The writer and place

I’ve returned to Faulkner lately. Re-reading his work has made me think about about the relationship between writers and place.

Faulkner’s from Mississippi, and it is with the people of Mississippi that his writing is concerned. But he also lived in New York, New Orleans, and Hollywood. Would his novels have turned out the same if he’d never left home?

Earlier today Lizzie and I were corresponding about the “y’all” versus “you guys” debate, and the proper way to prepare okra (breaded and fried, preferably, but I’ll even eat the boiled, gooey stuff).

After our exchange, I started craving okra. I told one of my co-workers, who said she’d rather eat fried grasshoppers. So I got to thinking about the way some of my writer friends might describe boiled okra, or my grandparents’ town, or the casinos, if I took them with me on a trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Then I remembered a piece I read last summer in an Asheville, NC weekly. Reflecting on the writer-as-tourist, Carrie A.A. Frye wrote about the Asheville experiences of Henry James and Edith Wharton, Henry Miller and his wife, June, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

It seems James was not exactly smitten with the Biltmore Estate. And Asheville never really warmed to Henry and June. But F. Scott had a pretty good time:

Fitzgerald wrote very little here. Instead he drank a lot, talked wistfully of the past, and conducted two affairs. One was with a local shady lady who trolled for gentleman friends in front of the Grove Arcade – accompanied by her twin poodles, Juliet and Romeo – with a copy of the latest best seller tucked under her arm.

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