Mississippi letters lost a champion when Noel Polk passed away at home after an illness. A longtime professor of English literature at the University of Southern Mississippi and later Mississippi State University, he was well-known here in Oxford mainly due to his perennial appearances at the Faulkner Conference, where he often spoke. A scholar of two of Mississippi’s greatest writers, William Faulkner and Eudora Welty, he was involved in the editing of some of Faulkner’s original texts and the Library of America editions of Faulkner. He published Children of the Dark House: Text and Context in Faulkner and Eudora Welty: A Bibliography of Her Work. A fine extract of his personal history, Outside the Southern Myth, may be found here on the site of the American Scholar.
While Noel’s scholarship could be arcane – he really got down to the nitty gritty -- a personal encounter with Noel was always open, engaging, and very friendly. His contagious energy not only gave creation to the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters, he also kept a hand in sustaining the organization since he helped found it in 1978. It is no surprise to those who knew Noel that his generous enthusiasm for literature included a constant support for us here at Square Books.
Noel got his PhD at the University of South Carolina after completing his other degrees at Mississippi College, where he was a member of the MC literary brat pack that included Peggy Prenshaw, Evans Harrington, Barry Hannah, and many others. Mississippi’s powerhouse of literary greatness continues to cast its shadow over the world, and Noel worked in the boiler room. We will miss him, and extend our condolences to all his friends and family. RH
Leanne Shapton is an artist and writer who once competed for a slot on
the Canadian Olympic swim team. She didn't make the squad but was good
enough to get close, which meant she spent hours and months and years
swimming and training and thinking -- deeply -- about what it all meant
to her life. With the XXX Olympiad and the names of Michael Phelps, Missy
Franklin and Ryan Lochte fresh on our minds, and 100+ temperatures out
there now, it's a good time to dive into Leanne Shapton's refreshingly
Ian Frazier says “Padgett Powell is one of the best writers in America—and one of the funniest, too.” His stories are cousin to Barry Hannah’s (read the masterpiece Typical), his ear for dialog is Weltian, and I believe him to be Faulkner’s closest stylistic kin. Not at all derivative, though--his writing is aggressively his own. You and Me will conjure up Godot for smarties, but me, I’m thinking “Water Liars.” Basically, two baby-boomer geezers (yes, that’s us) with nothing better in this world to do sit around and jaw about stuff: “Things disturb them.” Just a few of those things are sex, Parker shotguns, Miles Davis, fishing, R. Crumb, cowardice, Jayne Mansfield, lard-and-hair sandwiches, nihilism, dogs, Tarzan, GERD, Sherman, Oz, people who should die of a terrible virus (tyrants, driving cell-phone talkers, litterbugs), and the deaths of Julia Child and Ray Charles, which “contributed directly to the collapse of Life as we thought we knew it.” As the guys put it, they “are talky bums with decent clothes and odor under control but bums all the same...” Powell craycray for sure, but pert near genius. LH
PADGETT POWELL WILL BE A GUEST ON THACKER MOUNTAIN RADIO THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 6. SIGNING AFTER THE SHOW.