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Essays that affirm the writer's lifelong role as witness to humanity and history
In prize-winning fiction and nonfiction of searching power, compassion, and wit, for more than forty years Ellen Douglas has been exploring the lives of Southerners, the prosperous and the poor, white and black, male and female. No living writer has told stories that represent with more persuasive moral intelligence the variousness of experience in the intricate world where she has been a lifelong witness of public and personal history.
In Witnessing, Douglas-author of Truth: Four Stories I Am Finally Old Enough to Tell and such novels as Black Cloud, White Cloud; Can't Quit You Baby; and Apostles of Light-delivers sixteen illuminating essays, many of which appear here in print for the first time. Each reflects Douglas's conviction that observing the life around us-events both historical and personal-is a writer's essential calling. In her essay, "On Eudora Welty," Douglas writes that to be a witness is "to be someone outside the action, waiting to see-seeing. And then? Shaping, limiting, putting into a frame. . . . We want our stories to bring to bear the past on the present."
These essays from four decades show us how Ellen Douglas has been reading the great writers who have shaped her art, and how she has been thinking and feeling about events in the world from which her work draws energy and form. She remembers her youth and family. She tells about the circle of her friends, Shelby Foote, Walker Percy, and others. She transcribes a first-person account of the violence on campus when James Meredith integrated Ole Miss. She looks back at her predecessors, including William Faulkner and the uncelebrated memoirist Mary Hamilton, whose life in the early lumber camps along the river is no less amazing than any fiction.
Recipient of the 2000 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, Ellen Douglas of Jackson, Mississippi, is the author of many novels, including A Family's Affairs, Where the Dreams Cross, The Rock Cried Out, and A Lifetime Burning.
Photo: Ellen Douglas-courtesy Lea Barton