Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to was never there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place… Nothing outside you can give you any place… In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.
—  Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood

“I have never insisted violently on my Southerness, as a writer, because being a Southerner is for me quite literally as natural as breathing. But just the same if there is going to be an all-Southern number I almost feel like insisting that I must be in it.” 

- Katherine Anne Porter, on the prospect of being included in the April 1935 issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review which featured “The Grave.”

Read “The Grave” for free tomorrow at Recommended Reading.


One of Botswana’s most outspoken and prolific writers, Bessie Emery Head was born in on July 6th, 1937, in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa to a wealthy South African woman and black male servant at a time when just ten years prior to her birth the government at the time had introduced the Immorality Act which prohibited extramarital sex between white and black people (it was later amended to prohibit sexual relations between whites and non-whites). 

In the 1950s and 60s, Head became a teacher and then a journalist for the popular black publication Drum. In 1964, she relocated to neighbouring Botswana as a refugee as she had been involved with Pan-African politics in South Africa with the anti-Apartheid struggle. She settled in the town of Serowe and after 15 years finally gained citizenship in Botswana.

Most of her most important novels are set in Serowe and involve autobiographical elements, such as the novel Maru which centers around the life of an orphaned Masarwa (Bushman) woman who is orphaned as a baby and raised by an Englishwoman, and eventually becomes a teacher.

Her novel, A Question of Power is based partly on the love-hate relationship she is said to have had with her adopted country of Botswana. Whilst living there, some say she remained somewhat of an outsider and at times she suffered mental health problems, perhaps due to her seclusion, amongst other things. 

On one occasion Head put up a public notice making allegations about then President Sir Seretse Khama, which led to a period in Lobatse Mental Hospital.

Bessie Head passed away in 1986 at the age of 48, from hepatitis. Her early death came at a time when she was beginning to receive recognition from her works.

In 2003 she was awarded the South African “Order of Ikhamanga in Gold” for her “exceptional contribution to literature and the struggle for social change, freedom and peace. In 2007, her birth city of Pietermaritzburg renamed the city library in her honor.

Flannery O’Conner with her peacock

July 1962—Flannery O’Connor on crutches, with one of her peacocks in Milledgeville, Georgia. In 1951, O’Connor was diagnosed with Lupus and returned to Andalusia where she took care of various species of birds. In a 1961 essay entitled “The King of the Birds” she writes about her peacocks and you can see peacocks images in many of her books.

photo by Joe McTyre

I like to classify Southern eccentrics into two groups: Eudora Welty eccentric or Flannery O’Connor eccentric. If you are a Welty eccentric, your sister is called something like Cattie Paw because her name is Katherine and she walks quietly. If you are O’Connor eccentric, your sister is called Trampasaurus Oceanus because she gets around during Fleet Week. Welty eccentrics may leave a family dinner to go sit in the woods and sketch lichen. O’Connor eccentrics leave a family dinner after announcing they’ve ended the affair with the Methodists’ choir director to move to Hilton Head with the Piggly Wiggly produce manager and his spiritual guru.
Watch on blog.dbanderson.com

SoLost: At Home with William Gay

Oops! My latest SoLost piece about the elusive Southern writing great William Gay posted about a week ago and I completely forgot to put it up on the blog. Correcting that now. Video above.

I blogged a bit about the trip to see him in April and you can read that here.

Here’s the description of the video piece:

These days, much-adored writers seem to enjoy the grind of publicity, embarking on endless interviews and fielding star-struck audiences. Tennessee-based author William Gay is not one of those. Despite having a few critically lauded books under his belt, one of which became a feature film starring Hal Holbrook, Gay seldom agrees to be photographed or filmed. We’d heard he lives in a cabin in secluded Hohenwald, Tennessee, and that he occasionally accepts visitors—so we couldn’t resist stopping by to see for ourselves.

Needless to say, he let us in and even showed us around, and we discovered that his rustic homestead is charming in its straightforwardness—much like his stories. We learned about his tree house, his connection to Hohenwald, and how, one time, Bob Dylan managed to come between him and his girlfriend.

Here, have a rare glimpse into William Gay’s world.

Hope you like it…


Some Things I didn’t know About Maya Angelou

  • In the 1950s, she got a role with the touring production of Porgy and Bess
  • In 1957, she appeared on the off Broadway production of Calypso Heat Wave
  • That same year she released her first album, Miss Calypso
  • She was also a coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and helped organize the Cabaret for Freedom, a musical revue that benefited the SCLC
  • In 1961, she appeared in the off Broadway production of The Blacks which also featured James Earl Jones, Lou Gossett Jr. and Cicely Tyson
  • Martin Luther King Jr., a close friend, was assassinated on her birthday, April 4, 1968
  • After that she stopped celebrating her birthday and sent flowers to Coretta Scott King instead
  • In 1972, she wrote Georgia, Georgia and became the first African American woman to have her screenplay produced
  • In 1973, she received a Tony Award nomination for her part in the play Look Away
  • In 1977, she was nominated for her role in the miniseries Roots
  • In 1998, she directed her first movie, Down in the Delta, which starred Alfre Woodard
  • She received an Audience Choice Award from the Chicago International Film Festival in 1998 for Down in the Delta

Source: pinterest, biography