Reynolds Price's death is not just a literary light extinguished, it's a whole blackout. There's not another Reynolds Price.
As has been affirmed on my Red Room page, and anywhere else I've ever affirmed, Reynolds Price is my literary hero. The man could write ANYTHING -- essays, short stories, poetry, novels, commentary, you name it -- and write it beautifully. Characters who were dead-on, whether they were redneck ne'er do wells or members of your family. Unflinching acknowledgement of his personal history -- taunted for his homosexuality, forever uprooted as the family struggled to survive, doted upon by countless aunts and uncles, and consigned to a wheelchair (and years of pain) by a tumor on his spine while still a young man. Moral underpinnings that could restore your faith in humanity.
About a decade ago I finagled an invitation to have coffee with Reynolds, who was a neighbor of a close friend of mine. We sat talking in the living room of his rural North Carolina home, me trying not to act like a tongue-tied groupie, a friend passing cookies, Reynolds being charming and funny and down-home hospitable. My friend graciously mentioned some writing I'd done -- I swear I didn't pay her -- and he said, "Keep on." I said writing is what I love best but it's often put aside because other things take precedence; as I recall he had little sympathy for that excuse for lack of productivity. I did tell him that of course he was older and wiser than I -- even if we were born in the same year. I'm afraid sharing the good literary birth year of 1933 (Susan Sontag, Cormac McCarthy...) is about as close as I can come to kinship with Reynolds Price.
But fanhood? I'm at the head of that class.
The world will miss his singular ability to show goodness in ordinary people, and his gracefully encouraging us to see it for ourselves. I'll just miss having my literary hero over there in the woods turning out masterpieces. But thank goodness for those he leaves us.
Causes Fran Johns Supports
Compassion & Choices of N.CA
San Francisco Interfaith Council