Rebel Without Applause
Barry Hannah bore the lukewarm fate of being a writer's writer
Long, Last, Happy:
New and Collected Stories
by Barry Hannah
$27.50 List Price
A few years ago I received a letter from Barry Hannah, written in a shaky hand, on University of Mississippi stationery. I was working at the Paris Review, and he was writing to submit a short story by one of his students. It was a generous gesture, and a rare one, too—you'd be surprised how infrequently authors submit their favorite students' work. (The students might be even more surprised.) But the most striking thing about the letter was the way Hannah introduced himself. "I'm not accustomed to this kind of thing, but I'm the author of Geronimo Rex, Airships, Ray, High Lonesome . . . " An introduction was unnecessary—after all, he had been the subject of a major interview in the magazine just a few years earlier. It's hard to imagine, say, Larry McMurtry beginning a letter, "I'm the author of Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment . . . " And Hannah was, as McMurtry himself has said, "the best fiction writer to appear in the South since Flannery O'Connor." It's possible Hannah was being excessively modest, but I suspect it's more likely that he figured whatever kid opened his letter might not, in fact, know who he was.
The sad thing was that Hannah had good reason to think this. Although he was one of the few hugely innovative writers of our time—he suffered a fatal heart attack on March 1—he never had the readership or popularity of many of his peers, despite winning their adulation. Truman Capote called him "the maddest writer in the U.S.A." Long, Last, Happy: New and Selected Stories is accompanied by unrestrained praise from John Grisham, Jim