Harington, Donald 1935–
Harington, Donald 1935–
(Donald Douglas Harington)
PERSONAL: Born December 22, 1935, in Little Rock, AR; son of Conrad Fred and Jimmie Harington; married Nita Harrison, July 20, 1957 (divorced); married Kim McClish, October 8, 1983; children: (first marriage) Jennifer, Calico, Katy. Education: University of Arkansas, B.A., 1956, M.F.A., 1958; Boston University, M.A., 1959; Harvard University, doctoral study.
ADDRESSES: Home—Fayetteville, AR. Office—FNAR 116, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701; fax: 501-443-4299. E-mail—[email protected].
CAREER: Writer, art historian, and educator. Bennett College, Millbrook, NY, instructor in art history, 1960–62; Windham College, Putney, VT, associate professor of art history, 1964–78; University of Missouri—Rolla, Rolla, MO, visiting professor, 1978–80; University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, visiting professor of creative writing, 1980; South Dakota State University, Brookings, visiting professor of art history, 1980–81; University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, began as professor of art history, became distinguished professor of art history, 1986–.
AWARDS, HONORS: Nomination for PEN-Faulkner Award, best first novel, for The Cherry Pit; Rockefeller Foundation fellowship, 1966–67; National Endowment for the Arts award, 1980; Porter Fund Award, American Association for State and Local History, 1987, for Let Us Build a City: Eleven Lost Towns; distinguished teaching award, University of Arkansas Alumni Association, 1992; Heasley Prize, Lyon College, 1998; inducted into Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame, 1999; Arkansas Fiction Award, 1999; Robert Penn Warren Award for fiction, 2003; Oxford American Lifetime Award for Contributions to Southern Literature.
Some Other Place. The Right Place, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1972.
(And illustrator) The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks: A Novel, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1975, reprinted, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (San Diego, CA), 1987.
The Cockroaches of Stay More: A Novel, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1989.
The Choiring of the Trees: A Novel, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1991.
Ekaterina: A Novel, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1993.
Butterfly Weed: A Novel, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1996.
When Angels Rest, Counterpoint (Washington, DC), 1998.
Thirteen Albatrosses or, Falling off the Mountain: A Novel, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2002.
With, Toby Press (New Milford, CT), 2004.
The Pitcher Shower, Toby Press (New Milford, CT), 2005.
(And photographer) Let Us Build Us a City: Eleven Lost Towns, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1986.
On a Clear Day: The Paintings of George Dombeck, University of Central Arkansas Press (Conway, AR), 1995.
Harington's correspondence with author William Styron is collected and housed at the Perkins Library, Duke University.
SIDELIGHTS: Out of a childhood of summers spent in the Ozark Mountains, novelist Donald Harington has created portraits of the antics, incidents, and way of life of the inhabitants of Stay More, a fictional community tucked not-so-safely in the hills of rural Arkansas. Harington's accounts of the misadventures of the humorously dubbed "Stay Morons" are marked by humor, affection, and a determination not to take his subjects, or himself, too seriously.
Born in 1935, Harington's upbringing provided the raw material for his later fiction. Although he spent the school year in Little Rock, he spent his boyhood summers in the Ozarks; Drakes Creek, the dying town where his grandmother then lived, would eventually be fictionalized throughout his novels. At the age of twelve, Harington lost much of his hearing due to a severe case of meningococcal meningitis; this fact would also echo throughout his fictional world.
Following his time studying at the University of Arkansas, Boston University, and Harvard University, Harington got a job teaching art history at Bennett College in Millbrook, New York, which enabled him to support his young wife, Nita, and their three children. By 1962 he was ready to dedicate himself to becoming a writer. A growing friendship with author William Styron, whose work Harington admired, aided his efforts, not only providing the young writer with a literary mentor but a supportive friend as well. Styron, who died in November, 2006, had "offered me the summer-long use of his guest house, a famous building that had sheltered a number of writers, including Philip Roth and James Baldwin, to finish rewriting [my first] novel," Harington recalled, as quoted by a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor. Having left his teaching job, the offer was greatly appreciated by the financially strapped novelist, whose completed work, The Cherry Pit, tells the story of a disillusioned man's visit to his Arkansas hometown, where contact with friends from his boyhood shed light on the course of his own life. Well-received by critics, The Cherry Pit was nominated for the PEN-Faulkner Award for best first novel.
Lightning Bug, dedicated to Styron, firmly established Harington as a chronicler of Ozark idiosyncrasies. He told the Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor: "I thought once I'd gotten the Ozarks out of my system, or exorcised, by writing Lightning Bug, that would liberate me to write about the rest of the world. I discovered after writing Lightning Bug that I was hooked on the Ozarks." Harington called his second novel "the book that is closest to my heart." Lightning Bug introduces readers to the village of Stay More, to such recurring Harington protagonists as five-year-old Dawny and Latha Bourne, the postmistress, as well as to his characteristic shift to the future tense at novel's end—keeping with what the author once explained as his dislike for endings. Time contributor Martha Duffy described Lightning Bug as a "modest but totally satisfying novel." Duffy continued: "To [Harington] the men of Stay More are still gods," adding: "He reveres the most ordinary aspects of the lives of unexceptional people, and with lyrical comedy and irony, he makes his joy infectious."
Modeled on symphonic structure, Some Other Place. The Right Place. is a complex narrative involving the ghostly possession of a young man named Day Whittacker by a nineteenth-century New England poet, and a young woman's compulsion to unravel Day's secret. The novel's parallel plots overlap one another in a structure that allows the work to self-consciously view and comment upon itself. As a New York Times Book Review contributor wrote, Some Other Place. The Right Place. is "loaded with self-advertisement ([one of the characters] reads Donald Harington right along with Nabokov) and playful cross-references to Harington's first two novels." The reviewer added: "There is much to admire here—structure, characterization, tonal and thematic complexity, evidence of hard and fruitful labor—all tempered with healthy dollops of self-mockery."
The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks: A Novel is considered by many critics to be Harington's best novel. According to Amanda Heller in Atlantic, the novel combines a "nostalgic evocation of the Ozarks and a wry comment on progress, or rather PROG RESS, as it is pronounced skeptically by the natives of Stay More." A history of Harington's fictional Stay More, the novel renews its readers' relationship with characters from earlier novels while borrowing from the inspiration of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. The novel sustains the idiosyncratic humor that marked the author's previous works. Heller concluded that, although Harington's humor may be considered outlandish, "one thing is clear: he laughs only at what he loves." Decorated with the author's drawings of "dwellings … from the rounded hut of the native Indians to … the stationary house-trailer or 'immobile home,'" The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks is an "ingenious idea," a New York Times Book Review critic commented. The critic faulted the novel, however, for growing "tedious" after the elimination of the main character near the middle of the book.
Harington did not publish another novel for fourteen years, during which the author coped with both personal and financial setbacks, including the breakdown of his marriage. This dry period was only broken by a work of nonfiction, the journalistic Let Us Build Us a City: Eleven Lost Towns. Illustrated with the author's photography, Let Us Build Us a City marked Haring-ton's move back to Arkansas in the quasi-fictional manner characteristic of his novels. Ostensibly an investigation of the state's ghost towns, Harington layers within his historic accounts of the rise and fall of several Arkansas communities the growing relationship between himself and real-life co-traveler, Kim McClish, whom he would eventually marry.
Harington's fifth novel is the highly praised The Cockroaches of Stay More: A Novel. An insect's view of Stay More and its inhabitants, the novel is, according to a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor, "a comic, gently satiric fable … [that also] serves as a religious parable and an insightful commentary on the Cold War atmosphere of the mid-1980s." Taking the two lone inhabitants of the ghost town Stay More as gods, religious roach factions develop; one of which, explained a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor, "await[s] the Rapture, which occurs when the drunken writer Larry Brace … shoots the bugs with his pistol." From its opening parody of the Thomas Hardy classic Tess of the d'Urbervilles, The Cockroaches of Stay More is "a truly captivating and appealing book" in the estimation of Harry Middleton of the New York Times Book Review, "one as honest as it is imaginative and fanciful, one that probes the transitory and fragile worlds of man and cockroach alike."
Described by Harington as his most realistic novel, The Choiring of the Trees blends historical fact and fiction, detailing the story of Nail Chism, a young shepherd and moonshiner falsely convicted of rape and sentenced to die in the electric chair. During his time in prison and narrow escapes from execution, Chism becomes the focus of Viridis Monday, a staff artist for the Arkansas Gazette and daughter of a wealthy, Little Rock banker. Monday, originally sent to document Chism's final hours, becomes convinced of the man's innocence and decides she will seek to overturn his conviction. Similar to his previous novels, Harington again draws heavily from his own past and experience in the Ozarks, this time to help bring the fact-based story to life. Washington Post Book World contributor Frank Levering explained: "In his six previous works, Harington has focused on the Ozarks, and again the exotica of mountain life and the natural world form both gritty and mystical backdrop to the story." Exploring the tale's regional quality, Levering called the novel "regional in the best sense: It is rooted in the particulars of time and place, yet reaches out, like a spreading oak, to suggest issues and themes of universal interest."
Acknowledging one of his many literary idols, Harington published Ekaterina: A Novel in 1993. A tribute to Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov, the novel "is not so much an inversion of [Nabokov's] Lolita as it is an apotheosis of it," according to its author. Beginning with the introduction of the story's female protagonist, a Soviet refugee who is followed by a sadistic Russian to the United States, Ekaterina winds up, not surprisingly, in Stay More, disguised as Stick Around, among characters familiar to Harington's readers. Praised by critics, Ekaterina inspired a reconsideration of Harington and his work after its publication, in part due to the praise heaped upon it by critic Peter Straub, who wrote in the Washington Post Book World: "Harington is one of the most powerful, subtle and inventive novelists in America. Everywhere, his work is full of mystery and heartbreak kept afloat by high spirits, sensual pleasure, and intellectual joy."
Harington told CA: "If Ekaterina was meant as a tribute to Nabokov, then Butterfly Weed honors the great influence of Ozark folklorist Vance Randolph (1892–1980), whose many collections of Ozark folk tales have crept their way into my plot lines and characterizations, and whose study of Ozark folk-speech, Down in the Holler, has served as a principal sources of my dialogue. The framing device of Butterfly Weed finds the actual Vance Randolph on his death bed in a nursing home, recounting to his deaf-mute protégé (the narrator) the life story of Doc Swain of Stay More, the colorful physician whose previous appearances in many of my novels were limited to cameos. A sly trickster, Randolph cunningly converts the life of Doc Swain into Greek mythology, the one area of folklore that never inspired any of the Ozark tales. Heeding the last words of Socrates, 'give a cock to Asclepius,' Randolph makes the life story of Doc Swain that of the legendary founder of medicine, endowed with a talent for curing patients in their dreams, and also endowed with a sexuality that gets him deeply involved with a backwoods girl named Tenny, who is Psyche, wed to Eros. Butterfly Weed is the bawdiest of my novels, and in many passages the most comic.
"One of my innumerable 3-x-5-inch index cards, on which I obsessively outline my writing projects and the research ideas for each, written in the mid-eighties, indicates that my next five novels, in order, will be, 1: a prison novel; 2: a Lolita-type novel; 3: a medical novel; 4: a war novel; and 5: a political novel.
"The Choiring of the Trees and Ekaterina fulfill the first two items of that agenda, and Butterfly Weed takes care of the third. The fourth was accomplished by When Angels Rest, the story of the 'invasion' of Stay More during World War II by U.S. Army soldiers on maneuvers. Told from the point of view of the same Dawny of Lightning Bug, now the twelve-year-old publisher of a local weekly, The Stay Morning Star, inspired by his hero Ernie Pyle to report on the battles between rivals gangs of local children and, eventually, between opposing camps in the war games that a U.S. Army tank battalion stages in dead earnest. I attempted to maintain the pastoral quality of my earlier novels in a story that is ultimately tragic.
"My longstanding antipathy toward the New York Times Book Review, an organ which I, like many another writers, have considered unfair and abusive of its power, prompted me to employ their unfavorable reviewers' names as the names for villains, dread diseases, and pernicious plants in several of my books. Now I took the name of the Times's unkind reviewer of When Angels Rest and gave it to the villain of Thirteen Albatrosses or, Falling off the Mountain, my political novel which completed the agenda of five novels projected in the 1980s.
"Vernon Ingledew, the last of the Ingledews in The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks, wealthy from making gourmet ham out of razorback hogs, decides to run for governor of Arkansas. Blessed with movie-star good looks and a fantastic intelligence, but hampered by what his own high-paid campaign manager calls his 'thirteen albatrosses'—he is an atheist, has never attended college, lives in sin with his first cousin, has no political experience, opposes guns and tobacco, et cetera, et cetera—he encounters many obstacles in the primary and the general elections, including the coming to Stay More of a pair of Indians bent upon reclaiming their ancestral lands. Although much of it is set in Stay More, Thirteen Albatrosses is the least rustic or pastoral of all my fictions, but it retains the good humor and the inventiveness of my other work.
"Having completed the five novels intended to improve my slow-developing reputation as an American writer (Fred Chappell remarked in the Writer's Chronicle that 'Donald Harington is not an underappreciated novelist; he is an undiscovered continent'), and while waiting to see what sort of reception Thirteen Albatrosses would get, I embarked upon my largest novel, With, which I completed during a one-semester sabbatical late in 2001. Like The Choiring of the Trees, it is based loosely upon an actual Arkansas event, the disappearance of a seven-year-old girl, who was never found. I presume that she was kidnapped by a child molester and taken to live on a remote mountaintop north of Stay More. Some of the characters in my earlier novels reappear; indeed, one of them, Sugrue Alan, a villain in at least two earlier novels, is the principal villain here, a misguided, blundering ex-cop who truly loves his victim but doesn't quite know what to do with her. How she survives becomes a gripping tale."
In a review of With in Booklist, Frank Sennett called the novel a "richly imagined, lovingly rendered exploration of the unintended consequences of human—and animal—desire." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote: "Anthropomorphic whimsy and religious symbolism cohabit quite agreeably in this story," adding: "It's, sexy, funny, and reaches a splendid crescendo." Another reviewer writing in Publishers Weekly commented: "Transforming a kidnapping plot into an epic rural fable and then a touchingly poignant love story, Harington crafts a wildly imaginative tour de force."
In his 2005 novel, The Pitcher Shower, Harington tells the tale of Landon "Hoppy" Boyd, a depression-era projectionist who travels around the Arkansas countryside showing movies in small towns. The self-given nickname of "Hoppy" stems from the fact that Boyd only shows Hopalong Cassidy movies. When he allows a teenage stowaway named Carl Whitlow to come along with him, Boyd discovers that "Carl" is actually "Shar-line." The novel follows the two as they gain the attention of a stern preacher who "confiscates" Boyd's movie. After showing an old Hollywood film of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the duo then embark on a similar adventure featuring star-crossed lovers and mistaken identity. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted the novel's "sly narrative commentary and winning humor." Frank Sennett, writing in Booklist, referred to The Pitcher Shower as a "sweet, lyrical tale." A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted the novel's "likable protagonist" and wrote that "Harington sells … [his story] skillfully."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 152: American Novelists since World War II, Fourth Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.
Ascribe Higher Education News Service, February 27, 2002, "Literary Journal 'Southern Quarterly' Pays Homage to University of Arkansas Novelist Donald Harington."
Atlantic, January 1976, Amanda Heller, review of The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks: A Novel.
Booklist, April 15, 1996, Jennifer Henderson, review of Butterfly Weed: A Novel, p. 1421; September 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of When Angels Rest, p. 199; February 15, 2002, Thomas Gaughan, review of Thirteen Albatrosses, or, Falling off the Mountain: A Novel, p. 991; March 15, 2004, Frank Sennett, review of With, p. 1266; July, 2005, Frank Sennett, review of The Pitcher Shower, p. 1898.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1996; February 1, 2002, review of Thirteen Albatrosses, or, Falling off the Mountain, p. 125; February 1, 2004, review of With, p. 101; June 15, 2005, review of The Pitcher Shower, p. 655.
Library Journal, March 15, 2002, Barbara Conaty, review of Thirteen Albatrosses, or, Falling Off the Mountain, p. 108; July, 2004, Michael Rogers, review of The Cockroaches of Staymore: A Novel, p. 127.
New York Times, October 18, 1998, Scott Bradfield, review of When Angels Rest.
New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1972, review of Some Other Place. The Right Place.; November 2, 1975, review of The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks; April 23, 1989, Harry Middleton, review of The Cockroaches of Stay More, p. 17.
New Yorker, October 3, 2005, review of The Pitcher Shower, p. 101.
Publishers Weekly, February 8, 1991, Sybil Steinberg, review of The Choiring of Trees: A Novel, p. 48; February 22, 1993, review of Ekaterina: A Novel, p. 81; March 18, 1996, review of Butterfly Weed, p. 63; August 17, 1998, review of When Angels Rest, p. 48; February 18, 2002, review of Thirteen Albatrosses, or, Falling off the Mountain, p. 71; February 23, 2004, review of With, p. 48; July 18, 2005, review of The Pitcher Shower, p. 183.
Southern Review, Autumn 2002, Barbara Ladd, "'Longing for the future' in Donald Harington's The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks," p. 827.
Time, August 17, 1970, Martha Duffy, review of Lightning Bug.
Washington Post Book World, April 21, 1991, Frank Levering, review of The Choiring of the Trees; June 6, 1993, Peter Straub, review of Ekaterina.
Writer's Chronicle, February, 2000, article by Fred Chappell, pp. 15-18.
Arkansas Literary Festival, http://www.arkansasliteraryfestival.org/ (October 23, 2006), brief profile of author.
Art Department, University of Arkansas Web site, http://art.uark.edu/ (October 23, 2006), faculty profile of author.
Believer Magazine Web site, http://www.believermag.com/ (October 23, 2006), Izzy Grinspan, "A Dream of a Small but Unlost Town," discussion of author's works.
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (October 23, 2006), Stephen M. Deusner, review of With.
Donald Harington Home Page, http://www.donaldharington.com (October 23, 2006).
Encyclopedia of Arkansas.net, http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/ (October 23, 2006), biography of author.
Ozarks Magazine Web site, http://www.ozarksmagazine.com/ (October 23, 2006), Lee Kirk, review of With.
Rebecca Reads, http://www.rebeccasreads.com/ (October 23, 2006), review of With.
Southern Scribe, http://www.southernscribe.com/ (October 23, 2006), Robert L. Hall, "The Bard of Stay More: An Interview with Donald Harington."