 1972, becoming a National Book Award finalist and winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for the best first novel. The following year Viking published a second novel, Nightwatchmen, furthering Hannah's status as a deep talent. By 1978 he had published enough short fiction in magazines for the legendary editor at Knopf, Gordon Lish, to issue Airships, a story collection that continues to be one of the most influential books for fiction writing students, and which includes "Testimony of Pilot," one of the most widely anthologized American short stories of the past thirty years.

With Airships, Hannah's writing had received reviews and recognition from distinguished critics and other witers, with such descriptions as "old as hell and modern as hell" (William Price Fox); "lyrical and half-crazed" (Harry Crews); "explosive but meticulous orginiality" (Cynthia Ozick); "violent honesty and power" (Alfred Kazin); "inexpressibly singular" (James Dickey); and "half a dozen brilliant new voices" (Philip Roth). Hannah was said to be using language in a way that his jazz idol, Miles Davis, played music.

Having moved to Oxford less than two years after Willie Morris had come here, Hannah and Willie each became to some degree "the other writer in town," a characterization that annoyed both because they were very different. Willie was the non-fiction writer, Rhodes Scholar, accomplished journalist, editor, and belles-lettrist; Barry was the wild man of modern fiction, a deeply cool melange of biker-beatnik, rebel-artiste, and gentleman-hepcat. Willie wore his khakis and loafers, cruising around town in his Buick; Barry, shades and a leather jacket, on a motorcycle. One week Willie would be quoted in Newsweek, Barry in Rolling Stone. They both came from the same sort of small-town Mississippi and, roughly, of the same era, which is to say they shared a fundamental and distinct knowledge of the same sorts of people and things. But their DNA was so very different, as was their literature, and the alchemy of the two in Oxford at the same time helped create a rich, magical period of the community's cultural history.

Hannah would publish three more books at Knopf -- Ray (a favorite among many Hannah afficianados), The Tennis Handsome (whose publication in 1983 made for the writer's first event at Square Books), and Captain Maximus. By 1987 Seymour Lawrence, the wily independent publisher of a good number of prominent writers, attracted the author to his imprint and published Hey Jack!, and their relationship served to strengthen Lawrence's connection to Oxford, to the extent that he eventually moved here. The house Lawrence bought and moved into with the writer, Joan Williams, across the street from Rowan Oak, today is used as the home for John and Renee Grisham visiting writers. Lawrence published Boomerang, Never Die, and, in 1993, a feast of twenty-three fabulous stories entitled Bats Out of Hell, written during the time that Hannah stopped drinking and marking a highly prolific period for the short story master.

Upon Lawrence's death in early 1994, Barry Hannah, who for much of his career has chosen to eschew a literary agent and deal directly with his publishers, began a relationship with Morgan Entrekin at Grove Atlantic, the imprint for the stories of High Lonesome and the novel, Yonder Stands Your Orphan, a title borrowed from a lyric by Bob Dylan, another musician who might be said to share a certain quality with Hannah. In Martin Scorcese's film about Dylan, it is clear that genius is not simply a quality this artist applies to his work; it is part of his nature. Hannah's writing similarly shows his ear for language as a kind of genius, the element of which perhaps does not come as a result of arduous application to craft; it is, as with Dylan, a resident trait of self. There is a notable difference, however, between Hannah and Dylan: the prominent aspect of Dylan's genius is serious irony, which is often tiresome, whereas for Hannah the frequent companion is humor, of which there never seems to be enough. This characteristic never fails to shine in personal conversation with Hannah, at least with this petty biographer.

Over the nearly three decades that Barry Hannah lived in Oxford and taught at Ole Miss, his life gained him the devotion of his wife, Susan, the love of his family and friends, the admiration of his readers and his students, respect of his colleagues, kinship with his community, and the undying affection of his many very highly attentive dogs.

-- Richard Howorth

març 3, 2010, 10:42 am

"Yonder stands your orphan with his gun, crying like a fire in the sun. Look out, the saints are coming through, and it's all over now, Baby Blue." From Dylan's golden age.

I've read Ray which was okay. I'm not a fan of late 20th century American fiction, and Airships. A great collection of short stories.