One of the Southern writers I admire and want to learn from, Shelby Foote, died yesterday. He had a strong mind and good literary voice, being compared to William Faulkner in positive ways.
Foote worked on the Civil War history for 20 years, using his skills as a novelist to write in a flowing, narrative style.
“I can’t conceive of writing it any other way,” he once said. “Narrative history is the kind that comes closest to telling the truth. You can never get to the truth, but that’s your goal.”
Though a native Southerner, Foote did not favor South in his history or novels and was not counted among those Southern historians who regard the Civil War as the great Lost Cause.
Jim Auchmutey, writing for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says, “Foote’s career was a wry commentary on fame. A promising young novelist in the early 1950s, he turned his back on it all for a lingering conversation with the past. It took him 20 years to complete his opus; it took TV 11 hours to make him a folk hero.
“Foote was the star of the show, . . . looking like Lee and sounding like sippin’ whiskey as he spun his yarns of courage and character. For the 14 million viewers who watched the series, he became the face of the South.”
For more on Foote, Google Print has a collection of interviews with the author called Conversations with Shelby Foote, published in 1989 by the University Press of Mississippi. The first interview, which is from 1950, reports on a tempting idea for me. It says Foote didn’t launch his writing career “until he decided that the only way to write was to settle down and write.” He quit his copy-writing job and began fiction writing. He may have lost weight in the process. “I didn’t have nickels for coffee,” he said. That would hurt, but I wonder if cutting all ties in order to write is The Right WayTM to do it.