Barry Hannah: My word, you stir the memory

Herein lies the fateful and feared dichotomy that all writers face: when we are plagued with an opportunity to write about someone who taught us how. The day one writer dies is the day before others are forced to become better ones. Today, we are all the cliche characters of a Hannah novel-desperate, searching, and lost in light of what has happened.

I’m not even the kind who has earned this: a postmortum tribute, or Airships-induced autodidacticism. But I, too, am from Mississippi, lived in Oxford, and wasn’t always literary, if I dare boast of that now. I didn’t read Geronimo Rex until after I had a bachelor’s degree in English, and even then I didn’t know that it would be ok to say aloud that I favored any Mississippi author over Faulkner. But I did, and his name was Barry Hannah. I liked his sentences more, and the fact that not all of them were so. I wanted to be his student, despite his distaste for prying and investigating to get a story, something that goes against any journalist’s training.

I never sat in his class and my single interaction with him hinged on the exchange of a hello and nice to meet you at Thacker Mountain Radio last fall. It was this, what lies in Oxford that taught me how to love Mississippi, and I was always recalling a line from a book I read early in college that said sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. That what happens here, in a town where Barry Hannah walked, is that you’re suddenly sitting in an independent bookstore ventilated by open windows and readings by and among authors, a couple of blocks away from Faulkner’s headstone, a couple of seats away from the recipient of the National Book Award, a Pulitzer finalist. Giants are all around you and no one wants to leave.

Tomorrow Thacker Mountain will honor Hannah, whose work will be featured this week at the Conference of the Book. I hope the words they read are manic, metaphoric, dark and drunk. From Yonder Stands Your Orphan, “my word, it stirs the memory.”

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  1. Good to have you back, Rachel!

  2. Hannah likely described himself best via a narrator commenting on Confederate general Jeb Stuart in Airships “This earth will never see his kind again.”

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