Barry Hannah

Barry Hannah
Barry Hannah
Born April 23, 1942(1942-04-23)
Meridian, Mississippi, USA
Died March 1, 2010(2010-03-01) (aged 67)
Oxford, Mississippi, USA
Occupation short story writer, novelist, professor
Period 1965 – 2010
Genres short story, novel

Howard Barry Hannah (April 23, 1942 – March 1, 2010) was an American novelist and short story writer from Mississippi.[2][3] The author of eight novels and five short story collections (some sites list it as nine novels and four short story collections),[4] Hannah worked with notable American editors and publishers such as Gordon Lish, Seymour Lawrence, and Morgan Entrekin. His work was published in Esquire, The New Yorker, The Oxford American, Southern Review, and a host of American magazines and quarterlies.

His first novel, Geronimo Rex (1972), won the William Faulkner Prize and was nominated for the National Book Award. Airships, his 1978 collection of short stories about the Vietnam War, the Civil War, and the modern South, won the Arnold Gingrich Short Fiction Award. The following year, Hannah received the prestigious Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Hannah won a Guggenheim, the Robert Penn Warren Lifetime Achievement Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in the art of the short story.[4]

He was awarded the Fiction Prize of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters twice and received Mississippi's prestigious Governor's Award in 1989 for distinguished representation of the state of Mississippi in artistic and cultural matters. For a brief time in 1980, Hannah lived in Los Angeles and worked as a writer for the film director Robert Altman. He was director of the MFA program at the University of Mississippi, in Oxford, where he taught creative writing for 28 years. He died on March 1, 2010, of natural causes.[5]

"Barry could somehow make the English sentence generous and unpredictable, yet still make wonderful sense, which for readers is thrilling. 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."

Richard Ford[5]


Life and work

Early Life

Hannah was born in Meridian, Mississippi, on April 23, 1942, and grew up in Clinton, Mississippi.


At Mississippi College, Hannah majored in pre-med but later switched to literature. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Mississippi College in Clinton in 1964. He spent the next three years at the University of Arkansas, where he earned a Master of Arts in 1966 and a Master of Fine Arts in 1967.


Barry Hannah's fictions contains situational humor that spawns a large gamut, from the Surreal humour to the grotesque and black humor.[6] His first publication was a story that was placed in a national anthology of the best college writing when he was a student at the University of Arkansas. Soon after this, Hannah says he wrote his first truly good story, "Mother Rooney Unscrolls the Hurt,":

And then I wrote my first truly good story, "Mother Rooney Unscrolls the Hurt," which was a piece of my then-forthcoming book, Geronimo Rex. I was about twenty-three. It really lit up for me, I thought. I don't really care what folks think of it now, but "Mother Rooney" was a springboard to the rest of my creative life.[7]

Hannah's first novel, the grotesque coming-of-age tale Geronimo Rex (1972), won the William Faulkner Prize and was nominated for the National Book Award. Nightwatchmen (1973), his second novel, was a difficult book, and it is his only work never reissued in paperback. Hannah returned to form, however, with the short-story collection Airships (1978), which today is considered a classic. Most of the stories in the volume were first published in Esquire magazine by its fiction editor at the time, Gordon Lish. The short novel Ray (1980) was a critical success and a minor breakthrough for Hannah, and it is still considered one of his best novels.

"Sometimes you don’t want to arrange your memory. I love the pure chaos of it and just the reverie of it for its own sake. I think that is what a writer has: a better memory than most people, or at least a more sensual memory. Language and memory are what it is all about".
Barry Hannah[1]

After the grotesque Western pastiche Never Die (1991), Hannah stuck to the short story form for the rest of the decade, first with the immense Bats Out of Hell (1993), which featured twenty-three stories over close to four hundred pages, making it Hannah's longest book, and then with High Lonesome (1996), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. After a near-fatal bout with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Hannah returned in 2001 with Yonder Stands Your Orphan (the title is taken from Bob Dylan's song "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"), his longest novel since Geronimo Rex. In this novel, Hannah returned to a small community north of Vicksburg and to some of the characters featured in stories from Airships and Bats Out of Hell.

Hannah finished a new novel, which underwent several title changes. In a 2003 interview with the Austin Chronicle, Hannah declared the novel to be called Last Days. A 2005 interview with Hannah in The Paris Review featured a manuscript page from the then-titled Long, Last, Happy. However, a 2009 issue of the literary journal Gulf Coast featured an excerpt from the novel, then titled Sick Soldier at Your Door. The same excerpt was printed in the June 2009 issue of Harper's Magazine. A subsequent interview with Tom Franklin in the Summer 2009 issue of Tin House revealed that Sick Soldier at Your Door had been reconceptualized as a collection of short stories. The stories will be published in November 2010[dated info] by Grove Press under the title Long, Last, Happy: New and Selected Stories. According to Grove's website, the book will "the best of the four story collections [Hannah] published during his lifetime and the final manuscript he left behind."[8]


Hannah taught creative writing at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Clemson University, Middlebury College, the University of Alabama, Texas State University, the University of Memphis and the University of Montana - Missoula. Hannah was a frequent visiting writer at the summer creative writing seminars at Sewanee and Bennington.

Hannah taught creative writing for 28 years at the University of Mississippi, where he was director of its M.F.A. program and was regarded as a generous mentor. Among the Mississippi writers whose careers he helped foster were the firefighter-novelist Larry Brown (”Dirty Work,” “Joe,” “Father and Son,” “Big Bad Love,” ) and Donna Tartt (”The Secret History,” “The Little Friend.”)[9]

Those that don’t avert their eyes are the real artists. It is concentration, that’s what Dostoevsky said. Concentration is what the artist is about: he can look, and look, and look, and look. He carries no brief. He will tell you everything he sees. This sensibility will overcome every tendency to capsulize or moralize or philosophize; it is why, despite the themes and philosophy announced in behalf of an author by others, the actual art experience is much more whole.

Barry Hannah[1]

Hannah died of a heart attack[10] in Oxford, Mississippi on March 1, 2010 at the age of 67.[5] His death was just days before the 17th annual Oxford Conference for the Book, held in his hometown. Hannah and his work were the focus of that year’s conference.[4]



  • Geronimo Rex (1972)
  • Nightwatchmen (1973)
  • Ray (1980)
  • The Tennis Handsome (1983)
  • Hey Jack! (1987)
  • Boomerang (1989)
  • Never Die (1991)
  • Yonder Stands Your Orphan (2001)

Story collections

  • Airships (1978)
  • Captain Maximus (1985)
  • Bats out of Hell (1993)
  • High Lonesome (1996)
  • Long, Last, Happy: New and Selected Stories (Nov. 2010)


  • "Memories of Tennessee Williams," Mississippi Review, Vol. 48, 1995.
  • "Introduction" The Book of Mark, Pocket Canon, Grove-Atlantic, 1999.

Awards and honors

  • The William Faulkner Prize
  • The Bellaman Foundation Award in Fiction
  • The Arnold Gingrich Short Fiction Award
  • The Award for Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
  • The PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction

External Links/Webliography

Reviews and perspectives
Exhibits, sites, and homepages
Selected online publications


  1. ^ a b c Mississippi Review Online: An interview with Barry Hannah
  2. ^ Obituary New York Times, March 3, 2010; page A27.
  3. ^ Obituary Los Angeles Times, March 3, 2010; page AA7.
  4. ^ a b c Oxford Conference for the Book
  5. ^ a b c Author Barry Hannah dies at 67 in Mississippi by Emily Wagster Pettus (AP)
  6. ^ Weston, Ruth D. (1998) Barry Hannah: Postmodern Romantic p.106 quote:

    The complex nature of Barry Hannah's humor has deeb roots in these American literary traditions, to which he brings his unique comic vision. the situational humor in his fiction, which runs the gamut from slapstick burlesque to parody and the absurd and from the malappropriate to the Gothic grotesque and macabre, [...]

  7. ^ Barry Hannah 1942-2010 from the website of Oxford American: The Southern Magazine of Good Writing
  8. ^ "Barry Hannah: Long, Last, Happy: New and Selected Stories". Grove Atlantic. June 8, 2010. Retrieved June 8, 2010. 
  9. ^ Barry Hannah, R.I.P. tribute and obituary at the Wilmington (NC) Star News website
  10. ^ "Barry Hannah: A Southern Literary Force Dies At 67". National Public Radio. March 4, 2010. Retrieved March 4, 2010. 

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