Hood, Mary 1946-
HOOD, Mary 1946-
PERSONAL: Born September 16, 1946, in Brunswick, GA; daughter of William Charles (an aircraft worker) and Katherine (a teacher; maiden name, Rogers) Hood. Education: Georgia State University, Atlanta, A.B., 1967. Politics: Democrat. Religion: "Humming Quaker." Hobbies and other interests: Natural history, ornithology, wildflower gardening.
CAREER: Visiting author, University of Georgia, 1993; John and Renee Grisham Chair of Visiting Southern Writer, University of Mississippi, 1996; visiting writer, Centre College, 1999; writer in residence, Reinhardt College, 2001; writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Flannery O'Connor Award for short fiction and Southern Review/Louisiana State University Short Fiction Award, both 1984, both for How Far She Went; National Magazine Award in fiction, Pushcart Prize, and Whiting Award, all 1986, all for short story "Something Good for Ginnie"; Lillian Smith Award, 1987, and Townsend Prize for Fiction, 1988, both for And Venus Is Blue; Georgia Writer of the Year citation from Dixie Council of Authors and Journalists, 1988; residency fellowship to Hambidge Center, 1992; named Writer of the Decade by Contemporary Literature and Writing Conference, Kennesaw State University, 1999.
How Far She Went (short stories), University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1984.
And Venus Is Blue (novella and short stories), Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1986.
Familiar Heat (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.
Work represented in anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories, 1984, edited by John Updike and Shannon Ravenal, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1984; The Editors' Choice: New American Short Stories, Volume 1, compiled by George E. Murphy, Jr., Bantam (New York, NY), 1985.
Contributor of short stories and essays to Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Ohio Review, North American Review, Yankee, Harper's Magazine, Art and Antiques, and Southern Magazine. Contributor to The New Georgia Guide, edited by Thomas G. Dyer and Stanley W. Lindberg, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1996; Eudora Welty: Writers' Reflections upon First Reading Welty, edited by Pearl Amelia McHaney, Hill Street Press (Athens, GA), 1999. Author of foreword, Rosiebelle Lee Wildcat Tennessee, by Raymond Andrews, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1988.
Some of the author's manuscripts are housed in the Watkins Collection at Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A story collection, tentatively titled, Survival, Evasion and Escape; a novel, tentatively titled, The Other Side of the River; five novels that make up the "Bartram County Quintet": One in a Row, Two for Tea, Three to Make Ready, Four & 20 Blackbirds, and Cinco de Mayo.
SIDELIGHTS: In award-winning stories and an ambitious novel, Mary Hood chronicles the landscape and people of the modern American South. Born and raised in Georgia, Hood creates stories that are "dominated by the voices of strong women whose themes echo the traditional regional concern with family and community," to quote Dede Yow in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Although some of Hood's work is recognizably Southern in its themes and characterization, she has also moved beyond the bounds of traditional Southern writing to include multiethnic characters and situations that reflect the South's transition into the twenty-first century. Family farms are rent by subdivision, Cuban refugees ply fishing boats, and if characters ruminate about God it may be from a Catholic perspective. As Yow put it, Hood's fiction "is likely to . . . illuminate an elemental truth of the heart: to be whole, people need a place, a past, and other people. Without these, life is as precarious as forest land in the suburbs."
In an essay titled "A Stubborn Sense of Place: Writers and Writing on the South," Hood declared herself to be the daughter of a New Yorker father and a Georgian mother who tempers her tendency toward Southern verbiage with a "Northern conscience . . . that stands ready, tapping its foot, jingling the car keys . . . wanting me to get on with it, asking with every turn and delay of plot, 'So?'" Hood added that she has always thought of herself as "American, blooming where planted—which happens to be with a Southern exposure." Nevertheless, Yow noted that, "Like Flannery O'Connor, Hood has a sharp eye and a tone-sensitive ear. The literary heritage of her characters' language is rooted in the local-color writing of the nineteenth-century South, and while she retains the integrity of the dialect and diction of northwest Georgia, she takes equal care with the diction of her omniscient narrator. Her goal—never to condescend to her characters—is reflected in the apparent seamless connections between narrative voice and characters."
How Far She Went, Hood's award-winning first collection of short stories, consists of nine tales set in rural Georgia, exploring particularly the twin modern ills of isolation and loneliness. In each narrative the characters are unable to communicate with one another, sometimes with disastrous results. In the story "Lonesome Road Blues," for example, a lonely widow invites an itinerant country-western singer back to her chantilly-lace flat between performances and attempts to seduce him, only to have him abandon her for a tryst with someone younger; in "Solomon's Seal" a wife discovers too late what her love of fine things has cost her; in "Inexorable Progress" an apparently happy housewife and mother slides into depression, and in the title story a grandmother and rebellious granddaughter come to terms with each other only as the result of a near-tragedy.
How Far She Went won the attention and praise of many critics, who described its stories as lush, rich, impressive, and memorable. Frederick Busch, writing in the Georgia Review, praised Hood for her "sure visions, firm craft, and a native wit" and dubbed her "a writer well worth reading now—and watching in the future." West Coast Review of Books contributor Randy S. Lavine recommended Hood's debut volume for its "extremely well-written, impassioned stories" in which the author "reaches to the core of human understanding."
In And Venus Is Blue, Hood's second collection of short stories, the author again recreates the people and places of backwoods Georgia—tough, determined characters who fight hard for what they want but who don't usually succeed. In many ways they seem uniquely Southern, but the problems they face, such as suicide, divorce, and old age, are universal. The long title story, for instance, explores the effects of a man's suicide on his daughter. Composed of a series of vignettes arranged chronologically, "And Venus Is Blue" takes place both in one day and in sixteen years. Notified by her family of her father's death, Delia and her husband, Tom, travel the daylong journey home. During the trip back, Delia daydreams about her life from age two to eighteen, each episode of which ends abruptly with news of her father's death. In "Finding the Chain," a story described by New York Times Book Review contributor Alice McDermott as both "wonderfully humorous" and "melancholy," a woman returns in search of things "that have meaning for her" in the abandoned cabin where her grandmother once lived. After her husband and children, who have accompanied her, "summarily ruin or lose or destroy much of what she had hoped to preserve," wrote McDermott, the granddaughter is about to conclude that the trip has been "one long erosion" until, according to the reviewer, the search for a missing chain from the old porch swing "suddenly unites them all in a tribute not so much to the land or the past but to one another and the fragile bonds that belong to the present alone."
Yow observed: "Routed by land clearing for subdivisions and golf courses, the humans and animals in And Venus Is Blue struggle to survive their dying world. The gradual destruction of Hood's own neighborhood is mirrored in these stories, in which new shopping centers, trailers, rental homes, and junk-yards take over the countryside. The old folk were disappearing, being taxed off the land, and Hood wanted to honor these people who worked with their hands."
Some reviewers have invariably compared the South Hood portrays in her fiction with the familiar South of the literature of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O'Connor, only to come to the conclusion that the settings are not at all the same. McDermott noted that for Hood's characters there is no respite in "that familiar Southern antidote, history and the land." Many of Hood's characters, explained the critic, are "without history—parents are absent or unknown, or sunk deeply enough into their own lives to be both—and the land, the rented apartments and mill towns and fields gone to sedge, has been drained of meaning." Similarly, Judith Kitchen, writing in Georgia Review, commented, "[Hood's] characters are a generation removed . . . from the concept of gentility and a sense of established tradition. . . . These characters are hard at work making their lives out of what might appear to be thin air. Something has failed them; even the fleeting world of their childhood has vanished, gone out to the malls at the edge of town along with the other comforts of the old town square." They are missing, Kitchen posited, "what the Old South might have supplied—a society with unshakeable values. Instead, they make up the rules as they go." Likewise, Kenyon Review contributor David Baker, noted, "[Hood's] is an unsentimental vision of the New South where front porches yield to shopping malls and Camaros outnumber cotton fields." Hood's South, he continued, "finds its families falling apart, its women stranded yet struggling individually to grow stronger, and its very past—the history and nostalgia so important to Southern tradition—vanishing or vanished."
McDermott began her review of And Venus Is Blue by describing it as "marvelous" and concluded with this series of compliments: "[Hood] is consummately honest. She does not fear the bleak conclusions of some lives or the quiet, fleeting triumphs of others. She believes that the hopes, the trials, the weariness of spirit and even the difficult loves of her characters, all unresolved, are well worthy of our attention, and in her capable hands a reader cannot help but believe the same." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Doris Betts described And Venus Is Blue as a "beautifully written" collection distinguished by a "calm but melodic prose about complex human beings" who "just happen to live in one of the Southern latitudes of the human condition." Kitchen, dismissing the "postmodern rush to entertain the intellect, to play with language, to create a clever text," praised Hood for "restor[ing] story to its rightful position and, at the same time, carv[ing] new territories for short prose as well." Hood's stories, pronounced Kitchen, are "fastpaced, filled with details of the here-and-now." By the same token, Baker called Hood "one of this country's finest young writers," extolling the author's language as "wonderful music, always precisely modulated, alternately soothing and disarming and funny." He reserved his highest compliment, however, for her "narrator's subtle control and generous presentation of characters," calling that Hood's "most remarkable achievement." Baker concluded, "Simply, the eight stories of And Venus Is Blue are some of the finest, most powerfully written and moving pieces of fiction I've read in a long time. Hood's fresh language redeems through its beauty. Her characters are memorably and graciously drawn in a generous narrative style rare these days. Her stylistic range . . . shows her talent to be immense, her project large. Even if Mary Hood's characters can't or won't see their own lives, moment by moment, we can. We see in them the beautiful struggles of our own."
Hood's first novel, Familiar Heat, was published in 1995. Set in a small Florida town, the story ranges widely through the lives of its characters, lingering longest on the tale of Faye Rios, who survives an atrocious act of violence only to fall victim to brain damage in the aftermath of an automobile accident. Southern Review contributor Dorothy M. Scura wrote, "Hood's story circles and retreats, eddies and surges, as it develops its portrait of a community bound together by pain, love, marriage, and God. Yet one is less startled by the guy wires and forces of form than by the panoply of characters whose stories are told here: the list includes (but is not limited to) Cubans, Vietnamese, Americans black and white, and Greeks." With her memory wiped clean, Faye struggles to differentiate between truth and falsehood both in the immediate circumstances of her life and in the larger Christian cosmology offered by the parish priest. Scura continued, "Hood has proven her storytelling gifts in two collections of short fiction, and with this first novel she shows that she is just as adept with a longer narrative. . . . With its deployment of a massive and diverse cast of characters, its intricate balancing of plots, and its narrative time shifts, Familiar Heat suggests that ambitious and worthy enterprises are being undertaken by southern women, whose fiction will develop, over time, in ways that tease the speculator." America contributor Patrick H. Samway found the book "first rate, showing keen insight, native wit and marvelous dialogue." Malcolm Jones, Jr. in Newsweek described the novel as a "serious work—subtle, moving, and often very funny [about] the horrors and triumphs of how our lives connect." Jones concluded: "This Georgia writer has made the leap to the longer form without ever looking winded."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 234: American Short-Story Writers since World War II, Third Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001, pp. 135-141.
Folks, Jeffrey J. and James Perkins, editors, Southern Writers at Century's End, University of Kentucky Press (Lexington, KY), 1997, pp. 21-31.
Ruppersburg, Hugh, editor, After O'Connor, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 2003.
America, November 16, 1996, Patrick H. Samway, review of Familiar Heat, p. 21.
Atlanta Constitution, January 11, 1985.
Atlanta Journal, January 11, 1985.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 4, 2001, Chris Reinolds, "To Classroom Again Is How Far Writer Went," p. JQ1.
Booklist, September 1, 1995, Alice Joyce, review of Familiar Heat, p. 39.
Georgia Review, spring, 1985, Judith Kitchen, "The Moments That Matter," pp. 209-214.
Gettysburg Review, 1988, Dan Pope, "The Post-Minimalist American Story or What Comes after Carver?," pp. 331-342.
Harper's, August, 1986, Mary Hood, "A Stubborn Sense of Place: Writers and Writing on the South," pp. 35-45.
Kenyon Review, fall, 1987.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 17, 1986.
Newsweek, November 20, 1995, Malcolm Jones, Jr., review of Familiar Heat, p. 86.
New Yorker, January 21, 1985.
New York Times Book Review, August 17, 1986; October 22, 1995, Kit Reed, review of Familiar Heat, p. 37.
Publishers Weekly, July 31, 1995, review of Familiar Heat, p. 70.
Southern Review, autumn, 1997, Dorothy M. Scura, review of Familiar Heat, p. 859.
USA Today, August 1, 1986.
West Coast Review of Books, March, 1985.
Women's Review of Books, June, 1985.