Tuesday March 2nd, 2010

Barry Hannah, 1942-2010

barry-hannahBarry Hannah has died at 67.

He was the decorated author of eight novels and five story collections, including Airships, possibly his best known book (and the only one I’ve read, though Geronimo Rex has been waiting on my shelves for years). He directed the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Mississippi, his native state.

In a 1996 interview with the Mississippi Review, his humor was on display when he discussed his reputation in France:

Things black, things cowboy, things Southern seem to be very special in France now. I have no idea how to market myself, but if I were a real cynic I would probably get on a Lash La Rue outfit, be a cowboy writer, and make a lot of jack. My French reception seems solid. I’ve had good reviews. I’ve only had one book, my last collection, Bats Out of Hell, translated—which took three years. The French translator gave up on about three stories. He thought that they were so Southern that there was no way to idiomize them—which shocked me because I thought I wrote pure American, but I still must be really Southern. I was on the French “Tonight Show,” and my publisher is Gallimard, so I’ve got all the outlines of looking good in France.

And in the same interview, he movingly talked about the importance of community:

Interviewer: You’ve talked about place, but let’s talk a little about communities. Your characters seem to be interested in forming communities, however unlikely they might be. How important is community to you as a writer and to some of your characters in your books?

Hannah: Probably that became more important to me when I finally found a town—Oxford. I really think pals are heaven, as I say in my dedication to the Howorths [from High Lonesome]. There is something bracing about it. I have lost my folks. You gather pals and girl and boy friends and that’s your civilization. It is a small marriage: you have your own language, your own values. I like the different points of view in a community. I like the little fights—the fights over trees, over grass. It is something I personally need. Everybody wants respect—you go where there is respect—and you want life. It’s somehow more fun to have it with others. I remember I discovered California alone, and I was always wishing for someone to be with me. You know, “This is too good to have alone.” I wanted my son, a girlfriend—I was a bachelor, divorced. I felt kind of greedy. It’s more fun to have things together.