Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reynolds Price R.I.P.

Reynolds Price, whose novels and stories about ordinary people in rural North Carolina struggling to find their place in the world established him as one of the most important voices in modern Southern fiction, died on Thursday in Durham, N.C. He was 77. * * *

“He is the best young writer this country has ever produced,” the novelist Allan Gurganus said in an interview for this obituary. “He started out with a voice, a lyric gift and a sense of humor, and an insight about how people lived and what they’ll do to get along.” * * *

Except for three years he spent in Britain as a graduate student at Merton College, Oxford, Mr. Price lived all his life in northeastern North Carolina, and he would work his home ground in 13 novels and dozens of short stories. Inevitably he drew comparisons to William Faulkner, much to his annoyance, since he regarded himself as a literary heir to Eudora Welty. * * *

Mr. Price enrolled at Duke University, where Eudora Welty read one of his stories, “Michael Egerton,” and volunteered to show it to her agent, Diarmuid Russell, who took the young writer on as a client.

After graduating summa cum laude from Duke in 1955, he won a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford, where he wrote a thesis on Milton, and developed career-enhancing friendships with the poets Stephen Spender and W. H. Auden and the critic and biographer Lord David Cecil. He wrote about his years in Britain in the third installment of his memoirs, “Ardent Spirits” (2009).

Spender published the story “A Chain of Love” in the journal Encounter, a coup for Mr. Price, who was also offered a teaching position at Duke when he returned. He was turned down for military service after he stated, without hesitation, that he was homosexual.

His first class included a promising 16-year-old named Anne Tyler. “I can still picture him sitting tailor-fashion on top of his desk, reading to the class from his own work or from one of his students’ papers,” Ms. Tyler wrote in an e-mail. “He seemed genuinely joyous when we did the slightest thing right.”
-- NYT obituary.

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