Study Guide

Barry Hannah

Barry Hannah Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

A southerner who draws inevitable comparison to his predecessors William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O’Connor, Barry Hannah emerged in the last half of the twentieth century as one of the most prominent and idiosyncratic voices in American literature. He grew up in the small town of Clinton, Mississippi, where his father, William Hannah, was an insurance agent and his mother, Elizabeth King Hannah, a homemaker.

Hannah’s experience as a trumpet player in his public high school’s all-state band became a major influence on both his subject matter and his style as a writer. He remained in Clinton through his undergraduate years, attending Mississippi College as a premedical student (B.A., 1964) and working in nearby Jackson as a research assistant in pharmacology at the University of Mississippi Medical School. While the latter experience provided medical knowledge for several of his fictional works, Hannah rejected medicine as a career and chose instead to follow his interest in literature and writing.

At the University of Arkansas he completed an M.A. in literature (1966) followed by an M.F.A. in creative writing (1967). Hannah then accepted a full-time position teaching writing and literature at Clemson University in South Carolina (1967-1973) as a way to support his family (wife Meridith, sons Barry, Jr., and Ted, and daughter Lee). He also found time to continue his own writing, which, from the beginning, attracted favorable critical attention, including the Bellaman Foundation Award in Fiction in 1970 and a Bread Loaf Fellowship for Writing in 1971.

His first novel, Geronimo Rex, begun while he was a student at Arkansas and published in 1972, was nominated for the National Book Award and awarded the William Faulkner Prize. An initiation novel, it evoked high praise for its eccentric, violent, and grotesquely humorous characters and for Hannah’s skillful handling of language. Reaction to Hannah’s second novel, Nighwatchmen, a murder mystery published only a year later, was generally unfavorable, with most critics providing negative reviews or, even worse, ignoring it.

After spending a year as writer-in-residence at Middlebury College (1974-1975), Hannah moved to the University of Alabama (1975-1980), where his reputation as a writer rebounded. Working primarily with Esquire editor Gordon Lish, whom Hannah later...

(The entire section is 986 words.)

Barry Hannah Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Born and raised in Mississippi, Barry Hannah graduated from Mississippi College in 1964 and later returned to earn an M.A. and an M.F.A. from that college. In 1966, he began teaching creative writing at Clemson University in South Carolina, where he remained until 1973. It was during this period that he also published his first two novels, establishing himself as a writer of note. Although he did not serve in the Vietnam War, Hannah’s most formative influence was that conflict, which was brought home to him by the tales of returning veterans and also by its strong impact on American society. His stories bear witness to the fact that he was of the Vietnam generation and also point to his general interest in war and in military history.

In 1980, Hannah moved to Hollywood to write screenplays for director Robert Altman, an interlude which allowed him to overcome a chronic problem with alcohol. After stints at various universities, Hannah settled down as a writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, where he settled with his wife, Susan. Hannah died at age 67, on March 1, 2010 at his home in Oxford.

Barry Hannah Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Barry Hannah was born on April 23, 1942, in Clinton, Mississippi, but he grew up primarily in Meridian. He attended the public schools in Clinton, playing trumpet in the school band, and went on to Mississippi College, where he received his A.B. degree. He continued his education at the University of Arkansas, where he received both an M.A. and an M.F.A. in creative writing. Hannah began writing his first novel, Geronimo Rex, while he was working toward his degree in creative writing, and an early version of a chapter from that novel appeared in the first issue of Intro, a journal that presented the best work from American university writing programs. Much like Hannah, theprotagonist of Geronimo Rex, Harry Monroe, is a young man searching for identity in a socially troubled South, and his name, Harry (Barry) Monroe, suggests that the author drew heavily from his own experience. Hannah’s other fictional work, such as Boomerang, also seems to draw on his personal life: The narrator of Boomerang is named Barry, and the novel is set in Clinton and Oxford, where Hannah resided.

Much of Hannah’s early fiction was published in Esquire magazine, where it received critical acclaim and wide readership. Nine of these stories are among the twenty collected in Airships, his finest and best-known collection of short fiction. Hannah was often at his best in short works, and sometimes his novels seem more collections of vignettes and short pieces than expanded unifiednarratives. Following Airships came four novels:...

(The entire section is 649 words.)