Arnoult, Darnell 1955-
Arnoult, Darnell 1955-
Born December 19, 1955, in Martinsville, VA; daughter of Joseph Henry (an architect) and Juanita Burch (a beautician) Arnoult; divorced, c. 1980; married William Brock (a contractor), April 1, 2000; children: (first marriage) Elizabeth Blake Stone, Andrew Chadwick Stone. Education: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, B.A.; North Carolina State University, M.A.
Home—Brush Creek, TN.
Has worked a variety of jobs, including as a secretary in an occupational therapy unit, dental assistant, library worker, newspaper carrier, prison volunteer, and owner of a house cleaning service business; Duke University, Center for Documentary Studies, Durham, NC, former arts and education administrator, beginning 1988; Duke Writers Workshop, Durham, faculty member; has also worked as a writing instructor at the Tennessee Young Writers Workshop, the Duke Short Course Program, John C. Campbell Folk School, and the Middle Tennessee State University's Office of Continuing Studies and Writer's Loft Certificate program.
Poetry Book of the Year, Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, and Weatherford Award for Fiction and Poetry, 2005, both for What Travels with Us.
What Travels with Us: Poems, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 2005.
Sufficient Grace (novel), Free Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including the Asheville Poetry Review, Southern Exposure, Southern Cultures, Southwest Review, Nantahala Review, Now and Then Magazine, Sandhills Review, and Brightleaf.
Darnell Arnoult was only eight years old when her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and nine when her father went bankrupt. As a result, she was sent to a Catholic boarding school in Lynchburg, Virginia. She was later sent to live with her maternal grandmother in Fieldale, Virginia. She married at eighteen and had her first child at nineteen. Divorcing her first husband, a former U.S. Marine, when she was twenty-five, she worked a variety of jobs to support herself and her two children. Arnoult later remarried, settled down happily in Tennessee, and began writing full-time. Her interest in writing was spawned in high school, but she did not begin to explore it in earnest until after her divorce, when she took a creative writing course at the University of North Carolina with author Lee Smith, who recognized the young writer's talent: "She was extraordinary as a student," Smith was quoted as saying on Arnoult's home page. "Everything she wrote was just golden.… It was clear that she was a major talent."
Even with such praise, Arnoult did not publish her first book until she was forty-nine. Many other events in her life intervened, including a plethora of jobs and raising her children. When her first work, the poetry collection What Travels with Us: Poems, was released, however, she received awards and high critical praise. Arnoult explained on her home page that the conversational prose poems are drawn from fictional characters as well as real people: "Many of these characters are encapsulated in poems in What Travels with Us, a book full of teeny tiny short stories cast in poetic forms." Booklist reviewer Patricia Monaghan praised the book as a "moving collection" that reveals "a poet of great compassion and eloquence."
Arnoult's debut novel, Sufficient Grace, expands upon the process that inspired her poems, she explained on her home page. Like the author's own mother, the character of Gracie Hollaman in the story suffers from schizophrenia. Hearing voices in her head that tell her to leave her home, she abandons her family and finds Mama Toot, a black woman she had known from childhood but who doesn't recognize her. Toot, who also provides a home for her widowed daughter-in-law, takes the confused Gracie in and calls her Rachel. Meanwhile, Gracie's family learn to take care of themselves for the first time. Gracie, who develops a talent for painting religious art while with Toot, also inspires Toot and her daughter-in-law to recover from their loss. When Toot finally realizes that Rachel is really Gracie, the families come together and find even more healing in what they have learned. "Arnoult's rhythmic prose beautifully reveals the human potential for unconditional love and faith," asserted a Publishers Weekly critic. Carol Haggas, writing for Booklist, described the novel as "an elegiac yet hopeful tale of elegant strength, serene love, and infectious desire."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 15, 2005, Patricia Monaghan, review of What Travels with Us, p. 21; May 1, 2006, Carol Haggas, review of Sufficient Grace, p. 69.
Independent Weekly, June 28, 2006, Maria Browning, "Longshot Miracles," profile of Darnell Arnoult.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2006, review of Sufficient Grace, p. 423.
Publishers Weekly, April 17, 2006, review of Sufficient Grace, p. 163.
Darnell Arnoult Home Page,http://www.darnellarnoult.com (November 26, 2006).
Southern Literary Review,http://www.southernlitreview.com/ (November 26, 2006), brief biography of Darnell Arnoult.