Foote, Shelby 1916–2005
Foote, Shelby 1916–2005
PERSONAL: Born November 17, 1916, in Greenville, MS; died June 27, 2005, in Memphis TN; son of Shelby Dade (a business executive) and Lillian (Rosen-stock) Foote; married Gwyn Rainer, September 6, 1956; children: Margaret Shelby, Huger Lee. Education: Attended University of North Carolina, 1935–37.
CAREER: Novelist, historian, and playwright. Novelist-in-residence, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1963; playwright-in-residence, Arena Stage, Washing-ton, DC, 1963–64; writer-in-residence, Hollins College, Roanoke, VA, 1968. Judge, National Book Award in history, 1979. Military service: U.S. Army, artillery, 1940–44; became captain. U.S. Marine Corps, 1944–45.
MEMBER: American Academy of Arts and Letters, Society of American Historians, Fellowship of Southern Writers.
AWARDS, HONORS: Guggenheim fellowships, 1955, 1956, and 1957; Ford Foundation grant, 1963; Fletcher Pratt Award, 1964, for The Civil War: A Narrative; named distinguished alumnus, University of North Carolina, 1974; Dos Passos Prize for Literature, 1988; Charles Frankel Award, 1992; St. Louis Literary Award, 1992; Nevins-Freeman Award, 1992; honorary D.Litt. degrees from University of the South, 1981, Southwestern University, 1982, University of South Carolina, 1991, University of North Carolina, 1992, Millsaps University, 1992, Notre Dame University, 1994, Loyola University, 1999, and College of William and Mary, 1999.
Tournament, Dial (New York, NY), 1949.
Follow Me Down (also see below), Dial (New York, NY), 1950.
Love in a Dry Season (also see below), Dial (New York, NY), 1951.
Shiloh, Dial (New York, NY), 1952.
Jordan County: A Landscape in Narrative (also see below), Dial (New York, NY), 1954.
Three Novels (contains Follow Me Down, Love in a Dry Season, and Jordan County: A Landscape in Narrative), Dial (New York, NY), 1964.
September September, Random House (New York, NY), 1979.
Child by Fever, Random House (New York, NY), 1995.
Ride Out, Modern Library (New York, NY), 1996.
The Civil War: A Narrative, Random House (New York, NY), Volume 1: Fort Sumter to Perryville, 1958, Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian, 1963, Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, 1974, fortieth anniversary edition, Time-Life Books, 1998.
Jordan County: A Landscape in the Round (play), produced in Washington, DC, 1964.
A Novelist's View of History (nonfiction), 1981.
(Editor) Chickamauga, and Other Civil War Stories (short stories), Dell (New York, NY), 1993.
Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign (history), Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
The Beleaguered City: The Vicksburg Campaign, December 1862–July 1863 (originally published in Volume 2 of The Civil War: A Narrative), Modern Library (New York, NY), 1995.
(Author of introduction) Anton Chekhov, Early Short Stories, 1883–1888, Modern Library (New York, NY), 1999.
(Author of introduction) Anton Chekhov, Later Short Stories, 1888–1903, Modern Library (New York, NY), 1999.
(Editor and author of introduction) Anton Chekhov, Longer Stories from the Last Decade, Modern Library (New York, NY), 1999.
ADAPTATIONS: Many of Foote's nonfiction writings, including The Civil War: A Narrative, Stars in Their Courses, and The Beleaguered City, have been adapted as audiobooks.
SIDELIGHTS: Although his novels have been favorably received, Shelby Foote is best known for his three-volume narrative history of the U.S. Civil War. Originally envisioned as a one-volume work, Foote's The Civil War: A Narrative grew into what critics have praised as a monumental project that took some twenty years to complete. In the New York Times Book Review, Nash K. Burger explained that after writing the Civil War novel Shiloh, "Mississippi-born Shelby Foote was asked by a New York publisher to write a short, one-volume history of that conflict. Foote agreed. It seemed a nice change of pace before his next novel. Now, twenty years later, the project is completed."
In Foote's work, the three volumes are divided up between the stages of the war, and appropriately titled Fort Sumter to Perryville, Fredericksburg to Meridian, and Red River to Appomattox, Noting the scope of Foote's almost three-thousand-word narrative, Burger praised The Civil War as "a remarkable achievement, prodigiously researched, vigorous, detailed, absorbing."
Other reviewers have voiced similar praise. In Newsweek Peter S. Prescott stated that "the result [of Foote's labor] is not only monumental in size, but a truly im-pressive achievement." Prescott added that "Foote the novelist cares less for generalizations about dialectics, men and motives than for creating 'the illusion that the observer is not so much reading a book as sharing an experience.'" According to M.E. Bradford in the National Review, in this endeavor Foote succeeds admirably. "There is, of course, a majesty inherent in the subject," noted Bradford of the U.S. Civil War, going on to note that "the credit for recovering such majesty to the attention of our skeptical and unheroic age will hereafter belong … to Mr. Foote."
Foote's account of the war is strictly a military one, detailing the battles, men, and leaders on both sides of the conflict. "The War itself … is indeed Foote's subject," Bradford remarked. "The war, the fighting—and not its economic, intellectual, or political causes." Lance Morrow echoed this summation in a Time review, noting that Foote's "attention is focused on the fighting itself—fortification, tactics, the strange chemistries of leadership, the workings in the generals' minds. Foote moves armies and great quantities of military information with a lively efficiency."
Critics have noted that although military histories concerning the U.S. Civil War abound, Foote's is among the most comprehensive, covering as it does the Union and Confederate Armies in both the eastern and western theaters of the war. Moreover, many reviewers have expressed admiration for the author's balanced and objective view of the still-somewhat divisive conflict. C. Vann Woodward commented in the New York Review of Books that "in spite of his Mississippi origins, Foote … attempts to keep an even hand in giving North and South their due measure of praise and blame." Burger agreed, adding that although Foote's chronicle begins and ends with reports on the activities of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, this introduction "is not indicative of any bias in favor of the South or its leader…. The complete work," Burger continued, "is a monumental, even-handed account of this country's tragic, fratricidal conflict."
In discussing Foote's concentration on the war itself and "therefore the persons who made, died in, or survived that conflict," Bradford asserted that it is not "an exaggeration to speak of the total effect produced by this emphasis as epic." Prescott concluded: "To read Foote's chronicle is an awesome and moving experience. History and literature are rarely so thoroughly combined as here; one finishes [the last] volume convinced that no one need undertake this particular enterprise again."
Foote became something of a national celebrity during the early 1990s for his on-camera commentary as part of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns's epic Public Television documentary The Civil War, which became something of a national event when it first aired in 1990. Sparked by his appearance on the cover of Newsweek magazine in the fall of that year, interest in Foote's work as an historian increased markedly, and his The Civil War: A Narrative received renewed interest among critics and general readers alike when it was made available as an audiobook. In addition to continuing to pen novels, in the mid-1990s Foote also collected short fiction of the Civil War period as Chickamauga, and Other Civil War Stories, and produced an in-depth history of one of the most dramatic battles of the war in Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Carter, William C., editor, Conversations with Shelby Foote, University Press of Mississippi, 1995.
Phillips, Robert L., Jr., Shelby Foote: Novelist and Historian, University Press of Mississippi, 1992.
Tolson, Jay, The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy, Center for Documentary Studies, 1997.
White, Helen, and Redding S. Sugg, Jr., Shelby Foote, Twayne Publishers, 1982.
American Heritage, July-August, 1991.
Atlantic, May, 1952; December, 1963.
Book Week, December 15, 1963.
Chicago Sunday Tribune, November 16, 1958.
Christian Science Monitor, December 4, 1963.
Commonweal, January 9, 1959.
English Journal, September, 1992, Penny Turk, review of Shiloh, p. 98.
Library Journal, September 1, 1992, Michael Rogers, review of Jordan County, p. 220; March 1, 1995, Michael T. Fein, review of Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign, p. 119; March 15, 1996, Barbara Mann, review of The Beleaguered City: The Vicksburg Campaign, p. 113.
Military Law Review, fall, 1994, pp. 275-279.
National Review, February 14, 1975.
Newsweek, December 2, 1974; January 30, 1978; October 8, 1990, Harry F. Waters, "Prime Time's New Star," p. 60.
New York Herald Tribune Book Review, July 16, 1950; October 21, 1951; April 6, 1952; May 2, 1954; November 23, 1958.
New York Review of Books, March 6, 1975.
New York Times, September 25, 1949; September 23, 1951; April 6, 1952; April 25, 1954; November 16, 1958; December 1, 1996.
New York Times Book Review, December 1, 1963; December 15, 1974; March 5, 1978.
Paris Review, summer, 1999, Donald Faulkner, interview with Foote, p. 48.
People, October 15, 1990, Michelle Greene, "The Civil War Finds a Homer in Writer Shelby Foote," p. 60.
San Francisco Chronicle, November 28, 1958.
Saturday Review, November 19, 1949; June 5, 1954; December 13, 1958.
Southern Literary Journal, fall, 2003, p. 21.
Time, July 3, 1950; January 27, 1975.
New York Times, June 29, 2005.
CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/ (June 28, 2005).