A Short Tribute to Author William Gay

On Monday I received an email from Diana, a reader:

“We lost William Gay this past week.  He was first published at 55 years of age.  He is  being compared to Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner.  He is one of my literary heroes.”

I’d not really  heard of him, but her short note was so poignant.

I discovered that William Gay was born in 1941, the son of a sharecropper. He grew up a blue-collar worker, a carpenter and painter. At age 15 he discovered the magic of words and knew he wanted to write, but it wasn’t part of his world.

He worked odd jobs, enlisted in the Navy, traipsed around Chicago and New York because that’s where he thought writers hung out. For decades, he submitted stories to The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s and Esquire. All were rejected.

William finally came home to Tennessee, got married and raised four children, always writing at night. His wife eventually divorced him. His children grew up and left home. He decided to try again.

He submitted a short story to the Georgia Review. It was called “I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down.” They published him. He was 55.

“After I finally got published in the Georgia Review, I got a call from the editor at The Atlantic. He asked why I wasn’t sending them something because they’d like to publish my work. I told him I’d been sending things for years. He said they never got to his desk. I had to wonder what kind of operation they were running.”

Besides numerous short stories, he wrote three novels, The Long Home (2000), Provinces of Night (2002) and Twilight (2006). He received several literary awards, including a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship.

William wrote Southern Gothic, a style known for evocative prose about dark subjects — grifters and golden fields, hard earth and eternal sky, the devil at the crossroads. As Diana pointed out, he’s been compared to Faulkner and McCarthy (No Country For Old Men). Here’s the opening of Provinces of Night:

Just at twilight Boyd came up the graveled walk, the chain with its plowpoint weight drawing the gate closed behind him, before him the shanty black and depthless as a stageprop against the failing light. On the porch the old man in the rocking chair sat staring burnteyed at him like some revenant out of his past.

William Gay peacefully passed away last Thursday in his Tennessee log cabin, age 70.

If you have seven more minutes, please enjoy this interview with him. He’s soft-spoken with gorgeous drawl, a born storyteller. The literary world recognized him for just fifteen years, but he felt no bitterness. He never gave up. I plan to write more about him later. Much thanks to Diana for introducing me to this amazing man.

Sources:

13 Responses

  1. florence fois
    | Reply

    Debra, how perfectly wonderful that Diana introduced you, then you to us, to this amazing man. There is a poet lurking in some, the powerful muse, that lives inside of them and refuses to be still … Loved his comparison to himself “coming out of the closet” … some remain and what beauty grows in that quiet, dark place is a wonder for us to see. Thanks so much for this 🙂

    • Debra Eve
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      You’re welcome, Florence. He was completely self-taught, barely graduated high school. It’s so heartening to see him there in his log cabin, finally realizing he could come home and write what he knows.

  2. Patricia
    | Reply

    He’s got a good cowboy look and sound.

    Great tribute, Debra.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • Debra Eve
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      Thanks, Patricia. Phenomenal man and writer. I’m not into the genre, but it’s easy to see how talented he was.

  3. Karen McFarland
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    How awesome that Diana wrote you about this man! William Gay looks like he could be native american Debra. Is he? But what a love he had for the written word to write alone for so many years with no acceptance and recognition. Wow, what perseverance. What a life. What cool story! I’m quite sure this had to make you so excited to be able to share this with us. Thank you Debra! 🙂

    • Debra Eve
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      I don’t what his background is, Karen. I’m sure someone will write a biography about him soon and solve the mystery. He definitely had a feel for language and description. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Kathy
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    Too bad we lost a literary genius like him. He could have written more works that his readers would love.

    • Debra Eve
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      So true, Kathy. But at least he had 15 good years of publication and some recognition before he passed away. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Elana
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    Debra, love your blog! Very inspiring, particularly for those embarking on the writing journey at an older age – that would be ME too! I am so looking forward to reading William’s work. It is disheartening knowing there is so much genuine talent in this world that is left unsung; however, I am so glad William was able to fulfill his lifelong desire and dream to write and share it with the world – that’s a beautiful thing!

    • Debra Eve
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      Thanks, Elana. Glad you enjoyed it. William was the real deal, a working class guy dealing with life’s difficulties and following his dream. I’m so glad he got the recognition he deserved before passing, too.

  6. Amber
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    Thanks for one’s marvelous posting! I truly enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author.I will always bookmark your blog and will often come back from now on. I want to encourage that you continue your great work, have a nice day!

  7. Beth Camp
    | Reply

    A powerful post and an important reminder to write our stories. Thank you for this inspirational and motivating post.

    • Debra Eve
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      Thank you so much, Beth!

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