Southern Writer Barry Hannah Dies

Airships

Oxford, Mississippi-based author Barry Hannah died yesterday from natural causes. I'd never met the man, though a friend as recent as last year spent a semester in workshop with the legend at Ole Miss. My only interactions with the writer came through his early short stories in the collection called Airships. A writing mentor slid it across a cafe table in Atlanta about four years ago. He grinned when I picked it up, like the thing was a Eurorail pass for the summer. Adventures, he said.

Hannah wrote like his mind was on fire. Others better describe his fiction:

"A writer of violent honesty." – Alfred Kazin

"Most young Southern writers resent being compared to such past giants as Faulkner and Flanery O'Connor…Hannah has placed himself firmly on their turf." -Time

"He is half a dozen brilliant new voices." – Phillip Roth

Writers especially revered Mr. Hannah. Like the AP obituary says below, when Hannah wrote, it was like he was reinventing the form. What I saw in the early Airships stories was more than reinvention; it was reincarnation. He walked into these places, the creekbeds, the bar rooms, the back roads. The writer was a dozen voices. And his sheer appetite for language crackled on the pages like, well, what I said, like his mind was ablaze.

I looked back at the collection this morning. It's opening sentence seemed surreal. Here it is.

"When I am run down and flocked around by the world, I go down to Farte
Cove off the Yazoo River and take my beer to the end of the pier where
the old liars are still snapping and wheezing at one another."

BHannahOA2PG

If you'd like to read the AP obit, it is below.

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Author Barry Hannah, whose fiction was laced
with dark humor and populated by hard-drinking Southerners, died Monday
at his home in Oxford, Miss. He was 67.

Lafayette County Coroner Rocky Kennedy said Hannah died Monday
afternoon of ''natural causes,'' declining to elaborate until he shared
the details with Hannah's wife, Susan. Kennedy said the death is not
under investigation.

Hannah's first novel, ''Geronimo Rex,'' was published in 1972. It received the William Faulkner prize for writing and was nominated for a National Book Award. His 1996 short story collection, ''High Lonesome,'' was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Novelist and Mississippi native Richard Ford called Hannah ''a shooting star.''

''Barry could somehow make the English sentence generous and
unpredictable, yet still make wonderful sense, which for readers is
thrilling,'' Ford said from his home in Maine. ''You never knew the
source of the next word. But he seemed to command the short story form
and the novel form and make those forms up newly for himself.''

Longtime friend Malcolm White, the director of the Mississippi Arts
Commission, said Hannah ''loved words, fishing, his family and going
fast.''

''Barry was Mississippi's irreverent poet of the dark side, our
rebellious, misfit uncle of the nightlife, the voice of the unrehearsed
and the unapologetic outburst in corner of the room,'' White said
Monday.

Hannah was born and raised in Mississippi. He graduated in 1964 from
Mississippi College in Clinton and later earned a master's degree in
creative writing from the University of Arkansas.

He taught writing at the University of Mississippi for more than 25 years. In 1996, Hannah told the student newspaper at the University of Mississippi that teaching inspired him.

''The short fiction form that I teach is a great format for fine
classroom conversation about the art,'' Hannah said. ''My writing has
always been enhanced by my teaching.''

He also worked as writer in residence at the University of Iowa, the University of Montana-Missoula and Middlebury College in Vermont.

In 2003, Hannah was given the PEN/Malamud Award, which recognizes excellence in the art of short fiction.

Ford said he and Hannah spoke often about the idea of ''Southernness.''

''We circled the whole issue of Southernness differently,'' said
Ford, whose novel, ''Independence Day,'' won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize
for fiction. ''I think he embraced it in a way that he took sustenance
from. He chose to live in William Faulkner's town, chose to stay in the
South, to his great strength and credit. But he was not a regional
talent. He was much larger than that.''

The friendship between the two writers grew after Ford's mother died
in 1981. He said he drove from New Orleans to Oxford and just looked
Hannah up.

''I hadn't ever really met him,'' he said. ''I'd heard about him,
but didn't really know him. He's the one guy, I knew, who I could make
a connection with. He took me in, saw to me. Even when he didn't have
to because I was just another writer he knew. I've always loved him for
that.''

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