Fox, William Price (Jr.) 1926-
FOX, William Price (Jr.) 1926-
PERSONAL: Born April 9, 1926, in Waukegan, IL; father in U.S. Navy; mother, a nightclub hostess. Education: University of South Carolina, B.A., 1950.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Lynn Nesbit, International Creative Management, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Full-time writer and television producer. Producer of the documentary television series Writer's Workshop, featuring celebrated American authors, broadcast by South Carolina Educational Television Network and Public Broadcasting Service, between 1980 and 1982. University of Iowa, Iowa City, teacher at Writers Workshop, 1968-72, instructor in journalism, 1974-76; University of South Carolina—Columbia, writer in residence, beginning 1976. Also worked as packaging sales representative in New York, NY. Military service: U.S. Army Air Forces, 1943-46; became lieutenant.
Southern Fried (short stories), Gold Medal Books (New York, NY), 1962.
Doctor Golf (collected articles), Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1963.
Moonshine Light, Moonshine Bright (novel), Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1967.
Southern Fried Plus Six (contains "Southern Fried" and other stories), Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1968.
Off We Go (screenplay), Paramount, 1968.
Cold Turkey (screenplay), Paramount, 1970.
Ruby Red, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1971.
Dixiana Moon, Viking (New York, NY), 1981.
Chitlin Strut and Other Madrigals (short stories), Peachtree Press (Atlanta, GA), 1983.
(With Franklin Ashley) How 'bout Them Gamecocks!, cartoons by Robert Ariail, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 1985.
Golfing in the Carolinas, J. F. Blair (Winston-Salem, NC), 1990.
Lunatic Wind: Surviving the Storm of the Century, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 1992.
South Carolina: Off the Beaten Path; A Guide to Unique Places, Globe Pequot Press (Old Saybrook, CT), 1996, 2nd edition, 1999.
Wild Blue Yonder (novel), Crane Hill Publishers (Birmingham, AL), 2002.
Satchel Paige's America, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 2005.
Author of the screenplay Southern Fried (based on his book of the same title), Twentieth Century-Fox; the screenplay The Great Southern Amusement Company; a television play "Fast Nerves," broadcast on American Playhouse, WNET-Television, New York, NY; and episodes of the television series The Beverly Hillbillies, broadcast by Columbia Broadcasting System, 1964-65. Contributor to books, including Tales of the Diamond: Selected Gems of Baseball Fiction, edited by Laurence J. Hyman and Laura Thorpe, illustrated by Miles Hyman, Woodford Press (San Francisco, CA), 1991. Contributor of short stories and articles to periodicals, including Saturday Evening Post, Holiday, Sports Illustrated, Harper's, and West.
SIDELIGHTS: A novelist and short-story writer who grew up in South Carolina, William Price Fox captures the humorous side of southern living in his books. Critics have written that his eye for detail coupled with his ear for regional dialect and his storyteller's instincts make his writing lively and fun to read. Southern Fried, Fox's collection of short stories, remains his best-known work, but his later titles have also been commercially successful, and his novel Dixiana Moon was endorsed by such writers as John D. Macdonald and Kurt Vonnegut. Notwithstanding this success, Fox does not seem to have received much critical recognition. As George Garrett explained in the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook 1981, "The support of neither readers, writers, nor even the regional book reviewers in his native South … has been able to give Fox the kind of national recognition that he seems justly to deserve."
One reason that Fox's books have not attracted more critical attention may be that "his works contain few of those nuggets of obscurity that inspire critical articles," according to Carol Johnston, writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. "His characters are clearly drawn and his plots are unobscured. He is that most misunderstood of contemporary writers, a traditional storyteller, and his tales resound with humor and moonshine instead of perplexity and dilemma."
A high school dropout from a bootlegging family, Fox tried his hand at several occupations before stumbling onto writing at age thirty-four. By that time, he had already completed a tour of duty in the Air Force, returned to South Carolina to finish his schooling, and settled into a career as a packaging sales representative in New York. One day he was sitting at the White Horse Bar with Bill Manville, a friend of his and a writer for the Village Voice. Manville, who had a hangover and felt unable to meet an approaching deadline, asked Fox if he would do an article in his place. Fox agreed, producing a humorous story called "Moncks Corner." It ran on the first page.
The article attracted the attention of Knox Burger, an editor at Gold Medal, and he asked if Fox were interested in writing more stories for a book. He was, for reasons which he explained to Matthew J. Bruccoli in Conversations with Writers I: "I think a lot of the motivation there was I always read stories…. I read a lot of short stories, and I've always noticed that the authors would get to a confrontation scene where there is any action or physical fighting going on, and they would veer away from it, or they would handle it in such a way where you knew they were faking…. I'm very competitive anyway, and I knew I could handle stuff that had action in it. I had never seen enough of it in fiction or nonfiction…. I got the of fer from Knox, and then Knox began sending stuff around to the magazines. And the magazines began calling. The Post called and Harper's and Sports Illustrated. So I got into them very quickly. In '62 I was writing for all those magazines, all at once."
Nonetheless, Fox held on to his job in sales. "I figured … this isn't going to last because I really wasn't a writer," he told Bruccoli. And, thinking one opportunity was all he would have, Fox filled the book that would be named Southern Fried with what he calls "virtuoso stuff"—monologue, dialogue, black humor, repetition—in short, whatever he wanted to do. Much to his surprise, the book, which had been printed only in soft cover because of its regionalism—was a national success that launched Fox's writing career.
Since that time, Fox has published a second book of stories (Southern Fried Plus Six) as well as several novels. He has also returned to Columbia, South Carolina, his childhood home. George Garrett found this relocation significant for "even when dealing with characters who are in many details distinctly different from himself, Fox tends to draw directly from the capital of his own experience to invest imaginary figures with the breath of life."
Fox's ability to make his characters "something more than the stereotypical sum of their parts" is what distinguishes Fox's fiction from that of many other modern writers, according to Garrett. "What we are talking about here is unusual dimensionality of character, of characterization in the classic and dramatic sense—classic in that the author is equally involved, or equally disengaged if you prefer, with each and all of the characters…. The kind of story Fox likes to write simply will not work if the characters are merely puppets manipulated by huge invisible social and economic forces. These forces may or may not exist, like ghosts and other psychic phenomenon. But his characters must at least preserve the freedom allowed by Boethius in The Consolation of Philosophy. That is, they perceive themselves to be both free and responsible and try to act accordingly."
Writing in Best Sellers, William A. C. Francis noted that Fox's characters "are of the lower class: moonshiners, laborers, razor fighters, short order cooks, gamblers, poolroom loafers, hustlers, and the like. They are never portrayed bitterly. Rather, they are treated warmly and fondly." A case in point is Ruby Jean Jamison, the aspiring young country and western singer whose quest for fame and fortune is depicted in Ruby Red. Ruby is a sexy unscrupulous creature—a hustler whose talent is questionable, but she has what Carol Johnston called "a belief in her own ability to create the future and like [earlier Fox protagonists,] her success is dependent on her country ingenuity and persistence."
Despite her authenticity, Ruby creates a problem for those critics who believe that she and some of her fictive cohorts are developed more for their own sake than for the good of the story as a whole. Nor is it just some of the characters' antics that strike these critics as superfluous. Many of the vignettes of Southern life are also gratuitous, they have suggested. "Fox gets caught up in some Columbia stories at the expense of the narrative, and he still delights in 'characters' whether they move with the story or across it. His cast includes Agnes McCoy, Ruby Jean Jamison, Virgil Hooper Haynes, Preacher Roebuck Alexander, Spider Harold Hornsby, Jimmy Lee Rideout, Raymond La Mer, Hoover Joe Hooks, Ferlin Stover Peterson, Thelma Jean Hooker, and Mary Lou Tyler—enough to give any writer problems," William Koon wrote in the Georgia Review. Noted New York Times critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "If Mr. Fox knows any detail that might tell you just a bit more about Nashville and environs, he'll work it in whether it belongs to his story or not. And that's basically the trouble with Ruby Red. It's as much an insider's guide to the C & W industry as it is the tale of how Ruby Jean Jamison and Agnes McCoy … scrap, connive, hustle, bite and scratch their ways to success." What could have been "a fine book trails into overlong nothingness," a Publishers Weekly critic observed.
The book's loose structure reflects Fox's unorthodox method of composition. "I don't plan stuff and that's one of my real problems," he told Bruccoli. "I don't plan anything. I do plan basically, but not really. I try to keep my options completely open, and that's a good thing and a terrible thing, and you can just waste your life doing it. But Ruby Red, now was—that book was going to be about my uncle, Martin Luther Fox. He's called Spider in the book. I was going to write a book about him. He's an incredible character. I wrote at least 300 pages about him, then I introduced Ruby. Then about a hundred pages later I realized that she was better than he was. So I got rid of all his stuff and went with her…. I have no trouble cranking up, ever. But I try to keep myself open and not plot it, because I find my best characters come out of people that just kind of walk on, you know. And then I let them stay for a while and see how it feels. This is the kind of thing most people would plan in books, I guess. I guess that's why they write more books than I do."
Despite Ruby Red's limitations, William Koon concluded that, with that book, the short-story-writerturned-novelist "seems to have gotten the upper hand on his new genre, to have learned to aim his mobs of characters and his good episodes in one direction. And I think we can anticipate the complete success of the novelist as well as that of his character."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bruccoli, Matthew J., Conversations with Writers I, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1977.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 22, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.
Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 2: American Novelists since World War II, Thomson Gale (Detroit MI), 1978.
Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook 1981, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.
Best Sellers, July 1, 1971, article by William A. C. Francis.
Georgia Review, winter, 1973, William Koon, review of Ruby Red.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2992, review of Lunatic Wind: Surviving the Storm of the Century, p. 962.
Library Journal, September 1, 1992, Wilda Williams, review of Lunatic Wind, p. 199; March 15, 1995, Michael Rogers, review of Doctor Golf, p. 102.
Los Angeles Times, March 10, 1981.
New York Times, June 1, 1971, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Ruby Red.
New York Times Book Review, February 15, 1981; October 4, 1992, Margaret E. Guthrie, review of Lunatic Wind, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, March 15, 1971, review of Ruby Red; January 2, 1981.
Southern Living, March, 1985, review of Doctor Golf, p. 122.
Village Voice, June 10-16, 1981.
Washington Post Book World, April 5, 1981.
West Coast Review of Books, January, 1984, review of Chitlin Strut and Other Madrigals, p. 37.
Absolute Write Web site, http://www.absolutewrite.com/ (September 7, 2002), Jenna Glatzer, "Interview with William Price Fox."*