A year or so ago, I was given a signed copy of Reynolds Price’s 2002 novel, Noble Norfleet. Up to that point, I had read Price’s poems, a few of his essays, a handful of interviews with him, and I remain especially impressed with his long personal essay, “For Ernest Hemingway.” I’m not sure at all why I had never delved into the fiction until Noble Norfleet. I suppose I hadn’t expected such a Southern writer – even though I knew Price was born in very rural Macon, North Carolina – a writer so rooted in his Warren County ancestry, its geography, vernacular, its steamy, repressed gothic secrets; his unabashed celebration of the sensual; his habitual searing clear-eyed gaze; the nuanced poetic flights. He struck me at once as a big ball of Faulkner and Wolfe, O’Connor and Welty, Peter Taylor and, more than anything, Reynolds Price. What a writer. What an appetite. What range and elegance. What a stylist. He seems afflicted with nary an inhibition and he’s often falling-down funny. I loved Noble Norfleet and – as it often happen when one loves an author’s books – I came to love Reynolds Price. I launched pathologically into his novels, ripping through A Long and Happy Life, Good Hearts, A Generous Man, and Kate Vaiden (where the towns Macon and Warrenton are mentioned specifically) before I came up for air. But, rest assured, I’m far from finished. There’s another half dozen of his novels on my shelf. On top of everything else, Reynolds Price was prolific. A true man of letters, he published in every genre and was also a brilliant critic. I so regret having never met him.
As I’ve mentioned in posts the previous two days, I’ve spent some time in Warren County this week; so, while there, I headed for Macon, looking for Price, just
to see what I could turn up. I’m pretty sure I saw the house he was born in along the railroad tracks running through Macon – now, it seems, nearly a ghost town. I was told to look for the porch that fronted all the way across the front of a house in a line of similar houses. I identified it by the photograph in Price’s memoir, Clear Pictures. The caption Price penned under the photograph identifies it as the “Rodwell house … built by [his] maternal grandparents, John and
Lizzie Rodwell, in the mid-1880s …” He goes on to say that the “porch heard thousands of hours of splendid talk.” Georgann Eubanks corroborates that I had the right house in her Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont. In fact, that very volume – number two in her simply invaluable, vastly entertaining trilogy – end with Reynolds Price and Macon, North Carolina. And, I must add, that since I’ve begun this blog, and hit the National Poetry month trail all over North Carolina, Georgann’s books have been steady companions.
Price also had an astonishing private collection of art. Some of it is still for sale in Oakley Hall Antiques and Art on Main Street in Warrenton. A great little store, it held a private estate sale of 150 of Price’s items back in June of 2012. When Joan and I browsed the store, earlier this week, on Wednesday and Thursday, but a handful of items belonging to Price were left, including a photograph of Vivien Leigh and one of James Dean playing a clarinet. I bought a lovely broadside from Price’s home: six paragraphs excerpted from his novel, Blue Calhoun, that concluded with “ … she slipped back into sleep and dreams till daylight broke.”
Here is the eulogy for Price delivered by Alan Gurganus at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City on April 7, 2011.
I so regret never having met Reynolds Price.