Ellen Douglas, 1921-2012

Richard Howorth with Ellen Douglas

Josephine Haxton, who wrote eleven books under the pen name Ellen Douglas, died Wednesday, November 7, 2012, at age 91. She has passed on to writers’ heaven and leaves behind a large imprint upon Mississippi cultural heritage and Square Books history, too.

Ellen Douglas was the first writer to do a book-signing at Square Books, just over a month after the store opened. During plans to open the store I had learned that her novel, The Rock Cried Out, was to be published in the fall. I had not met her but knew that she had been a friend of my mother’s at Ole Miss, and I wrote to her to see if she might come to the store, as she was living in Jackson at the time.

“I would like to do an autograph party for you, if you feel you can drum up enough trade to make it worth our while,” she responded. “I’ve done successful ones and miserable ones and I know it takes a lot of promotion to pull one off.” University of Mississippi English professor Doreen Fowler wrote a good review for the Memphis Commerical Appeal; we did our best to promote the event, and on October 20, 1979, we sold forty-nine copies of The Rock Cried Out -- with one copy left for stock.

Ellen Douglas’s Apostles of Light was a 1973 National Book Award finalist. She received the Mississippi Institute for Arts and Letters Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. Many of her books, in which characters of family and community bring Mississippi’s lore and legacy to life, remain in print.

She returned many times to Oxford, where she taught creative writing at the University of Mississippi from 1979 to 1983, to the Oxford Conference for the Book, and to Square Books, where she gave a memorable reading, along with John Grisham and Larry Brown, on the occasion of our 25th anniversary.

Ellen Douglas was a masterful storyteller who was unafraid to peer into the fragile fissures of society and the human heart and tell the reader what she found. She leaves behind her three sons, Ayres, Richard, and Brooks Haxton, the poet, and their families.  RH

Ellen Douglas