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Thursday, July 2, 2015

A magic carpet ride


A well-composed book is a magic carpet on which we are wafted to a world that we cannot enter in any other way.” – Caroline Gordon

Caroline Ferguson Gordon was a notable American novelist and literary critic and friends with nearly every famous writer of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s.   A great writer herself, she was the recipient of two prestigious literary awards, a 1932 Guggenheim Fellowship and a 1934 O.Henry Award for her short story Old Red.   In 1963 she republished the story as the lead work for a book called Old Red and Other Stories, also an award winner.

A “free spirit” (her term for herself), she and husband Alan Tate often hosted major writers in their Kentucky home where “writing was the talk from dawn ‘til dark.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, T.S. Eliot and Robert Penn Warren were frequent visitors, but the most important one for her was Ford Madox Ford, who she considered her mentor.  It was Ford who counseled and prodded her into completing her first novel Penhally, which was influential in gaining her the prestigious Guggenheim.

She went on to write 9 more novels and dozens more short stories.  Themes for her novels and stories were often autobiographical and drawn from the South, giving the rest of the world an in-depth look at the region.  The Collected Stories of Caroline Gordon, published at the time of her death in 1981, was lauded by Warren, who wrote the introduction. “Caroline Gordon,” he said,  “belongs to the group of Southern women writers – Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor and Katherine Anne Porter – who have been enriching our literature uniquely in this century.” 

Despite writing as a critic herself, Gordon thought of her own writing as a form of art.  “And art,” she said, “should never be judged.  It should be the judge of us.”


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