From The Confessions of Willie Styron
John Oliver Killens (1916–1987), an influential essayist, novelist, screenwriter, and teacher, was born in Macon. Co-founder of the Harlem Writers Guild and a vice-president of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, Killens worked as a teacher and lecturer at many schools and universities, including Fisk, Howard, and Columbia. His first novel, Youngblood (1954), tells the story of an African American family’s struggles in the fictional town of Crossroads, Georgia, during the Jim Crow era of the 1920s; it has been reprinted several times, most recently in 2000 by the University of Georgia Press. Killens’ novels And Then We Heard the Thunder (1963) and Cotillion, or One Good Bull Is Half the Herd (1971) were each nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. His other books include the essay collection Black Man’s Burden (1965); a novel about the life and work of poet Alexander Pushkin, Great Black Russian (1989); and two books for young readers, Great Gittin’ Up Morning: A Biography of Denmark Vesey (1972) and—recounting the adventures of John Henry—A Man Ain’t Nothin’ but a Man (1975). John Oliver Killens died in Brooklyn, New York in 1987. (Inducted as a charter member in 2000)
Johnny Mercer: “They Know His Songs”
Glenn T. Eskew has served on the faculty at Georgia State University since 1993. A native of Birmingham, Eskew earned his BA at Auburn University and his MA and PhD at the University of Georgia. In 1997 the University of North Carolina Press published his But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle, and it received the Francis Butler Simkins Prize of the Southern Historical Association and Longwood College. Eskew also has published two edited volumes, Paternalism in a Southern City (about Augusta, Georgia) and Labor in the Modern South, both with the University of Georgia Press. His latest book is Johnny Mercer: Southern Songwriter for the World, to be published by the University of Georgia Press in 2013.
A Church, a School & “Ninety Per Cent Are Lunatics” (editorials); & A Matter of Change (review of Lillian Smith’s Now Is the Time)
Ralph McGill (1898–1969) was arguably Georgia’s most influential journalist of the twentieth century. During forty years at the Atlanta Constitution as an editor, publisher, and daily columnist, he built a national following as a white Southern editor who questioned segregation and challenged the demagogues who exploited it. His journalistic courage earned McGill a reputation as “the conscience of the South.” He began working at the Atlanta Constitution in 1938 and in 1942 was named editor-in-chief. By the late 1940s, McGill’s columns appeared regularly in national magazines such as Saturday Review, Saturday Evening Post, New Republic, and Atlantic Monthly, and in 1957 McGill increased his national reach when a syndicate began circulating his column to hundreds of newspapers. He won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing and the prize committee singled out his piece “A Church, a School” for special mention. Then, for McGill’s having “courageously sounded the voice of reason, moderation, and progress during a period of contemporary revolution,” President Lyndon Johnson honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. (Inducted in 2004)
Lillian Smith Answers Some Questions about Strange Fruit (interview) & Are We Still Buying a New World with Old Confederate Bills?
Lillian Smith (1897–1966), who lived for most of her life in the mountains of Clayton, Georgia, began her literary career writing for a journal—successively titled Pseudopodia (1936), the North Georgia Review (1937–1941), and South Today (1942–1945)—that she co-edited with her friend and companion Paula Snelling. In 1944 she gained nationwide fame and notoriety with the publication of her best-known book, Strange Fruit, whose frank language and sexual undercurrents led to the novel being banned in Boston for obscenity. Her other notable books include the novel Killers of the Dream (1949) and the nonfiction works The Journey (1954) and Now Is the Time (1955). A tireless campaigner for racial equality from as early as the 1930s, Smith was one of the first prominent white southerners to openly denounce segregation and to work actively against the entrenched world of Jim Crow. She died in Atlanta in 1966. (Inducted as a charter member in 2000)
Portrait in Georgia & Georgia Dusk
Jean Toomer (1894–1967) spent barely eight weeks of his life in Georgia, in the fall of 1921. But this short visit to the Sparta community inspired him to write Cane (1923), his acclaimed and influential novel of African American life in the early twentieth century. Despite the promise shown by this work, Toomer’s subsequent literary efforts frustrated and disappointed readers, critics, and fellow writers alike. Although he wrote throughout his life, Toomer’s literary visibility effectively ended in 1936 with the publication of his long poem “Blue Meridian.” Toomer died in 1967, two years before the paperback reissue of Cane sparked a renewed interest in the author and his modest body of work. (Inducted in 2002)
Autumnal (poem) & Letters to T. S. Eliot & Harriet Monroe
Conrad Aiken (1889–1973), born in Savannah, was the first Georgia native to win a Pulitzer Prize—in 1930, for his Selected Poems. A major international literary figure, Aiken published over thirty books of poems, nine novels, several volumes of criticism, books for children, a play, and a notable autobiography, Ushant (1952), over the course of his five-decade career. His Earth Triumphant and Other Tales in Verse (1914) is widely considered a milestone of literary Modernism. (Inducted in 2003)
To John Brown; The Passing of the Ex-Slave; & Cosmopolite
Georgia Douglas Johnson (1877–1966) was the best known and most widely published African American woman poet of her time, as well as a playwright and journalist. In 1893 she graduated from the Normal School of Atlanta University and, after teaching school in Atlanta and nearby Marietta, she attended Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. In 1916 Crisis featured Johnson’s first published poetry, and two book-length collections of her verse soon followed: The Heart of a Woman (1918) and Bronze (1922). Although her popularity peaked in the 1920s, over the next few decades Johnson also wrote songs, short stories, a biography of her late husband, and several other works which were salvaged from her house after her death, along with a “Catalogue of Writings” that documented the quantity and breadth of her unpublished work. (Inducted in 2010)