Devoto, Pat Cunningham
Devoto, Pat Cunningham
PERSONAL: Born in AL.
ADDRESSES: Home—Atlanta, GA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Warner Books, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: Writer. Former high school teacher.
Out of the Night That Covers Me, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Summer We Got Saved, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2005.
ADAPTATIONS: Out of the Night That Covers Me was adapted for audio, read by the author, Time Warner Audiobooks, 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Pat Cunningham Devoto is a former high school teacher who writes about her native northern Alabama. According to Ellen Kanner, writing in BookPage.com, Devoto "harnesses the place she knows and remembers. She writes lyrically of the South's geography and honestly about its dark history." Devoto's first novel, My Last Days as Roy Rogers, is set during the 1950s in a town in Alabama and features a white, ten-year-old tomboy named Tabitha "Tab" Goodbe Rutland, and her summer adventures with her older black friend, Maudie May. With the threat of polio still prevalent, mothers offer dire warnings about germs, and the local swimming pool is closed. To keep themselves amused, Tabatha and Maudie pry into the town's secrets, follow a bootlegger, and go fishing together; then Maudie is stricken with the dreaded disease. While noting that the novel has its "charming moments," a reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt that Tab's narrative voice is at times "cloying" and "the ending contrived." Jeanette Somers, reviewing the same title in Library Journal, found the novel a "warm, funny debut" with a "poignant climax." Further praise came from Booklist contributor Whitney Scott, who called Devoto the "literary love child of Harper Lee and Mark Twain" and called My Last Days as Roy Rogers a "delightful debut."
Devoto's second novel, Out of the Night That Covers Me, is again set in the Alabama of the author's youth. The story features white orphan John McMillan, a minor character from Devoto's first novel. With the death of his widowed mother, John is sent from his comfortable home in northern Alabama to live on his aunt's impoverished farm with her two children and her husband, an alcoholic who rules the tenant acreage ruthlessly. John's only hope is the relationship he develops with the president of the local bank and the man's black assistant, Tuway. John dreams of leaving the tenant farm for Chicago, and eventually, he chooses to escape within the local black community.
Out of the Night That Covers Me earned Devoto numerous positive reviews and helped establish her as a respected author. Writing in School Library Journal, Joyce Fay Fletcher commented that Devoto's book "illustrates in a very personal way the unfair socioeconomic conditions of Southern states during the 1950s." Likewise, Nancy Pearl, writing in Booklist, felt "Devoto vividly brings to life the attitudes and beliefs of the Deep South." Writing in Library Journal, Shannon Haddock had higher praise, concluding that Out of the Night That Covers Me "should establish Devoto as a great Southern novelist."
For her third novel, The Summer We Got Saved, Devoto revisits the main characters from her first novel. Tab, separated from her black friend Maudie when the latter was sent away for rehabilitation after contracting polio, is now in her early teens and is sent to a camp in the mountains by her progressive Aunt Eugenia. The camp turns out to be an activist workshop for the fledgling civil rights movement, and Tab is presented with new and harsh realities regarding race relations. Meanwhile, Maudie has been looking for a way out of the hospital she has been living in for several years and she signs up for a teaching job at a voting school. Both girls are soon confronted with the violence surrounding the emerging movement for equality between the races. A critic for Kirkus Reviews concluded that "Devoto captures the internal ambivalence of a society teetering on the uneasy verge of change."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, January, 2001, E. Beth Thomas, review of Out of the Night That Covers Me, p. 75.
Booklist, November 15, 1998, Whitney Scott, review of My Last Days as Roy Rogers, p. 566; September 1, 2000, Nancy Pearl, review of Out of the Night That Covers Me, p. 63.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2005, review of The Summer We Got Saved, p. 372.
Library Journal, November 15, 1998, Jeanette Somers, review of My Last Days as Roy Rogers, p. 90; November 1, 2000, Shannon Haddock, review of Out of the Night That Covers Me, p. 133.
Publishers Weekly, October 12, 1998, review of My Last Days as Roy Rogers, p. 55; November 27, 2000, review of Out of the Night That Covers Me, p. 53.
School Library Journal, September, 2001, Joyce Fay Fletcher, review of Out of the Night That Covers Me, p. 258.
Alabama Booksmith, http://www.alabamabooksmith.com/ (August 17, 2005), author profile.
BookPage.com, http://www.bookpage.com/ (August 17, 2005), Ellen Kanner, "Lyrical New Novel Captures South's Communities and Conflicts: Interview with Pat Cunningham Devoto."