Blount, Roy (Alton), Jr. 1941-
BLOUNT, Roy (Alton), Jr. 1941-
(Noah Sanders, C. R. Ways)
PERSONAL: Surname rhymes with "punt"; born October 4, 1941, in Indianapolis, IN; son of Roy Alton (a savings and loan executive) and Louise (Floyd) Blount; married Ellen Pearson, September 6, 1964 (divorced, March, 1973); married Joan Ackerman, 1976 (separated); children: (first marriage) Ennis Caldwell, John Kirven. Education: Vanderbilt University, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1963; Harvard University, M.A., 1964. Politics: "Dated white Southern liberalism, with healthy undertones of redneckery and anarchism; nostalgia for Earl Long." Religion: "Lapsed Methodist."
CAREER: Journalist, author, and broadcaster. Decatur-DeKalb News, Decatur, GA, reporter and sports columnist, 1958-59; Morning Telegraph, New York, NY, reporter, summer, 1961; New Orleans Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA, reporter, summer, 1963; Atlanta Journal, Atlanta, GA, reporter, editorial writer, and columnist, 1966-68; Sports Illustrated, New York, NY, staff writer, 1968-74, associate editor, 1974-75; freelance writer, 1975—. Occasional performer for American Humorists' Series, American Place Theatre, 1986 and 1988, and has appeared on A Prairie Home Companion, The CBS Morning Show, The Tonight Show, The David Letterman Show, Austin City Limits, All Things Considered, Mark Twain, The Main Stream, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, and many other radio and television programs. Instructor at Georgia State College, 1967-68. Member of usage panel, American Heritage Dictionary. Has lectured at Manhattan Theatre Club, San Diego Forum, Washington State University, Wyoming Bar Association, and others. Military service: U.S. Army, 1964-66; became first lieutenant.
MEMBER: Phi Beta Kappa.
About Three Bricks Shy of a Load, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1974, revised edition published as About Three Bricks Shy—and the Load Filled Up: The Story of the Greatest Football Team Ever, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1989.
Crackers: This Whole Many-Sided Thing of Jimmy, More Carters, Ominous Little Animals, Sad-Singing Women, My Daddy and Me, Knopf (New York, NY), 1980.
One Fell Soup; or, I'm Just a Bug on the Windshield of Life, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1982.
What Men Don't Tell Women, Atlantic-Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1984.
Not Exactly What I Had in Mind, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1985.
It Grows on You: A Hair-Raising Survey of Human Plumage, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1986.
Roy Blount's Happy Hour and a Half (one-man show), produced Off-Broadway at American Place Theatre, January 22-February 7, 1986.
Soupsongs/Webster's Ark (double book of verse), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1987.
(Contributor) The Baseball Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book, Prentice Hall Press (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1988.
Now, Where Were We?, Villard (New York, NY), 1989.
First Hubby, Villard (New York, NY), 1990.
Camels Are Easy, Comedy's Hard, Villard (New York, NY), 1991.
Roy Blount's Book of Southern Humor, Norton (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Dave Marsh, Kathi Kamen Glodmark, and G. Shields) The Great Rock 'n' Roll Joke Book, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
If Only You Knew How Much I Smell You: True Portraits of Dogs, photographed by Valerie Shaff, Bulfinch Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Be Sweet: A Conditional Love Story, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
(Author of introduction) E.W. Kemble, Mark Twain's Library of Humor, Modern Library (New York, NY), 2000.
I Am Puppy, Hear Me Yap: Ages of a Dog, photographs by Valerie Shaff, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Am I Pig Enough for You Yet? Voices of the Barnyard, photographs by Valerie Shaff, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Robert E. Lee: A Penguin Life, Lipper/Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
Also author of two one-act plays produced at Actors Theater of Louisville, KY, November, 1983, and fall, 1984. Contributor to numerous anthologies, including The Best of Modern Humor, 1983, Laughing Matters, 1987, The Norton Book of Light Verse, 1987, The Oxford Book of American Light Verse, The Ultimate Baseball Book, Classic Southern Humor, and Sudden Fiction. Author of preface for New Stories from the South: The Year's Best, 2003. Columnist, Atlanta Journal, 1967-70; for the Oxford American. Contributor of articles, short stories, poems, crossword puzzles, and drawings, sometimes under pseudonyms Noah Sanders and C. R. Ways, to numerous periodicals, including Sports Illustrated, New Yorker, Atlantic, New York Times, Magazine, Esquire, Playboy, Rolling Stone, GQ, Conde Nast Traveler, Spy, and Antaeus. Contributing editor, Atlantic, 1983—.
ADAPTATIONS: Now, Where Were We? was adapted for audiocassette by sound Editions (Holmes, PA), 1989.
SIDELIGHTS: Roy Blount, Jr. is an author, humorist, sportswriter, performer, lecturer, dramatist, lyricist, television talking head, film actor, radio panelist, and usage consultant to the American Heritage Dictionary. He has entertained the American public not only through his multitudinous magazine publications and his books, but also through other media—he has performed on radio and television shows ranging from Minnesota Public Radio's A Prairie Home Companion to TV's David Letterman Show. "The unceasing drip-drip-drip of bizarre images, intricate wordplay, droll asides and crazy ideas disorients the reader," stated Patrick F. McManus in the New York Times Book Review, "until Mr. Blount finally has him at his mercy."
Blount's books, said Leslie Bennetts in the New York Times, "attest to the breadth of his interests, from One Fell Soup, or I'm Just a Bug on the Windshield of Life (which is also the name of one of the original songs Mr. Blount sings 'unless I'm forcibly deterred') to What Men Don't Tell Women to It Grows on You, a volume about hair." His first book, About Three Bricks Shy of a Load, "did for the Pittsburgh Steelers roughly what Sherman did for the South," stated Donald Morrison in Time. New York Times Book Review contributor Robert W. Creamer called About Three Bricks Shy of a Load "a terrific book," and he concluded, "I have never read anything else on pro football, fiction or nonfiction, as good as this."
With his second book, Crackers: This Whole Many-Sided Thing of Jimmy, More Carters, Ominous Little Animals, Sad-Singing Women, My Daddy and Me, Blount established his reputation as a humorist. Crackers examines the presidency of Jimmy Carter, a Georgian like Blount, and concludes that what the Carter administration needed was a more down-to-earth, redneck approach to the business of governing the country. "If Crackers reveals an overarching thesis, it is that contemporary America, like its president, is too emotionally constrained, too given to artifice, too Northern," explained Morrison. The book was a critical success. Blount has also achieved success in collections of his magazine articles, including One Fell Soup; or, I'm Just a Bug on the Windshield of Life, What Men Don't Tell Women, Not Exactly What I Had in Mind, It Grows on You: A Hair-Raising Survey of Human Plumage, and Now, Where Were We? Gathered from sources as diverse as Esquire, the New Yorker, and Eastern Airlines Pastimes, the collections prove Blount's "ability to be amusing on a diversity of topics," according to Beaufort Cranford of the DetroitNews. After all, he asked, "what other source can prove the existence of God by considering the testicle?"
Although some critics—like Los Angeles Times contributor Taffy Cannon, who called Blount's stories "considerably funnier in a bar at midnight than spread at meandering and pointless length across the printed page"—found that Blount's later works aren't as successful as his earlier ones, many others celebrated his collections. Ron Givens, writing in Newsweek, declared, "It's downright refreshing, then, to read somebody who has taste, intelligence, style and, oh, bless you, wit—qualities that Roy Blount, Jr. . . . [has] in abundance."
Blount has also attracted attention as a versifier and songwriter. Despite his claims to be "singing impaired," Blount has performed both his stories and his verses in his one-man show, Roy Blount's Happy Hour and a Half, and on radio programs such as A Prairie Home Companion. A collection of the comic's verse, Soupsongs/Webster's Ark, "contains odes to beets, chitlins, barbeque sauce, catfish and grease ('I think that I will never cease / To hold in admiration grease')," explained Bennetts, "along with a 'Song against Broccoli' that reads in its entirety: 'The neighborhood stores are all out of broccoli, / Loccoli.'" "Blount's verses may resemble Burma Shave's more than Byron's," declared the Chicago Tribune's Jim Spencer, "but they are bodaciously funny."
Blount continued to strike literary gold with a string of well-reviewed books published in 1989, 1990, and 1991—Now, Where Were We?, First Hubby, and Camels Are Easy, Comedy's Hard, respectively. The first and most lauded of these, Now, Where Were We?, is a collection of the author's previously published essays. "The genre of earnest, plain-spoken bumpkinhood," wrote Deborah Mason in the New York Times Book Review, "forms one of the primal pools of American humor. . . . These pieces are brilliantly loopy, reassuringly subversive, and they put Mr. Blount in serious contention for the title of America's most cherished humorist." Indeed, Washington Post Book World contributor Jonathan Yardley went so far as to say that "a half dozen [of the essays] are likely to cause guttural eruptions, five are moderately dangerous to one's health—and one may be, for those with weak constitutions, terminally fatal."
Blount's debut novel, First Hubby, was generally considered a credible first effort in the longer genre. The story hinges on a major political event: the first female vice-president of the United States becomes president after the elected chief executive is killed by a huge falling fish. The narrator of First Hubby is none other than the frustrated writer-husband of the nation's new president, and he expounds upon his life and times with familiar Blountian humor. "Dialogue, internal and external, is Blount's forte," stated Christopher Hitchens in the Washington Post Book World.
Blount delights in confounding expectations in his book production as much as he does in magazine markets. He served as an anthologizer and contributor for Roy Blount's Book of Southern Humor. Blount chose short southern writings from over one hundred artists—Flannery O'Connor, Edgar Allan Poe, Alice Walker, Lyle Lovett, Davy Crocket, and Louis Armstrong among them—and the resulting volume received warm praise from critics. According to Mark Bautz in People, "Some of the best selections are from people you wouldn't expect to find in such a tome." A critic for Publishers Weekly thought that this "generous volume" would be a good gift for the "eclectic—or Dixie-minded—reader."
Critics have tried to define with varying success the sources of Blount's sense of humor. One contributing factor, suggested Givens, "derives from his off-center perceptions." Kenneth Turan of Time called Blount's work "in the tradition of the great curmudgeons like H. L. Mencken and W. C. Fields." And the comic "is not of the punch-line school of humor writing," declared McManus. "His humor is cumulative in effect, like Chinese water torture. When you can bear it no longer, you collapse into a spasm of mirth, often at a line that taken by itself would provoke no more than a smile."
Reaching his mid-fifties made Blount introspective; in his 1998 memoir Be Sweet: A Conditional Love Story, he "plumbs the depths" of his youth in Georgia, according to People's Thomas Fields-Meyer. Such a childhood was greatly informed by his domineering mother, whose continual admonition of "Be sweet" is used as the title of the book. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly observed that Blount "lays bare a Mother-complex that seems obsessive." Still, even with such potentially dark material, Blount provides an "achingly funny anecdote" on almost every page, according to Fields-Meyer.
Blount supplied a learned introduction to the year 2000 Modern Library Mark Twain's Library of Humor,and then made another change of direction for his 2003 biography, Robert E. Lee. Written for the Penguin Life series of concise biographies, the latter book is much like that of the life of Lee himself, noted a contributor for Publishers Weekly: "valiant, honorable and surprisingly successful with limited resources." Blount uses the perspective of his own southern heritage to detail the life of the Confederate general from his lonely childhood (abandoned by his once heroic but alcoholic father) to his appointment to West Point, his career under General Winfield Scott in the Mexican War, his Civil War career leading the Confederacy, and the postwar years when Lee, in failing health, was a strong proponent of reconciliation between the former enemy sides. The same reviewer further praised Blount's chronicling of these postwar years as the "most moving part of the book" and went on to comment that Robert E. Lee is a "literate and balanced introduction." Nathan Ward, reviewing the biography in Library Journal, similarly found it to be a "vibrant introduction." Ward also felt that Blount managed to "humanize his portrait," and found the detailing of Lee's childhood "surprisingly moving." For Ward, Blount "succeeds" in presenting a multifaceted portrait of Lee, a man at once "flawed, brilliant, but recognizable." Chuck Leddy, writing in the Denver Post, similarly thought that Blount "largely succeeds in humanizing the man behind the myth" in his biography. Leddy went on to conclude that Blount's book was an "excellent, concise biography." David Walton, in the New York Times Book Review, observed that Blount's biography was primarily a "series of speculations and appendixes," but also allowed that the book was "witty, lively and wholly fascinating." Cameron McWhirter, in a review for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, felt that "long after finishing the book, readers will be haunted by Lee." And a critic for Kirkus Reviews thought that "Blount honors Lee without slipping into hagiography."
Blount once commented: "Raised in South by Southern parents. Couldn't play third base well enough so became college journalist. Ridiculed cultural enemies. Boosted integration. Decided to write, teach. Went to Harvard Graduate School. Didn't like it. Went back to journalism. Liked it. Got a column. Ridiculed cultural enemies. Wrote limericks. Boosted integration. Wanted to write for magazines. Took writing job at Sports Illustrated. Have seen country, met all kinds of people, heard all different kinds of talk. Like it. Ready now to write a novel that sums it all up."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Brown, Jerry Elijah, Roy Blount, Jr., Twayne (Boston, MA), 1990.
American Heritage, August-September, 2003, review of Robert E. Lee, p. 18.
Atlanta Journal, May 18, 2003, Cameron McWhirter, review of Robert E. Lee, p. C4.
Chicago Tribune, December 24, 1987, Jim Spencer, "Let Us Now Praise Not-So-Lean Cuisine," p. 3.
Denver Post, May 25, 2003, Chuck Leddy, review of Robert E. Lee, p. EE3.
Detroit News, October 17, 1982.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2003, review of Robert E. Lee, p. 355.
Library Journal, April 1, 2003, Nathan Ward, review of Robert E. Lee, p. 108; May 1, 2003, Nathan Ward, "Reckoning with Robert E. Lee," p. 137.
Los Angeles Times, December 13, 1985, Taffy Cannon, "Even One-Liners Can't Save a Humor Theme," p. 44.
Newsweek, September 17, 1984, Ron Givens, review of What Men Don't Tell Women, p. 82.
New York Times, January 25, 1988, Leslie Bennetts, review of Roy Blount's Happy Hour and a Half, p. 20.
New York Times Book Review, December 1, 1974, Robert W. Creamer, review of About Three Bricks Shy of a Load; November 17, 1985, Patrick F. McManus, review of Not Exactly What I Had in Mind, p. 14; April 2, 1989, Deborah Mason, review of Now, Where Were We?, p. 9; May 11, 2003, David Walton, review of Robert E. Lee, p. 20.
People, November 21, 1994, Mark Bautz, review of Roy Blount's Book of Southern Humor, p. 41; June 15, 1998, Thomas Fields-Meyer, review of Be Sweet: A Conditional Love Story, p. 49.
Publishers Weekly, September 5, 1994, review of Roy Blount's Book of Southern Humor, p. 88; May 1, 1998, review of Be Sweet, p. 59; March 10, 2003, review of Robert E. Lee, pp. 61-62.
Time, October 20, 1980, Donald Morrison, review of Crackers: This Whole Many-Sided Thing of Jimmy, More Carters, Ominous Little Animals, Sad-Singing Women, My Daddy and Me, p. E-2.
Washington Post Book World, February 19, 1989, Jonathan Yardley, review of Now, Where Were We?, p. 3; June 17, 1990, Christopher Hitchens, review of First Hubby, p. 9.
Atlantic Monthly Online,http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/blount/rbbio.htm/ (October, 22, 2003).
Roy Blount, Jr., Web site,http://www.royblountjr.com/ (October, 22, 2003).*