Category Archives: Southern Women Writers

More on Southern Women Writers — televised segments of “American Masters”

       Fortunate timing!  Corresponding to recent blog posts here on Southern women writers, I stumbled upon news about two back-to-back American Masters series segments to be televised on PBS this next week concerning two Southern women writers:

Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel premieres nationally Monday, April 2, 2012 at 9 p.m. followed by Harper Lee: Hey, Boo at 10 p.m. (you’re advised to check local listings).

Am especially interested in the program about Harper Lee, who wrote the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  My earlier blog post discusses why I recently developed a bit of a fascination about her life.  I hope this American Masters segment sheds more light on her.

Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind.  I haven’t read this novel.  I’ve seen the film 2-3 times and enjoyed it.  Actors Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable were terrific as Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler and their portrayals are now cinematic legend.  The movie is something of an “epic,” and I guess people would say the same about the novel, I imagine.  I’ll probably watch the American Masters segment also on Margaret Mitchell just to familiarize myself with her a bit.

P.S.  As an aside, I began watching American Masters series in the late 1980s.  This is a no-holds-barred quality presentation about individual writers, poets, film directors, musicians, composers, actors, visual artists, etc. who have had an impact on the arts in America.  While the format of some of the segments are a bit similar, there is nothing “cookie cutter” about how the biographical material is presented.  For example, for Charlie Chaplin there are three segments.  I believe the presentation on Bob Dylan is two segments.  The people who make these segments do a good job of drawing the viewer in to the life, mind and creativity of each person discussed in a way that makes you understand how this person worked and created.

Anyway I’ve never been bored watching an American Masters segment.  After I saw the one on George Gershwin I walked around for a couple of days saying I was in love with a dead man (I was so enamored with this man’s talent and the music he composed and played.  I remember being astonished that he never married and   shocked that he died before he reached 40…)

Yes, this is my plug for the PBS American Masters series.  Check it out sometime if you’re not able to watch next week’s segments on Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee.

Southern Women Writers (Part III)

Southern Women Writers -- Part III

A contemporary literary journal:
Southern Women’s Review February 2012 issue

Southern Women Writers (Part II) — Writer, Eudora Welty

If I had to teach a course in writers I think I’d choose Southern women writers.  I’ve read a few and there’s quite a few I haven’t read (for example, I don’t believe I know the work of any Black Southern women writers).  Here I want to write about someone who is possibly the opposite of Harper Lee who wrote the novel To Kill a Mockingbird that I wrote about in a former blog post here.

This someone is writer, Eudora Welty.  Born in Jackson, Mississippi, she is known for her short stories and novels that have been revered by both readers and other writers.  To be honest it was not her stories or her novels that drew me to this writer — it was her autobiography “One Writer’s Beginnings” that I read and found so compelling.  This autobiography is actually based on a series of three lectures that Eudora Welty gave at Harvard University in the early 1980s.  It is a loving explanation of this writer’s childhood and of a writer’s first foray into the world of the senses.  For example, there is a description in this work of “sound” and how she remembers hearing things for the first time in a singular and acute way.  Another recollection of hers is a description of a family trip that her family made by car in the 1920s from Mississippi to see relatives in West Virginia (am not entirely sure about the state — it was some distance away however still in the South) that is very memorable.  She talks about how the car didn’t go very fast nor were the roads very good and what a process it was to travel this way.  Her family, being fairly well off financially, were actually unique in that they owned their own car also.  Ms. Welty conveys her childhood wonderment at this excursion drawing the reader into how extraordinary this seemingly ordinary family trip was.

I have since learned that Eudora Welty, similar to Harper Lee, received the Pulitzer Prize in literature.  Different from Ms. Lee, Eudora Welty’s award was given some years after she’d been publishing her work.  Interestingly I learned also recently that Eudora Welty also stopped writing for a time later in her life when she began to feel that her writing was not the caliber that it had been.

Well, perhaps Harper Lee and Eudora Welty weren’t so different after all, at least not in the respect that they judged their own work perhaps with their own keen eye and if what they created didn’t measure up, they weren’t going to put it out there for the world to read.  It makes you wonder if people aren’t too hard on themselves, however the idea of quality and achievement is what an artist strives for in a creation, otherwise why bother?

I don’t seem to have that problem (ha ha) — i can think of the mediocre stuff i’ve done in my own life that at the time i thought was all right for presentation (especially in the way of creating something in the visual arts).  I do admire people who do have a certain level of mastery that they are aiming for and don’t settle for something that doesn’t measure up in their own eyes.

Southern Women Writers — Thinking about Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird

Last month, February 2012, I wanted to read something to commemorate it being Black History Month. It occurred to me sometime in the past year that I’d never read the book or seen the film based on the book To Kill a Mockingbird. What I knew vaguely about the book is that it takes place in the American South and it is about a white Southern male lawyer who defends an impoverished Black man when he is accused of raping a white woman.

I remember being slightly shocked when I initially was told by someone that this was what the novel was about (not the entire plot as it turns out, however a very pivotal aspect of the story). I’d also read that Robert Duvall played the part of “Boo Radley” in the movie, and this was one of his first roles, I believe, as an actor. I didn’t know who this character Boo Radley was and where it fit into the story. Basically I had some pretty disjointed knowledge and questions about what this novel was actually going to be about as I went about to read it.

Turns out it is actually of a coming of age story about Scout Finch, a 6-7 year old girl, and her view of the world that includes her father (lawyer Atticus Finch), her 11-12 year old brother, their neighbors including the reclusive Boo Radley, and some other asundry characters as well. The story takes place in the late 1930s in a small Alabama town and for Atticus, a white man lawyer, to believe in and defend a Black man who is falsely accused of raping a white woman, it caused quite a stir in the town. The dynamics of the trial and Atticus’s fortitude in the face of the white townspeople awakens in the reader an awareness of how prevalent biogtry and racism was there.

The writer, Harper Lee herself, is from the South and this story’s voice has the depth of authenticity to it. The book was published actually in the late 1950s, I believe (the book celebrated its 50 year anniversary in 2008). It is not my intention here to write about the novel itself, its themes and characterizations and such. What is interesting to me are two things: first, the book won a Pulitzer Prize. This is pretty astounding in my opinion and I believe the book (& Harper Lee, the author) earned it. What is amazing is that this was Lee’s first published novel (!) And this leads me to the second thing: Harper Lee did not write any other novels. It is said that she collaborated with her longtime (from childhood) friend, Truman Capote, on doing research for his work, In Cold Blood, so she was involved in the literary world after the publishing and subsequent popularity of To Kill a Mockingbird. Still it seems strange and kind of sad that she didn’t go on to write more. Fame and all the hullabaloo that goes along with it perhaps played a part in Harper Lee not being able to write more. Also I read that two of her good friends, a couple, gave her money to be able to take off a year working a 9-5 job so that she would be able to write (& the result was her writing TKAMB). So maybe, after that experience, Lee was not able to feel free enough to take the time again to write. It is hard to say or speculate why.