Congratulations to author and Vanderbilt professor Tony Earley on his election into the Fellowship of Southern Writers, an august group whose charter members include James Dickey, John Hope Franklin, Walker Percy, Robert Penn Warren and Eudora Welty. The FSW's mission, as stated on its website, is to advance the cause of literature in the South by "commemorating outstanding literary achievement, encouraging young writers through awards, prizes and fellowships, recognizing distinction in writing by election to membership, and through other appropriate activities."
Earley memorably depicted the vanishing rural South in his acclaimed first novel Jim the Boy, a child's Depression-era life recounted in a voice as spare and evocative as the hum of cicadas, and its World War II follow-up The Blue Star. But nobody has written better about the New South of strip malls, fern bars and shiny civic centers than Earley in "Charlotte," a hilarious stealthy heartbreaker of a story in his 1994 collection Here We Are in Paradise:
I manage a fern bar on Independence Boulevard near downtown, called P.J. O'Mulligan's Goodtimes Emporium. The regulars call the place P.J.'s. When you have just moved to Charlotte from McAdenville or Cherryville or Lawndale, it makes you feel good to call somebody up and say, Hey let's meet after work at P.J.'s. It sounds like real life when you say it, and that is a sad thing. P.J.'s has fake Tiffany lampshades above the tables, with purple and teal hornets belligerent in the glass. It has fake antique Coca-Cola and Miller High Life and Pierce-Arrow automobile and Winchester Repeating Rifle signs screwed into the walls, and imitation brass tiles glued to the ceiling. (The glue occasionally lets go and the tiles swoop down towards the tables, like bats.) The ferns are plastic because smoke and people dumping their drinks on the planters kill the real ones. The beer and mixed drinks are expensive, but the chairs and stools are cloth-upholstered and plush, and the ceiling lights in their smooth, round globes are low and pleasant enough, and the television set is huge and close to the bar and perpetually tuned to ESPN. Except when the Hornets are on Channel 18 or wrestling is on TBS.
Earley's election puts him in the company of Madison Smartt Bell, Ralph Ellison, Barry Hannah, Bobbie Ann Mason, Lewis Nordan, and about three dozen other writers whose companionship no discerning reader would turn down. Chapter16.org has more, and the VU press release follows after the jump.
Vanderbilt’s Tony Earley elected to Fellowship of Southern Writers
The Blue Star novelist joins group that has included James Dickey, Robert Penn Warren
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Fellowship of Southern Writers has elected novelist Tony Earley, a professor at Vanderbilt University, as a member.
The FSW was founded in 1987 to recognize and encourage literature in the South. Its founding members include James Dickey, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty and Reynolds Price. Earley, author of the novels Jim the Boy and The Blue Star, is the Samuel Milton Fleming Professor of English at Vanderbilt and teaches in its graduate creative writing MFA program.
To be considered for membership in the FSW a writer must have been born and raised, or have resided for a significant part of his or her life in the South, or written works that embody aspects of the Southern experience. Earley is a native of North Carolina and both his novels are set there.
Earley, named by Granta as one of the 20 best young American novelists in 1997 and winner of a National Magazine Award for his short story “The Prophet from Jupiter,” has also written a book of short stories, Here We Are in Paradise, and collection of personal essays, Somehow Form a Family.
The FSW recently announced that Vanderbilt poet Kate Daniels will receive its 2011 Hanes Award for Poetry, an award for outstanding literary achievement by a Southern poet, in April.