Lewis Nordan died over the weekend, on Saturday, April 14. He was born in 1939 in Forest, Mississippi, and grew up in the Mississippi Delta in the town of Itta Bena, the model of his fictional village, Arrow Catcher, which was prominent in his work, including his first book, a short story collection entitled Welcome to the Arrow-Catcher Fair that was published when Buddy (as his friends knew him) was forty-five. When he had received his PhD at Auburn – in literature, Shakespeare – and was unable to find a teaching job, he attended the MFA writing program at Arkansas. He once told me that his writing epiphany occurred there, in the final moments while preparing to give his first reading at a Fayetteville bar, and he realized that the strength in his story was built around its best phrasing. He circled those sentences and phrases, crossing the rest of the material out, then simply told the story by relying on what remained.
The late Martha Lacy Hall, the Magnolia, Mississippi, native and great editor at LSU Press, discovered and published Arrow-Catcher in 1983, and a second book of stories, The All-Girl Football Team, a few years later. Both books would later be adopted into the prestigious Vintage Contemporaries series. Nordan’s break-out book was Music of the Swamp, published by Algonquin editor Shannon Ravenel in 1991, a roman a clef that I have no problem including in my top ten favorite novels. This novel and later work (Wolf Whistle, The Sharpshooter Blues) included such standard Nordan features as the Mississippi Delta, magical realism, and Sugar Mecklin, the writer’s boyhood alter ego. They were incorporated even in his memoir, Boy With Loaded Gun, which was, as he once said, “full of lies.”
Few writers had an association with Square Books as active as Buddy Nordan’s in the 1990s, beginning with the publication of Music of the Swamp in 1991, when he read, on September 16, the unforgettably great (and long) story, A Hank of Hair, A Piece of Bone. We would see him two years later with Wolf Whistle; in 1995 with The Sharpshooter Blues; in 1996 for the Oxford Conference for the Book (a riotous reading); in 1997 for Lightning Song; and in 2000 for Boy With Loaded Gun. The audience grew with every appearance. Buddy Nordan’s mischievous, gentle, and warm spirit was always with him, whether here in his home state or in Pittsburg, where he taught for many years. He said that he wanted “to write about love and death in a comic way,” and he did so, fabulously. RH
In the coming weeks we will post a blog in three parts of "SUGAR'S BUDDY," from the introduction by Richard Howorth to Lewis Nordan's "SUGAR AMONG THE FREAKS"