“Here is something I have learned,” says Richard Bausch. “A writer needs time to waste.” And then he jokes that when he sits down to write “the first think I think about is, ‘Well, I can’t work with these dustballs on the carpet.’”
“You have to fight your own indolence,” agrees Elizabeth Spencer. “I have all kinds of excuses. It is true that just breaking through the first fifteen minutes,” she continues, “and then you get so absorbed you can’t leave it alone.”
Up-and-coming writer Kevin Wilson adds, “You’ve been struggling with it for so long and then it starts to click together and you don’t want to stop.”
These three acclaimed southern authors, two veterans and one with great promise, met at the Writers’ roundtable in the spring of 2009. It was a special time in Jackson, Mississippi, because it was also the celebration of Eudora Welty’s centennial.
“We were just friends, and we hardly ever talked about writing,” laughs Spencer. “I was writing from the time I learned to write.”
Bausch started writing later. “I remember I was in my early twenties, writing songs, and I started to write stories.” After enrolling in college at age 26, he found a creative writing class and submitted a manuscript. “He said, ‘You’re a writer.’ And I lived on that for years.”
And Wilson jokes about his deliberate choice of writing as a career. “I was this kind of lonely child and I got into college and I realized things were not going to change for me. I made this ridiculous decision that I needed to do something that was going to bring people to me, and for some reason, I thought writing might do that.”
“Tunneling to the Center of the Earth,” which was released in April, 2009, is Wilson’s first book. When The New York Times reviewed his work, Wilson drove to the Golden Gallon Gas Station to buy a copy of the paper. “There are all these truck drivers in front and behind me and I opened it up and I saw my picture and I started to read the first paragraph.” He laughs that “I was resisting the urge to show these people, who would not care at all, that’s my picture.” And the Times loved his book, saying it offers “fabulous twists and somersaults of the imagination.”
First published in 1948, Spencer’s recognition is much longer. Her famous “Light in the Piazza” was published in The New Yorker in 1960. “The publishing house wanted to bring it out as a separate novel but thought it was too short. I stuck a few pieces back in it that I had deleted for the story. It wasn’t more than four or five pages, but they brought it out as a separate book.” In 1962, her story became a film starring Olivia de Havilland, and in 2005 became a Tony-winning Broadway play.
With honors spanning more than five decades, one of Spencer’s most recent accolades came in 2009 from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. She was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2007 she received the prestigious PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction. It’s an honor Richard Bausch received in 2004.
This author of eleven novels and seven collections of short stories says that he’s grateful when his stories come to him. “Something happens,” he continues. “Something drops down into me and I know it’s going to be a story. I don’t know when it will be. I almost never start on it right away, whatever it is.” When he does write, however, “I’m very lucky. I’ve written in the morning and at night and all night and all day.”
“I always know how it’s going to end, but it rarely ends that way,” says Wilson. “I like to have that idea of the beginning, middle and end and where I’m going with it, but that rarely ever happens. It’s gets better or it gets worse but it’s never the same ending.” He thinks of the seed of his story as an ornament on a Christmas tree “and I try to construct the tree that will support that ornament.”
Wilson adds that he doesn’t “understand why short fiction is not more popular. To me, the amount of time that you can put into a story and the emotional resonance that you can drive from it is so great. I love it.” Bausch elaborates, “The power of writing is precisely that. To make that happen. To put the words together in such a way that people have a response, that it opens up something in us and produces a change.”
Fire in the Morning (novel) • 1948
This Crooked Way (novel) • 1952
The voice at the Back Door (novel) • 1956
The Light in the Piazza (novel) • 1960
Knights and Dragons (novel) • 1965
No Place for an Angel (novel) • 1967
Ship Island and Other Stories (short stories) • 1968
The Snare (novel) • 1972
The Stories of Elizabeth Spencer (short stories) • 1981
Marilee (reprints) (short stories) • 1981
The Salt Line (novel) • 1984
Jack of Diamonds and Other Stories (short stories) • 1988
For Sale or Lease (drama) • 1989
The Night Travellers (novel) • 1991
Conversations with Elizabeth Spencer (collected interviews) • 1991
On the Gulf (reprints) (short stories) • 1991
The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales (reprints) (short stories) • 1996
Landscapes of the Heart (memoir) • 1998
The Southern Woman (short stories) • 2001
Take Me Back (novel)• 1981
Spirits and Other Stories (short stories) • 1987
Mr. Field's Daughter (novel) • 1989
The Fireman's Wife: And Other Stories (short stories) •1990
Rare and Endangered Species ((short stories) • 1994
The Selected Stories of Richard Bausch (short stories)• 1996
Violence (novel) • 1997
Rebel Powers (novel) • 1997
In the Night Season(novel) • 1998
The Last Good Time (novel) • 1998
Someone to Watch Over Me (short stories) • 1999
Hello to the Cannibals (novel) • 2002
The Stories of Richard Bausch(short stories) •2003
Wives & Lovers (Three Short Novels) •2004
Thanksgiving Night (novel) • 2006
Peace (novel) • 2008
These Extremes (poems and prose) • 2009
Something Is Out There(short stories) • 2010
Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (short stories) • 2009
The Family Fong (novel) • 2011
Crime and Punishment
The Ponder Heart on Masterpiece Theatre
The Light in the Piazza stage play
Craig Lucas interview
American invasion of Italy near Salerno, photographs
St. Thomas Aquinas
National Book Awards
Click here for a complete list of teaching resources related to this episode.
Producer: Edie Greene
Director: Rick Klein
Technical Director: Clark Lee
Cameras: Earnest Seals, Randy King, Jeremy Burson, Chris Bufkin
Floor Director: Clay Hardwick
Production Audio: John Busbice
CCU: Adam Chance
Videotape: Steve Downing
Location Videography: Ryan Bohling
Lighting Director: Kenneth Sullivan
Production Supervisor: Paul Miller
Editor: Edie Greene
On-line Editor: Larry Uelmen
Editing Supervisor: Scott Colwell
Art Director: Karen Wing
Makeup: Audrey Fitzpatrick
Title Animation and Graphics: Frank Cocke
Audio Post Production: Taiwo Gaynor, John Busbice
Closed Captioning: Keri Horn
Scenic Designers: Karen Wing, Jack Thomas, Frank Cocke, Kenneth Sullivan
Scenic Craftsman: Jack Thomas, Ray Green
Production Coordinator: Glenroy Smith
Publicity: Mari Irby, Randy King
Webmaster: Thomas Broadus
Host: Gene Edwards
Guests: Elizabeth Spencer, Richard Bausch, Kevin Wilson
Director of Productions: Darryl Moses
Director of Content: Jay Woods
Executive Producer: Rick Klein
Special Thanks to
Foundation for Public Broadcasting in Mississippi
“Louisiana” from the album “i love your muscles” © 2005, composed and performed by Neilson Hubbard/Plastic Bird Music. Used by permission of Neilson Hubbard. All rights reserved.
Images of Elizabth Spencer and Eudora Welty used by permission of UNC University Library, Manuscripts Department. (Reproduction numbers P-5145/59 and P-5146-66) All rights reserved.
Eudora Welty’s forward to “Stories of Elizabeth Spencer” used by permission of Mary Alice Welty White and Elizabeth Welty Thompson. All rights reserved.
Image of Adam Guettel and Elizabeth Spencer and image of Craig Lucas, Elizabeth Spencer and Adam Guettel used by permission of Intiman Theatre and Team Photogenic. All rights reserved.
Image of “Light in the Piazza” Broadway playbill used by permission of Intiman Theatre. All rights reserved.
Image of Colored Drinking Fountain courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. [Reproduction number, LC-USZ62-133090 (b&w film copy neg.)]
Images of Emmett Till from http://sgorelick.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/emmett_till.jpg;www.amistadresource.org/civil_rights_era/emmett_till.html; and www.poorwilliam.net/pix/till-emmett.jpg. Copyright implications may exist.
Image of Kevin Wilson and Leigh Anne Couch used by permission of Kevin Wilson. All rights reserved.
Images of Eudora Welty used by permission of Mary Alice Welty White and Elizabeth Welty Thompson. All rights reserved.
**Images of Eudora Welty and Elizabeth Spencer courtesy of Playbill and newspaper clipping of The Ponder Heart courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History. All rights reserved.
Poem by Robinson Jeffers in The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Volume 3, edited by Tim Hunt; (c) 1987 by the Jeffers Literary Properties. By permission of the publisher,www.sup.org.
Created by Gene Edwards, John Evans
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