George P. Garrett, Jr. (1929-2008), FAAR’59 in Literature

George Garrett FAAR’59, who died in Charlottesville on 26 May aged 78, was celebrated not just as a Southern novelist of the first rank, but also as an extraordinarily gifted writer who brought a “peripatetic, swashbuckling sensibility” (in the words of one critic) to a whole host of literary genres.

From The Blackbird: an online journal of literature and the arts: “Garrett was the author of thirty-five books, including novels, short story collections, poetry collections, essay collections, screenplays, and plays.

His most recent publications were Going to See the Elephant: Pieces of a Writing Life (Texas Review Books, 2002), essays; A Story Goes With It (Five and Ten Press, 2004), a novella; Double Vision (University of Alabama Press, 2004), a novel; and Empty Bed Blues (University of Missouri Press, 2006), stories.

He was most widely recognized, however, for his trilogy of historical novels, Death of the Fox (1971), The Succession: A Novel of Elizabeth and James (1983), and Entered from the Sun (1990), all published by Doubleday.

His eighth collection of poems, Days of Our Lives Lie in Fragments, was published by Louisiana State University Press in 1997.”

One notes that this volume included “Grapes”, a poem written at the AAR when Garrett held an Academy of Arts and Letters Rome Prize in Literature in 1958-1959, “coming back to Italy for the first time since I had served as a soldier there.” It was reprinted in the Spring 2002 issue of the SOF News [.pdf download].

Other poems from Garrett’s Rome fellowship year—delivered at a public reading at the Academy on 16 May 1959—were published in A Reading of New Poems, by Garrett and others (Rome: American Academy, 1959); also as New Work by 5 Poets (Frascati: Tip. Laziale, 1959).

But Garrett’s experiences at the American Academy in Rome informed even his latest work. For instance, the nonfiction piece “Portraits”—published in Chronicles for July 2007—recalls his ongoing dialogue with sculptor Pritchett Allen Harris FAAR’61. Garrett’s yet uncollected work (“Roman Neighborhood”; “Roman Fever: The Sequel”) meditates still more on his time at the AAR.

The Blackbird obituary continues, “Garrett received his PhD from Princeton and held an honorary degree from the University of the South. He was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Sabbatical Fellowship, and a Ford Foundation Grant.

Other honors and awards included…a Sewanee Review Fellowship in Poetry, the T.S. Eliot Award of the Ingersoll Foundation, the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry, the PEN Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Commonwealth of Virginia Governor’s Award for the Arts.

He taught at the University of Michigan, Bennington College, Princeton University, Hollins College, and retired as the Henry Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia. He also served as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Besides his wife, the former Susan Jackson, whom he married in 1952, Mr. Garrett is survived by three children, William and George, both of Charlottesville, and Alice, of Havertown, Pa.; two sisters, Rozanne Epps of Richmond, Va., and Alice McClelland of Park Ridge, NJ; and two grandchildren.

Tributes have been numerous, ranging from a substantial New York Times obituary (subscription) to a farewell to Garrett from Charlottesville’s alternative weekly newspaper, The Hook. An obituary is also expected for a future issue of the SOF News.

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