UNION — A New England Romance and Other Southern Stories could almost be called a “best of”collection because the title novella goes all the way back to 1985, when I was a student in William Price Fox’s creative class at the University of South Carolina. I had begun an earlier story about a boy who discovers the joy and power of classical music, but Bill openly excoriated the piece, thinking it had no direction. I soon abandoned it and tried something else which became A New England Romance, about a naïve South Carolina woman who falls in love with an actor from up north and pursues him with the help of her equally clueless mother, much to the consternation of their cousin and niece, Georgina Caul, who narrates the story. Bill took to this effort right away and encouraged me to finish it. I did — in about five months’ time! I’d write some of it and share it in class. It became something like a serial or cliffhanger. I’d read a new piece of it every week. “All we need now,” Bill joked, “are tea and cookies.” When it was done, Bill was so enamored with it he even proposed a version for the stage, a one — actor presentation, but he had in mind to play Georgina, the narrator, not a woman but a male performer, Knox somebody, whose last name escapes me, a local Columbia actor. The story lay unpublished for many years. I took it back up a dozen or so years ago and did some revisions to it. Now I’m delighted to see it in print finally in this handsome new book by Green Altar Books, an arm of Shotwell Publishing in Columbia. In fact A New England Romance is the very first literary effort from Shotwell, which normally publishes scholarly and polemical works on Southern history and culture.
The president of Shotwell, Clyde Wilson, a professor emeritus of history at Carolina and the world’s leading authority on John C. Calhoun (he edited Calhoun’s papers for the USC Press) had always been kind to my work, and when I mentioned I had a story collection available, he and his partner, Paul Graham, asked to see it right away. Green Altar will follow with other literary works, including a new novel by James Everett Kibler, Newberry native and frequent participant at the USC Union Upcountry Literary Festival each March.
It was Clyde Wilson’s idea to subtitle A New England Romance with “And Other Southern Stories” because of the irony. I agreed. At least one person on Facebook, however, failed to see the irony. “New England ain’t the South,” he wrote in indignation.
The collection is dedicated to my sister and brother-in-law, Susan and Jamy Cunningham. I had already dedicated books to my parents, my beloved paternal grandmother, and my nephew, Jay Cunningham. So it was their turn. Also 2016 was a very difficult year for all of us, with the loss of our daddy, our Ninnie, and an aunt. We were left with the care of our mother, and Susan and Jamy did a splendid, selfless job of balancing their jobs, their own family, and the needs of Mama. They are remarkable people who deserve recognition.
The book’s second longest selection, “An Unlikely Bridegroom,” also originated in Bill’s class a couple of years after “A New England Romance.” It is the account of a stingy bachelor farmer who falls in love with a beautiful young woman and proposes marriage to her, despite all his better instincts. The consequences are not favorable to him. Bill Fox liked this one so much he tried to sell it to Bill Wentworth at The Atlantic Monthly. Wentworth said no, citing the length, but had nice, encouraging things to say about the actual writing. Two other, shorter stories, “Still Life With Solitary Lady” and “A Soldier for God,” were winners, in 2004 and 2006, respectively, of the SC Fiction Project Award. The second one is among the most autobiographical things I’ve ever written, taken from an episode in my teaching career at USCU when I was dealing with a particularly troublesome student. “Vera Tuck: Memoir and Requiem” was recognized in 2005 with the York County Arts Council First Place Award for Fiction and was later published online in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. “Second Sight,” about a middle-aged woman’s encounter with a boy preacher, is a tribute of sorts to Flannery O’Connor, the great Georgia story writer whose work has meant so much to me through the years.
Fred Chappell, the former North Carolina Poet Laureate and novelist, was kind enough to read the collection. “It’s damn fun to read,” he wrote me a couple months back. He’s normally a very tough customer, so the praise was especially gratifying. A very kind person on Amazon.com called the book “a wonderful collection from one of the South’s finest writers.” I had to check twice to make sure he was referring to me.
I’ll be reading from and signing A New England Romance and Other Southern Stories and my novel Where the Streets Are Paved With Gold on January 26th in the student lounge of the USC Union bookstore from noon to one. Admission is free, and books will be available on site. The public is invited.
For further information, please call Randy Ivey at 424-8057 or Annie Smith, USC Union Public Relations, at 424-8055.
Randy Ivey is Senior Instuctor of English at USC Union. He is the author of several published books and was the 2004 and 2006 of the South Carolina Fiction Project Award for the Short Story.