Egerton, John (Walden) 1935-
EGERTON, John (Walden) 1935-
PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "edge-er-ton"; born June 14, 1935, in Atlanta, GA; son of William Graham (in sales) and Rebecca (White) Egerton; married Ann Bleidt, June 6, 1957; children: Brooks Bleidt, March White. Education: Attended Western Kentucky State College, 1953–54; University of Kentucky, A.B., 1958, M.A., 1960. Politics: Independent.
ADDRESSES: Home and office—4014 Copeland Dr., Nashville, TN 37215.
CAREER: University of Kentucky, Lexington, member of public relations staff, 1958–60; University of South Florida, Tampa, member of public relations staff, 1960–65; Southern Education Report, Nashville, TN, staff writer, 1965–69; Race Relations Reporter, Nashville, staff writer, 1969–71; freelance writer, 1971–. Writer for Atlanta's Southern Regional Council, 1973–75; journalist-in-residence at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1977–78. Member of board of directors, Nashville's Family and Children's Services, 1975–77. Military service: U.S. Army, 1954–56.
AWARDS, HONORS: Weatherford Award, 1983, and Lillian Smith Award, 1984, both for Generations: An American Family; Tastemaker Award, International Association of Culinary Professionals, 1988, for Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History.
A Mind to Stay Here, photographs by Al Clayton, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1970.
Promise of Progress: Memphis School Desegregation, 1972–1973, Southern Regional Council (Atlanta, GA), 1973.
The Americanization of Dixie, Harper's Magazine Press (New York, NY), 1974.
Visions of Utopia: Nashoba, Rugby, Rushkin, and the "New Communities" in Tennessee's Past, University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville, TN), 1977.
(Editor and contributor) Nashville: The Faces of Two Centuries, 1780–1980, PlusMedia (Nashville, TN), 1979.
Generations: An American Family, University Press of Kentucky (Lexington, KY), 1983, 20th anniversary edition, 2003.
(Editor and contributor) Nissan in Tennessee, photographs by Dana Thomas and others, Nissan Motor Manufacturing Corporation U.S.A. (Smyrna, TN), 1983.
(With Oscar M. Grablowsky) The Bottom Line about Hemorrhoids, Fissures, and Fistulas, Pritchett & Hull Associates (Atlanta, GA), 1985.
(With Bill Weems) South, Graphic Arts Center (Portland, OR), 1987.
(With wife, Ann Bleidt Egerton) Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History, photographs by Al Clayton, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.
Side Orders: Small Helpings of Southern Cookery and Culture, illustrated by Jacelen Deinema, Peachtree (Atlanta, GA), 1990.
Shades of Gray: Dispatches from the Modern South, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1991.
(Editor) Nashville: An American Self-Portrait, Beaten Biscuit Press (Nashville, TN), 2001.
Cornbread Nation 1: The Best of Southern Food Writing, Southern Foodways Alliance (Chapel Hill, NC), 2002.
Contributor to Tennessee, a Homecoming, edited by John Netherton, Third National Corporation, 1985. Contributor to periodicals, including the Atlantic Monthly, Southern Living, Southern Exposure, Progressive, and Saturday Review. Contributing editor, Saturday Review of Education, 1972–73, Race Relations Reporter, 1973–74, and Southern Voices, 1974–75.
SIDELIGHTS: John Egerton has written and edited books on various aspects of the American South, from its food to its culture and habits. Born in Georgia and raised in Kentucky, he has a deep personal knowledge of the region. His 1997 publication, Speak Now against the Day: The Generation before the Civil Rights Movement in the South, examines the period from the late 1920s to the mid-1950s in the American South, the era before the civil rights movement took hold. It was highly recommended by David L. Chappell in the African American Review "for readers who have time for only one book on its subject." As the critic further remarked, "Anyone who needs an introduction to what happened in the South before the dramatic protests of the TV age—or a reminder that things actually did happen—will be well served by this exhaustive and evocative account."
Speak Now against the Day is written in an informal style, and although the theme of race relations is at the book's center, Egerton provides a detailed account of the major events of the era, whether or not they were obviously race-related. He discusses the early workers for civil rights, whose doomed efforts were nevertheless heroic. He also reviews the grinding poverty that gripped the region, and points to World War II as the great turning point in the South. The desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces mandated by President Harry S Truman made it impossible for the region to continue its entrenched tradition of segregation. Civil rights efforts slowly grew in power and effectiveness, but desegregation in the region was not accomplished without bitterness and violence. "It's a depressing story, powerfully told, and it shoots bullets through whatever case anyone could ever hope to make that the South might have dealt with its racial ills on its own had the meddlesome courts not thrown the region into turmoil in 1954," commented Peter Applebome in the Washington Monthly.
Egerton lived through much of the era covered in his book, and from time to time he incorporates personal reminiscences. Numerous reviewers found this approach to be one of the book's great strengths. Egerton "has crafted, in elegantly plain English, the most accessible and fullest account yet in print of the conflict between Southern reformers and reactionaries in the twilight years of Jim Crow," stated Neil R. McMillen in Mississippi Quarterly. "Some might wish for a book that was at once more economical, more tightly organized, and more inclusive of the story of emergent grassroots black protest. Yet Speak Now belongs at the top of the reading list of every scholar and lay person with a serious interest in the South."
Continuing his work in depicting the American South, the author collects numerous essays in his Shades of Gray: Dispatches from the Modern South. Michael Shirley, writing in Mississippi Quarterly, noted that in this book "Egerton's essays reflect a timely attempt to consider who Southerners are and what the South is. Egerton reveals the contradiction, paradox, and irony that render Southern society and culture complex," Shirley added.
Egerton's subject matter is considerably lighter in Cornbread Nation 1: The Best of Southern Food Writing. In editing this collection of essays, Egerton celebrates the South's unique and important contributions to the national cuisine of the United States. The essays range in subject from the different varieties of greens that are eaten in the South to the influence of prominent chefs from the region. "It's a beguiling mix of food lore, encounters with memorable characters, and, of course, the place itself, from swampy bayous to the rolling hills of Appalachia," advised a Kirkus Reviews writer. Library Journal reviewer Wilda Williams called Cornbread Nation 1 "a tasty collection," but cautioned, "Don't read it on an empty stomach."
Egerton once told CA: "I have been writing since I was twelve. I never really had a choice, though I was thirty years old before I understood and accepted that. It has not been easy to make a living doing what I want to do and I couldn't in good conscience recommend it as a livelihood to beginners. It may be that survival for writers is becoming less and less possible with each passing year, and writers at the end of the twentieth century may be like blacksmiths at the beginning, or calligraphers in the age of Gutenberg. Nevertheless, people will keep on doing it because they suffer from an affliction diagnosed by Jean Stafford as cacoethes scribendi—the itch to write."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
African American Review, spring, 1997, David L. Chappell, review of Speak Now against the Day: The Generation before the Civil Rights Movement in the South, p. 128.
American Historical Review, June, 1996, Jesse T. Moore, Jr., review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 938.
American Quarterly, December, 1997, Doug Rossinow, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 859.
Black Scholar, winter, 1995, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 61.
Booklist, October 1, 1994, Gilbert Taylor, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 186; November 15, 2002, Mark Knoblauch, review of Cornbread Nation 1: The Best of Southern Food Writing, p. 562.
BookPage, October, 2001, review of Nashville: An American Self-Portrait, p. 18.
Books and Culture, March, 1998, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 16.
Business Library Review, February, 1996, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 149.
Choice, March, 1995, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 1200.
Journal of American History, September, 1995, Charles T. Banner-Haley, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 812.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002, review of Cornbread Nation 1, p. 1091.
Library Journal, October 1, 2002, Wilda Williams, review of Cornbread Nation 1, p. 122.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 8, 1995, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 2.
Mississippi Quarterly, winter, 1993, Michael Shirley, review of Shades of Gray: Dispatches from the Modern South, p. 191; winter, 1996, Neil R. McMillen, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 210.
Nation, March 6, 1995, Pat Watters, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 322.
New Leader, December 19, 1994, David M. Oshinsky, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 13.
New Yorker, January 9, 1995, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 82.
New York Review of Books, June 8, 1995, George M. Fredrickson, Speak Now against the Day, p. 33.
New York Times Book Review, March 19, 1995, Charles B. Dew, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 11; October 29, 1995, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 52.
Progressive, January, 1995, Linda Rocawich, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 44.
Publishers Weekly, October 16, 1995, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 57.
Rapport, May, 1995, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 36.
Southern Living, February, 2002, review of Nashville, p. 38.
Time, September 28, 1987, review of Southern Food, p. 76; November 30, 1987, Mimi Shearaton, review of Southern Food, p. 102.
Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 1997, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 179.
Washington Monthly, December, 1994, Peter Applebome, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 52.
Washington Post Book World, October 22, 1995, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 12; December 10, 1995, review of Speak Now against the Day, p. 6.