Author Barry Hannah dies at 67 in Mississippi

Pat McMahon Contributor
Font Size:

JACKSON, Miss. — Author Barry Hannah, whose fiction was laced with dark humor and populated by hard-drinking Southerners, died Monday at his home in Oxford, Miss. He was 67.

Lafayette County Coroner Rocky Kennedy said Hannah died Monday afternoon of “natural causes,” declining to elaborate until he shared the details with Hannah’s wife, Susan. Kennedy said the death is not under investigation.

Hannah’s first novel, “Geronimo Rex,” was published in 1972. It received the William Faulkner prize for writing and was nominated for a National Book Award. His 1996 short story collection, “High Lonesome,” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Novelist and Mississippi native Richard Ford called Hannah “a shooting star.”

“Barry could somehow make the English sentence generous and unpredictable, yet still make wonderful sense, which for readers is thrilling,” Ford said from his home in Maine. “You never knew the source of the next word. But he seemed to command the short story form and the novel form and make those forms up newly for himself.”

Longtime friend Malcolm White, the director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, said Hannah “loved words, fishing, his family and going fast.”

“Barry was Mississippi’s irreverent poet of the dark side, our rebellious, misfit uncle of the nightlife, the voice of the unrehearsed and the unapologetic outburst in corner of the room,” White said Monday.

Hannah was born and raised in Mississippi. He graduated in 1964 from Mississippi College in Clinton and later earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Arkansas.

He taught writing at the University of Mississippi for more than 25 years. In 1996, Hannah told the student newspaper at the University of Mississippi that teaching inspired him.

“The short fiction form that I teach is a great format for fine classroom conversation about the art,” Hannah said. “My writing has always been enhanced by my teaching.”

He also worked as writer in residence at the University of Iowa, the University of Montana-Missoula and Middlebury College in Vermont.

In 2003, Hannah was given the PEN/Malamud Award, which recognizes excellence in the art of short fiction.

Ford said he and Hannah spoke often about the idea of “Southernness.”

“We circled the whole issue of Southernness differently,” said Ford, whose novel, “Independence Day,” won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. “I think he embraced it in a way that he took sustenance from. He chose to live in William Faulkner’s town, chose to stay in the South, to his great strength and credit. But he was not a regional talent. He was much larger than that.”

The friendship between the two writers grew after Ford’s mother died in 1981. He said he drove from New Orleans to Oxford and just looked Hannah up.

“I hadn’t ever really met him,” he said. “I’d heard about him, but didn’t really know him. He’s the one guy, I knew, who I could make a connection with. He took me in, saw to me. Even when he didn’t have to because I was just another writer he knew. I’ve always loved him for that.”

Associated Press writer Chevel Johnson contributed to this report from New Orleans.