Today is the birthday of Kaye Gibbons, one of my favorite Southern authors. Born in Nash County, North Carolina, she attended NC State and UNC at Chapel Hill. Her first novel, the highly- acclaimed Ellen Foster is based upon her early life as the daughter of an alcoholic and abusive father. Like all of her books, it’s written in a unique voice that blends wisdom, humor and pathos and reflects her Southern roots. When I read one of her books I feel as if I’m sitting in a rocking chair on a shady front porch, sipping tea and listening to a consummate story-teller.
As writers we can learn a lot from her about word choice, rhythm and characterization, about the way just the right opening takes a reader’s hand and draws her into the story. Here are the opening lines of A Cure For Dreams, one of my favorites:
When my mother was a young girl she spent the pinks of summer evenings sitting on the banks of Brownie’s Creek where it flows into the Cumberland River. She always sat with a ball of worsted wool in her lap, knitting and dreaming of love coming to her….The man who finally wooed my mother wasn’t a dream man and he didn’t find her knitting on a river bank. He found her at Quaker wedding in 1917 which was a very bold place for her to be…she was fifteen and therefore a slave to risk.
I discovered Kaye Gibbons just as I was starting my own writing career and counting every penny earned with my words. My earnings were modest but I imagined a day when I wouldn’t have to choose–when I would earn enough from my writing to have everything. I am now thoroughly disabused of that notion, thanks in part to Kaye Gibbons. Years ago she gave an interview to a magazine in which she described the day her agent called to tell her she had sold another book. “Great,” Kaye said. “Now I can have my hardwood floors.”
Among her other books are A Virtuous Woman, Charms for the Easy Life, and Sights Unseen.