Married; wife's name Connie; children: Max, Ruth. Education: Furman University, received degree, 1977; Warren Wilson College, M.F.A.
Office—Literature and Language Department, 233 Karpen Hall, CPO #2130, One University Heights, Asheville, NC 28804-8509.
Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award, Western North Carolina Historical Selection, for In the Family Way; In the Family Way was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.
Sam's Crossing (novel), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1992.
In the Family Way (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
Raised in Greenville, South Carolina, and now a teacher at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Tommy Hays writes fiction that endeavors to capture the people and setting of the American South. His first novel, Sam's Crossing, is set in modern times and is a love story about a timid writer and a social worker employed at a hospital's neonatal center. Sam, who has repeatedly failed to write a novel and works in a book store so he can be close to books, is so afraid to commit to life that Kate eventually leaves him. While suffering through this loss, Sam finds himself weathering several emergencies, including a tornado, a robbery, and an accident involving a neighbor's child under Sam's care. His ability to navigate these problems successfully kindles an inner confidence, and when Kate returns to him, pregnant with another man's child, he has become strong enough to embrace her and begin an adult relationship. Many critics praised Hays's debut work, especially for what they felt was the author's skill at characterization. Calling the story "poignant, funny, and very enjoyable," Library Journal contributor Susan Clifford praised the author's characters for being so "real." Similarly, a Publishers Weekly critic felt that both the main and supporting characters were strong in this "fresh, humorous and discerning portrait of thirty-something life in Atlanta." Although Los Angeles Times writer Richard Eder commented that the unfailingly nice cast of characters were a bit unrealistic—"even the holdup man is moderately nice"—the critic complimented Hays for writing "with real distinction as he develops the relationship between Sam and Kate."
Hays's next novel, In the Family Way, is set in the South of the early 1960s, when segregation was still a reality, though one no longer officially supported by state governments. In this coming-of-age tale, ten-year-old Jeru Lamb is faced with many challenges as his family tries to deal with the death of his younger brother, Mitchell. Mitchell was killed by a black neighbor's dog, and Jeru's parents deal with the tragedy in different ways. His mother converts into a Christian Scientist and becomes pregnant, despite doctors' orders that bearing a child could kill her, while his father quits his job to write a novel that becomes his obsession. This leaves Jeru to try to find sympathy and comfort from his motherly housekeeper, Della. Other developments in Jeru's life also conspire to confuse him about life, including the divorce of his best friend's parents and the discovery that his classmate Norma Jones is actually his half sister.
By the end of the story, however, the family manages to find some measure of happiness in their lives in a story that "explores the trials and triumphs of family life with warmth and compassion," according to Charlotte Observer contributor Polly Paddock Gossett. Although the novel is set at the time of the Kennedy assassination and in a place where there are still strong racial tensions, reviewers lauded Hays for letting the setting complement rather than dominate the narrative. "With a great eye for detail and nuance," wrote Frank Reiss in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Hays captures the book's setting perfectly. The segregated South's denial of the basic humanity to blacks needs no further explication than several heartbreaking scenes involving the maid and the black neighbor who owned the murderous dog." Michele Leber, writing in Library Journal, similarly remarked on the way Hays deftly weaves setting and character together and "leavens the poignancy with humor to fashion an altogether engaging story."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 18, 1999, Frank Reiss, "Tenderness, Details Infuse '60s Tale of Family's Tragedy," p. L11.
Booklist, April 15, 1999, Carolyn Kubisz, review of In the Family Way, p. 1514.
Charlotte Observer, August 18, 1999, Polly Paddock Gossett, review of In the Family Way.
Library Journal, November 15, 1992, Susan Clifford, "Book Reviews: Fiction"; July, 1999, Patrick Sullivan, review of In the Family Way, p. 131; April 15, 2000, Michele Leber, review of In the Family Way, p. 148.
Los Angeles Times, December 17, 1992, Richard Eder, "Tension and Crises on Road to Adulthood," p. E15; July 29, 1999, Susie Linfield, "A Baffled Boy in a World Gone Awry," p. E5.
New York Times Book Review, August 29, 1999, Maud Casey, "Books in Brief: Fiction," section 7, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, October 19, 1992, review of Sam's Crossing, p. 56; May 31, 1999, review of In the Family Way, p. 62.
Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 1993, "Notes on Current Books: Fiction."*