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See also:
* Writer News :
Nordan, Marszalek receive Richard Wright Literary Excellence Award
(15 March 2002)
 
* Book Info:
Boy with Loaded Gun: A Memoir
(January 2000)
Lightning Song
(October 1998)
The Sharpshooter Blues
(September 1997)

Lightning Song
(June 1997)

Sugar Among the Freaks
(May 1996)

 


Lewis Nordan
Lewis Nordan

Lewis Nordan

A hauntingly comical transportation into Lewis Nordan’s fictional Mississippi Delta world highlights his rare and stunning ability to construct short stories and novels in which his unique fusion of tragedy and pathos invite the reapppearance of the same unforgettable Southern characters again and again.

Born August 23, 1939, in Forest, Mississippi, to Lemuel and Sara Bayles, Lewis Alonzo Nordan was raised by Southern storytellers in Itta Bena, Mississippi. “I was a storyteller,” he explains to Contemporary Authors, “a long time before I became a writer. Everyone in my family is a storyteller, though none of the others are writers.”

The author of four novels and three collections of short stories, Nordan commenced a life of letters at age thirty-five after spending two years in the U.S. Navy and twelve years in universities both teaching and attaining degrees. Nordan’s B.A. from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, and M.A. from Mississippi State University preceded his final move from his home state when he earned a Ph.D. from Auburn University in Alabama.

His various work as a high school teacher, college instructor, orderly, nightwatchman and clerk all contributed to his first great steps into literary success. Initial public acknowledgment of his gift for writing came with the University of Arkansas’s John Gould Fletcher Award for fiction in 1977 for his short story, “Rat Song.” Many awards were to follow. A year later, Nordan received a National Endowment for the Arts grant that anticipated the upcoming accomplishment of his first publication of collected works. His stories would be published in The Southern Review, Greensboro Review, Harper’s and Redbook.

His first published collection of short fiction, Welcome to the Arrow-Catcher Club in 1983, marked Nordan’s transition from three-year assistant professor at the University of Arkansas to the university that boasts his residence as creative writing professor today, the University of Pittsburgh. Of his first work of fiction, critics pronounced his art “splendid,” an illustration of Nordan’s capacity to produce an amazing variety of short stories that adhere to the evident theme, as Edith Milton of the New York Times Book Review puts it, of “the juxtaposition of an unglamorous modern reality, comically reduced, against an equally comic but larger-than-life mythology about the past that surrounds it.”

With Nordan’s next collection of short stories, The All-Girl Football Team (1986), this Mississippian introduced to his reading audience some stories of a family whose history would reappear throughout his literary works, ultimately defining one facet of his creative theory. As he claims in an interview with Blake Maher, “writers will find a little postage-stamp size plot of land, their spiritual geography and a handful of people that live there, and they will write those people’s stories over and over again.… I’ve just invented out of pain and joy a family and a place they live and have watched them move in love through that place.”

The Porter Fund Prize was awarded to Lewis Nordan in 1987 and in 1991 his first novel, Music of the Swamp, was published. The first in a series of novels that would reveal his Mississippi Delta’s tragic and humorous world of heartbreak creates characters for whom, as Nordan indicates, “Magic is the imagination”—something that “seems to be both necessary and evil and destructive in these characters.” It quickly received best fiction awards from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters and the Prize for Notable Fiction from the American Library Institute of Arts and Letters.

The following six years catalogue a wealth of well-received publications, including Wolf Whistle in 1993, a work that Nordan describes as the exploration of characters in whose world “just the smallest thing elaborate[s] into the whole texture of their lives, their parents’ lives and hopes and dreams”; and The Sharpshooter Blues in 1995, which won the American Library Association’s Notable Book Award and the Best Fiction Award of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. According to Bill Kirchner’s review, Nordan sketches characters “as innocent, wayward children trapped in their own misguided notions and geography, looking only to be lifted from the burden of facing their own relative puniness and isolation.”

Another short story collection, Sugar Among the Freaks (1996), presents a series of tragic and comical tales pulsing with a hauntingly comical eagerness to paint a Mississippi Delta fictional world in which hope and love appear indefinitely lost.

Lewis Nordan’s most recent novel, published in 1997, Lightning Song, and a nonfiction memoir, Boy with Loaded Gun (2000), continue to affirm this Southern writer’s cohesion of what Blake Maher terms a “strange and stunning mix of lyric and offbeat language,” a comically “weird strain of magical realism,” and a “fictive vision through explorations of racism and violence” throughout his texts. Lewis describes his artistic self-image in this way: “I became a comic writer, but I always see writing from the same place, that is that deeply serious, melodramatic horror that’s at the heart of my work.” His view that “all comedy is underpinned by loss” remains the undercurrent of his vivid Mississippian community of Delta dreamers.

Nordan died April 13, 2012, of complications from pneumonia in Cleveland, Ohio. His obituary in the New York Times described him as a writer whose “fiction conjures a dreamlike world that straddles the whisker-thin margin between a legend and a lie.”

(Article updated 29 April 2012)

Related Links & Info

Interview with Lewis Nordan by Dory Adams in 2007



Publications

Fiction—Novels:

  • Music of the Swamp. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonguin Books of Chapel Hill, 1991.
  • Wolf Whistle. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1993.
  • The Sharpshooter Blues. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonguin Books of Chapel Hill, 1995. (Excerpt available at Washingtonpost.com)
  • Lightning Song. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1997.

Fiction—Short Story Collections:

  • Welcome to the Arrow-Catcher Fair. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983.
  • The All-Girl Football Team. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986.
  • Sugar Among the Freaks. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonguin Books of Chapel Hill, 1996.

Selected Short Story Periodical Publications:

  • “A Hank of Hair, A Piece of Bone.” The Southern Review 24 (1988): 366-70.
  • “Cabbage Opera.” The Southern Review 27 (1991): 575-84.
  • “Field and Stream.” Southern Humanities Review 25 (1991): 235-45.
  • “Sugar, Eunuchs and the Big G.B.” The Southern Review 22 (1986): 860-75.
  • “The Cellar of Runt Conroy.” The Southern Review 25 (1989): 958-72.
  • “Train, Train Coming Round the Bend.” The Southern Review 26 (1990): 844-55.

Nonfiction:

  • “Growing Up White in the South, an essay.” Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1993.
  • “Shakespeare’s Dramatic Poetry: Its Development (1591-1601) and its Specialization in Cymbaline and The Tempest.” DAI 34 (1974): 7199A-200A. Auburn University.
  • Violence in America: A few observations on guns and love,” by Lewis Nordan. From The Algonkian.
  • Boy with Loaded Gun: A Memoir. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2000.

Bibliography

Book Reviews and Critical Studies:

  • Casey, Maud. Rev. of Lightning Song, by Lewis Nordan. Salon (May 1997).
  • Coughlan, Ruth. “Swamp Creatures.” Rev. of The Sharpshooter Blues. The New York Times (5 November 1995).
  • Christian, John C., III. Rev. of Sugar Among the Freaks, by Lewis Nordan. BookPage (May 1996).
  • Halio, Jay L. Rev. of Welcome to Arrow Catcher Fair, by Lewis Nordan. Studies in Short Fiction 21 (1984): 74-75.
  • Hegi, Ursula. “In Short: Fiction.” Rev. of The All-Girl Football Team. The New York Times Book Review (30 November 1986): 22.
  • Johnson, Greg. Rev. of The All-Girl Football Team, by Lewis Nordan. The Georgia Review 43 (1989): 406-16.
  • Maher, Blake. “An Interview with Lewis Nordan.” The Southern Quarterly: A Journal of the Arts in the South 34 (1995): 113-23.
  • Mason, Jeff. “Waterhead.” Rev. of The Sharpshooter Blues, by Lewis Nordan. The Boston Book Review (1997).
  • Milton, Edith. “Making a Virtue of Diversity.” Rev. of Welcome to the Arrow-Catcher Fair, by Lewis Nordan. The New York Times Book Review (15 January 1984): 22.
  • Nicosia, James R. “Still I am Not Sure What was Real and What My Mind Invented: The Southern Tradition of (Re)Creating the Past in Lewis Nordan’s Music of the Swamp.” Southern Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of the South 4 (1993): 67-80.
  • Parker, Laurie. Rev. of Lightning Song, by Lewis Nordan. BookPage (May 1997).
  • Phillips, Robert. Rev. of Music of the Swamp, by Lewis Nordan. The Southern Review 28 (1992): 420-30.
  • Sayers, Valerie. “Mystery Women.” Rev. of Lightning Song. The New York Times (25 May 1997).
  • Sullivan, Jack. “In Short: Fiction.” Rev. of Wolf Whistle. The New York Times Book Review (2 January 1994).
  • Welch, Nancy. Rev. of Music of the Swamp, by Lewis Nordan. Prairie Schooner 28 (1992): 135-36.

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