An exhibit in the Hargrett galleries of the Russell Special Collections Libraries honors the contributions of the 2015 inductees into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame: Vereen Bell, Taylor Branch, Paul Hemphill and Janisse Ray.
Vereen Bell A regular contributor to The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s Weekly in their heyday, Cairo native Vereen Bell enjoyed a fruitful career writing short stories often set in his native south Georgia. After appearing serially in the Post, Bell’s 1940 novel Swamp Water was bought by Hollywood and made into a 1941 movie filmed partially on location near Waycross in the Okefenokee Swamp. After the publication of his second novel, Two of a Kind, and a collection of short stories about hunting dogs, Bell’s career was cut tragically short when, as a World War II naval officer, he was fatally wounded during the Battle of Leyte Gulf – the only author to die in battle as a serviceman in WWII.
Taylor Branch Atlanta-born journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Taylor Branch is best known for his epic narrative trilogy of the civil rights era, America in the King Years (1989-2006). He began his career with a series of articles in 1969-70 for Washington Monthly on race and politics in southwest Georgia, and has subsequently worked as both writer and editor at other influential national magazines. He has written or edited several nonfiction works on the nation’s executive branch, including one of the defining books on the Bill Clinton presidency. Investigating the history of the United States’ peculiar mixture of higher education and big-money sports, Branch sparked public debate with his October 2011 cover story for The Atlantic (“The Shame of College Sports”), which led to his being invited to testify before Congress on college athletes and academics.
Paul Hemphill In the late 1960s, the masthead of the bestselling Atlanta Journal bragged that the daily newspaper covered Dixie “like the dew,” and columnist Paul Hemphill was the Journal’s front-page star, writing six 1,000-word columns a week often devoted to the lives and outlooks of wage workers and wayward souls. After winning a prestigious Nieman fellowship to Harvard in 1969, he left daily newspaper work and spent most of the next forty years as a freelancer. Hemphill died in 2009, having written four novels and eight full-length books of nonfiction, collaborated on two others and produced three book-length compilations of articles, all largely about the blue-collar South, its denizens and their ballparks, dirt tracks, two-lane blacktops, and their prejudices. Among Hemphill’s many
awards for writing, in 1993 his acclaimed memoir Leaving Birmingham — part wrenching family memoir and part biography of his native city’s emergence from its violent, racist past — was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Janisse Ray Appling County native Janisse Ray began her career publishing poetry, but it was the runaway success of her 1999 memoir Ecology of a Cracker Childhood that guaranteed her national audience. A naturalist and environmental activist, Ray combines lyrical passion and scientific precision in her writings, exalting and defending the wild areas of America, most particularly her south Georgia homeland—its forests, swamps and rivers. Ecology of a Cracker Childhood is Ray’s song to Georgia’s once-glorious pine flatwoods interwined with childhood memories of rural isolation, family tension and poverty. She is the author of a 2010 collection of poetry steeped in her love of wildness, and of four other full-length books of nonfiction that tell the stories of a humble swamp in south Georgia, the Altamaha River, and organic farms such as those Ray has made her own in Appling and Tattnall counties.
The Georgia Writers Hall of Fame is pleased to present this exhibition from the bookshelves and archives of the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The exhibit runs through December 21.