Oxford mourns loss of one of its best-known writers – Barry Hannah

By Errol Castens

OXFORD – This little college town and the literary world to which it is closely tied are in mourning for one of their giants.
Novelist and teacher Barry Hannah died late Monday afternoon at his home of natural causes. He had suffered with a variety of health problems in recent years, Lafayette County Coroner Rocky Kennedy said. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.
As the author of such dark fiction as “Geronimo Rex” and “Airships,” Hannah was, in the words of close friend and Square Books owner Richard Howorth, “an extraordinary writer in the first rank of artists. The 2010 Oxford Conference for the Book, which will open Thursday, was dedicated to him.
“His ear and his inventiveness with language were unique,” Howorth said, “and you can find that in just about any paragraph or sentence in any book he wrote.”
Hannah was writer-in-residence and director of the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi.
“How can Barry Hannah be gone?” lamented Joseph Urgo, former chairman of English at Ole Miss. “Of course he’s not gone, not as long as I can go to my Barry Hannah bookshelf and bring alive that marvelous way of seeing and envisioning the world.”
Carol Grisham of Oxford made a pilgrimage of sorts to see Square Books’ quickly assembled memorial, featuring several of Hannah’s books.
“I came by because I knew they would be honoring him,” she said. “The first thing I did was call the woman who runs our book club. I needed to talk to someone who understood who Barry Hannah was.”
In addition to his literary achievements, Hannah is being remembered for his humanity.
“Over the nearly three decades that Barry Hannah lived in Oxford and taught at Ole Miss, his life gained him the devotion of his wife, Susan, the love of his family and friends, the admiration of his readers and his students, respect of his colleagues, kinship with his community, and the undying affection of his many very highly attentive dogs,” Howorth wrote in a tribute for the book conference.
Hale Freeland, an Oxford attorney, said Hannah “enjoyed being known as a renegade, but he was affable and approachable. He was his own guy completely, and I think that’s why people admired him.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.