Taylor Hagood, Ph.D., was the 2013-2014 Lifelong Learning Society Distinguished Professor of Arts and Letters and is Professor of American Literature at Florida Atlantic University. Receiving his Ph.D. in United States Literature and Culture from the University of Mississippi, where he was the Frances Bell McCool Fellow in Faulkner Studies, Professor Hagood has authored four books: “Faulkner’s Imperialism: Space, Place, and the Materiality of Myth”; “Secrecy, Magic and the One-Act Plays of Harlem Renaissance Women Writers”; “Faulkner, Writer of Disability”; and “Following Faulkner: The Critical Response to Yoknapatawpha’s Architect.” In 2009-2010, he was a Fulbright Professor in the Amerika Institut at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, Germany, and was awarded the 2010-2011 Scholar of the Year Award at the Assistant Professor level.
Dr. Hagood, for the 2017 fall semester at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at FAU, Jupiter, you will be presenting a one-time lecture delightfully titled “Hagood Reads the Phone Book: Key West” on December 11. Last fall, you did “Hagood Reads the Phone Book: Ripley, Mississippi” so your Key West lecture is the second in this series. How did you come up with the Phone Book concept and how do you structure these presentations? Do you have any more cities in mind for future lectures?
The idea hit me while I was lecturing back in the winter of 2017. I noticed that people seemed to enjoy the moments when I would interrupt whatever I was lecturing on and tell personal anecdotes—I fear most of those anecdotes these days have something to do with my nephew. I thought maybe it might be fun to do a one-time lecture just with those stories. I loved the idea of going through a phone book, as it were, and pointing out different names and telling the stories about them, either stories I experienced or heard about growing up. It seemed to go over well, so I got to thinking that maybe I could do the same thing again, except with other locations. I have long been fascinated with Key West, where there have been so many interesting people—some well known, some not so well known—so Key West made sense to look at next. In the winter, I plan to look at Nashville, Tennessee. So far, I am looking at cities with which I have had some kind of connection or experience. So, if people keep enjoying this kind of event, then maybe I’ll talk about Memphis, Munich, Pittsburgh, Charleston. We’ll see after that.
You will also be presenting a four-week class on two Southern writers, Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor, from November 13-December 4, 2017. Your lectures are always so thorough that students don’t have to read in advance the books and short stories that you discuss in order to enjoy the classes but for those who prefer to have a reading list beforehand, what works would you suggest for your course on these two writers?
Both of these writers are at their best in the short form, in my opinion, so I recommend O’Connor’s Complete Stories, especially “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” “Revelation,” and “Good Country People” at the very least and Welty’s Collected Stories, especially “Why I Live at the P.O.” and “Petrified Man,” as well as her lovely fairy-tale like novella, The Robber Bridegroom.
In the fall catalog, you have listed some truly intriguing titles for these classes: Flannery O’Connor’s Good Folks; Flannery O’Connor’s Not So Good Folks; Eudora Welty’s Funny Dark Stories; Eudora Welty’s Funny Dark Novels. What genre of writing are they each best known for?
Although O’Connor wrote a few longer works, her reputation largely rests on her world-class short stories. Welty, too, is well-known for her stories, but she wrote a number of novels, and we will look at a couple of the latter, especially the one I mentioned above, The Robber Bridegroom.
Neither Eudora nor Flannery ever married. Given the modern times we live in, I challenge you to come up with a Match.com dating profile for each of them that might have attracted a suitable beau!!!
Oh my . . . . this might be a challenge. I’ve never written a Match.com profile for myself! After doing a little research in order to answer the question, I’ll try the following: Flannery O’Connor—I love peacocks! If you like exotic colors, then you like me. I am more retiring than a peacock, but with my sharp wit I give you all the riveting colors and distinct outline of that bird. I’m serious about my work, and I will always keep you on your toes challenging you to think and laugh. If you like being challenged, you will love me. Eudora Welty—Genteel and quiet, I am the kind of lady who is always observing and recording my thoughts about things. I am a great conversationalist, raised on the aristocratic habits of Jackson, Mississippi. I’m looking for the intellectual type who also has a heart. Loud-mouths can pass on by; I’ll take a good gardener who loves to read.
What are the books that you have enjoyed reading the most this year? What books are still waiting to be read?
I have greatly enjoyed reading the work of Louis Bromfield, who wrote fiction but also impassioned nonfiction on the topic of agriculture in the United States in the mid-twentieth century. After being part of the 1920s expatriate crowd in Paris, he returned to Ohio to buy a farm in the 1930s; his friend Humphrey Bogart married Lauren Bacall at that farm. I read his book From My Experience back in the winter and am reading Malabar Farm now. I’ve also been reading the writings of Edmund Wilson, one of the great literary critics who wrote for the general reading public before literary criticism became almost exclusively academic. Other readings I’ve enjoyed were The Phantom Ship, by Frederick Marryat; Reassembling the Social, by Bruno Latour; and That Half-Barbaric Twang: The Banjo in American Popular Culture, by Karen Linn.
You yourself are the author of four books. What is your writing routine? Computer? Legal pad and pen? Early morning? Late at night? Absolute silence or background music?
I tend to do my best writing in the morning between 7 and noon. Sometimes it takes me all day to get focused and I write in the afternoon or evening. But under normal circumstances, I write in the morning. Sometimes silence is best for me, but other times I like the sound of running water. Some kinds of music help, especially Vivaldi’s Viola d’Amore concertos or many of the Bach concertos that have a mesmerizing quality. I usually write first drafts on the computer, print the draft, and then expand on it with a pen, adding in pages when needed, and then typing in all the additions and revisions. I then print that draft and revise it with a pen, repeating that process until it is finished, or at least as finished as these things ever are.
While imprisoned in the Bastille for almost a year for writing a satire about the French government, Voltaire wrote his tragedy Oedipe. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir spent a good part of their days writing at two of my favorite Parisian cafés, Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots. Marcel Proust wrote and edited much of his In Search of Lost Time in bed at night and slept during the day, lining his walls with cork to keep out the Parisian street noises. If you had a free year and an unlimited budget to write another book, where would you choose to write it? How do you deal with distractions while writing?
This is an interesting question. I do think there are some places that are just good to write in. Hemingway thought so, claiming he had certain places that were good for him. In a way, this is a difficult question to answer. On one hand, I like a place with minimal distraction, and I suspect that is probably the healthiest place for writing. Anytime I have moved to a new place where I know no one, I tend to get a lot more reading and writing done. At the same time, there is so much to gain from being in a place where ideas, art, writing, reading, and other nutrients are available to feed the writing effort. When I am in New York or Boston, I find myself challenged constantly, for example, and I loved living in Munich where I could go every Sunday afternoon to the art museums. So, there’s an interesting dilemma there—to find a place with little distraction but with “nutrients,” as it were. As an essentially rural creature, I am drawn to rural places or islands. There’s an island in Lake Erie I visited once called Kelley’s Island, and I always thought that would be a good place to retreat to in the summer to write. There’s a quiet little island off the coast of Italy not far from Rome named Ponza that I love very much and where I think someone could do very well writing. Also, I find appealing the idea of the Herrenchiemsee Palace of King Ludwig II, which is a replica of Versailles on an island in a lake in Bavaria. Probably, though, given the time and money you mention, I suppose I would enjoy just being in Rome itself for a year, writing in the morning and just experiencing the city in the afternoon and evening. As for where I would not want to write, I’m not sure there is such a place because the general rule is that one has to make do with one’s situation, and I have written in plenty of places that were not especially hospitable to writing.
Do you have a new book in the works?
I am working on a couple of new projects, but I’m not sure I’m quite ready to talk about them. Do stay tuned, though.
Many writers maintain a long correspondence with other writers. Which writers, living or dead, would it be, or have been, an intellectual or emotional pleasure for you to correspond with?
It is very true that correspondence with other writers can be important. I value my correspondence with the writer Robert Michael Pyle, even though we’ve not been in touch much recently. Robert Antonín has been someone I’ve enjoyed being in contact with. That said, writers can be very aloof and suspicious of other writers, and often they are so busy trying to write books, articles, etc. that they may not have much time for correspondence. I can say that the writers I often spend the most time studying are not ones I would have wanted to correspond with. I do not think I would have had much luck corresponding with Faulkner, certainly not Hemingway. It would have been nice to get a letter from Fitzgerald, on the other hand, and I have always wondered what a letter from Djuna Barnes would have been like.
Before asking you my last question, I know you join me in wishing a Happy Halloween to all our readers! You were pleased to know that this interview would be posted on the blog today as Halloween is your favorite holiday. I pass no judgment (!) but that really cries out for an explanation! Does this love of Halloween stem from happy (or macabre) childhood memories?! How do you celebrate it now as an adult? Any traditions that you would like to pass down to your beloved young nephews?
Haha, well . . . . part of my love for the holiday comes from my father. When I was seven or eight years old, he put together a haunted house, complete with a head talking on a table, a gruesome surgery room, and a grand finale in which a woman transformed into a gorilla who came tearing out of a cage. As a magician, he would get these catalogs from a company called Morris Costumes, and I was always fascinated with the costumes in it—I’ve always loved dressing up and theatrical make-up (both of my parents were involved in theater), and I would look at the photographs in it, utterly rapt. Also, my parents would decorate the house just as much for Halloween as Christmas, and I find some kind of magic in the glow of the orange lights. For a long time, my parents would actually put up a kind of Halloween tree, with orange and yellow leaves, and my sister and I would get a visit from a goblin named Harkus, who would leave us candy and/or a little gift. Halloween was redolent of Houdini (who died on Halloween) and the general imagery and trappings of magic (as I mentioned earlier, my father was, and is, a magician, among other things). I remember my father watching some of the old films such as The Haunting of Hill House and The Elephant Man and Freaks, which scared me to death as a child. I think also that I just love autumn (one of the things I miss as a resident of south Florida), with its change of temperature and leaves and fashion. As Halloween approaches, to this day, my mother might recite James Whitcomb Riley’s “Little Orphant Annie” with that line, “And the goblins will getcha if you don’t watch out,” or his poem, “When the Frost is on the Pumpkin.” Finally, I have a terrible weakness for B horror films, especially those old Hammer movies or pretty much anything with Vincent Price. And I love Halloween parties and dressing up and being someone else for a little while. As an adult, I have a few things I do to celebrate. I usually decorate with old-fashioned decorations I’ve collected over the years. I always enjoy carving pumpkins in elaborate designs. I invariably watch the Bela Lugosi Dracula, The Haunting of Hill House, and other films. I reread Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (one fall, I visited there!), some of Poe’s poems and stories, and maybe a story by Hawthorne or some other writer who loves to write of the gothic or macabre (Ray Bradbury being another example). And every year I attend at least one party where I dress up (last year as an automaton Giacomo Casanova). Also, last year I got to take my nephew trick-or-treating and loved it, so I’m thinking to do that more.
Taylor Haywood, Ph.D., Fall 2017 lecture and course at FAU Osher LLI, Jupiter:
Hagood Reads the Phone Book: Key West
Monday, December 11, 2017, 12-1:30 p.m.
To Register: Click here.
Eudora and Flannery
Mondays, November 13, 20, 27, December 4, 2017, 12-1:30 p.m.
To Register: Click here.