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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Check out Billy Watkins article from the CL: Author Embraces Southern Living

After teaching English for 13 years at Motlow State College in Tullahoma, Tenn., decorated author Howard Bahr says "it's good to be back home in the South again."

Geography experts, listen up.

"To me, Tennessee is not a Southern state," explains Bahr, a Mississippi native who is living in Jackson and will be teaching writing classes at Belhaven College in the fall. "Tennessee is lovely, but more of a border state in my mind.

"The people of Mississippi are friendlier and kinder to one another, more tolerant of one another. There's a certain grace about the people in the Deep South that is lacking in other areas."

Bahr's definition of the Deep South consists of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. And it is in that region in which the 61-year-old Bahr wants to spend his days writing, living and "contributing to the community."

"There is a sense of energy and creativity in Jackson - lots of artists and writers, and I'd like to have a membership card," says Bahr, whose 1997 Civil War novel The Black Flower earned him the prestigious Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was also chosen as a New York Times Notable Book.

John Evans, owner of Lemuria Books in Jackson, says Bahr's return to Mississippi - particularly to Jackson - "should be a point of pride for all of us."

"We've lost a lot of our great writers here in Jackson," says Evans, referring to the deaths of Willie Morris, Eudora Welty and Margaret Walker Alexander in recent years. "Howard Bahr is a serious literary writer. In a state known for serious writers, I think it's extremely important to have a great writer living in our community.

"Plus," Evans adds with a chuckle, "he's a really fun guy to be around."

Bahr, a veteran of the Vietnam War, followed The Black Flower with two more Civil War novels - The Year of Jubilo and The Judas Field, which has just been released in paperback.

"They formed a trilogy, which I never meant to happen," says Bahr, a former professor at the University of Mississippi and the curator at William Faulkner's Oxford home, Rowan Oak, for nine years. "But I think I've written about all I can on the Civil War. I don't anticipate any more of those."

His next book, Pelican Road, has been purchased by MacAdam Cage of San Francisco and is in the editing stages. It is due out next spring.

"It's a book about working on the railroad," says Bahr, who spent five years as a railroad yard clerk and brakeman from 1968 through 1973. "There have been lots of kids books done on railroads and trains, but never a serious book about what it used to be like working on the railroad when they had cabooses and used hand signals and all that."

And even though Bahr doesn't have a concrete idea for another book, he still goes to his computer every night to see what his subconscience might offer.

"Writing is a compulsion," he says. "I think most artists will tell you that ... the painter has to go to his studio, the potter has to go to his wheel.

"If I don't sit down and at least write a few sentences or paragraphs and see what comes out, I feel like I haven't done my duty for the day."


Susan Cushman said...

I'm Jackson (MS) born and raised, but living in Memphis since 1988,and I know what you mean about Tennessee not really being part of the deep South. I've found myself driving back down I-55 to Oxford and Raymond for two amazing writers workshops this summer, and just breathing the air (when you can!) has inspired my efforts at my first novel and a few short stories. You can read about at these experiences on my blog, below ... and thanks to Lemuria Books for their help at the Mississippi Writers Guild Conference!