McLaurin, Tim 1953-2002
McLAURIN, Tim 1953-2002
PERSONAL: Born December 14, 1953, in Fayetteville, NC; died of cancer July 11, 2002, in Hillsborough, NC; married Janelle Clark (divorced); married Katie Earlie (divorced); children: two. Education: Attended University of North Carolina.
CAREER: Author and educator. Worked various jobs, including carnival snake handler, truck driver, and construction work; Peace Corps volunteer in Tunisia, 1982-83; former instructor at University of North Carolina and Duke University; North Carolina State University, professor of creative writing, 1991-2002. Military service: U.S. Marines, 1972-74.
AWARDS, HONORS: Sir Walter Raleigh Award for fiction, University of North Carolina, 1995, for Cured by Fire.
The Acorn Plan (novel), W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1988.
Woodrow's Trumpet (novel), W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1989.
Keeper of the Moon: A Southern Boyhood (memoir), Norton (New York, NY)1991.
Cured by Fire (novel), Putnam (New York, NY), 1995.
Lola (poetry), Down Home Press (Asheboro, NC), 1997.
The Last Great Snake Show (fiction), Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.
The River Less Run (memoir), Down Home Press (Asheboro, NC), 2000.
Another Son of Man (novel), Down Home Press (Asheboro, NC), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Author Tim McLaurin was born and raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina. During his two-year tour with the U.S. Marine Corps, he served in Panama, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, then later spent a year in Tunisia with the Peace Corps, where he taught dairy farming and bee keeping. His diverse work background includes time spent as a Coca-Cola salesman, a snake handler for a carnival, a truck driver, and a construction worker. Once he started to publish his writing, he went on to teach at the University of North Carolina, Duke University, and North Carolina State University.
McLaurin wrote the first draft of his first novel, The Acorn Plan, while living in Tunisia. He had left school in North Carolina against the advice of several people who tried to encourage him to continue his education for the sake of his writing. One professor, Max Steele, offered him a different viewpoint. In an interview for the Peace Corps Writers Web site, McLaurin recalled that Steele "told me that if I would go to Tunisia and use that time to look at the [American] South from an objective point, use that time to read all the classics I ignored in high school, I would be better off as a beginning writer than sitting in a classroom. He was right, of course." With the advantage of distance, The Acorn Plan became a fictionalized account of McLaurin's experiences of going off into the world with the Marines and then returning to his home town and having to rediscover himself.
More recent novels include Woodrow's Trumpet, Cured by Fire, for which McLaurin won the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for fiction in 1995, and The Last Great Snake Show. In Cured by Fire he tells the story of Lewis, a successful Southerner who only finds the true meaning of his life when he loses everything in a fire. George Needham, writing in Booklist, called the work "a poignant, frequently harrowing, but ultimately hopeful novel that deserves a wide readership." With The Last Great Snake Show McLaurin mined his own work history, recounting the adventures of a traveling acting troupe while examining the way people look at identity and community. He populates the book with a wide variety of colorful characters, including a snake charmer. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that, "despite the exoticism of the snake show troupe, this examination of the old-style Southerner's place in today's America only covers familiar, well-trod ground," while Joanna M. Burkhardt, writing for Library Journal, called the book "a journey of self-discovery and enlightenment." Chicago Tribune critic Polly Paddock Gossett commented that "the writer's strong feelings about his native South shine through—in his unflattering portraits of outsiders who decry its ignorance and intolerance while living out their own, and in his loving portraits of Southerners trying to come to terms with their region's past."
McLaurin suffered from cancer in the late 1980s, and underwent a bone marrow transplant. Following that experience, he began writing nonfiction as well as fiction, one result being his 1990 memoir, Keeper of the Moon: A Southern Boyhood. The book includes stories of McLaurin's childhood in North Carolina, as well as of his early experiences as a writer and his battle with cancer. In a review of McLaurin's work for Southern Quarterly, Tara Powell observed that the memoir "runs a gripping gamut from poignant to hilarious to terrifying, often in its best passages evoking all three reactions simultaneously. The pity and terror that exist in McLaurin's portrait of the rural American South as his persona experiences it provide a sense of honesty that is at once a disarming and distressingly intimate encounter not only with the region, but also with the man himself." She went on to refer to the book as "a beginning for McLaurin's vision as an artist and as a man." A contributor to Publishers Weekly called the book "a wistful paean to a southland that has nearly vanished."
The River Less Run continues McLaurin's autobiography and uses a trip he took with his family to the Rocky Mountains as a focal point for musings on his life, marriages, bouts with alcoholism, writing, and teaching. A short afterword addresses his second cancer diagnosis, this time of the esophagus, which eventually proved to be fatal. Gosset, again writing in the Chicago Tribune, observed that "McLaurin never sinks into self-pity. It's all fodder for the real journey … McLaurin's journey deep into himself." She went on to call the book "wise and moving, brimming with fine writing and thought-provoking insights."
Another Son of Man, McLaurin's final novel, was completed just days before his death in July of 2002. It tells the story of a hermit living on an island in Alligator Lake in eastern North Carolina who simply refers to himself as "Son." In a review for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Donald Harington referred to the book as "a masterpiece," commenting that the "novel, which, like the hurricane that is its heart and prime symbol, spins at furious speed a simple but powerful tale." He concluded that "Another Son of Man is not just another Southern novel. It is a classic, and its author must have known before he died that he was writing the best possible farewell for Tim McLaurin."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 3, 2000, Don O'Briant, "Author Tim McLaurin: The Will to Live," p. M1; October 31, 2004, Donald Harington, "McLaurin Pens a Fine Farewell," review of Another Son of Man, p. L1.
Booklist, January 15, 1995, George Needham, review of Cured by Fire, p. 895; October 15, 2000, David Pitt, review of The River Less Run, p. 409.
Business North Carolina, September, 2002, Tim Gray, "Reading, Writing, Ruing," p. 5.
Chicago Tribune, September 22, 1997, Polly Paddock Gossett, "On the Road with McLaurin and His 'Snake Show,'" p. 3; October 13, 2000, Polly Paddock Gossett, "McLaurin's 'The River Less Run' Overflows with Insight," p. 3.
Library Journal, June 15, 1997, Joanna M. Burkhardt, review of The Last Great Snake Show, p. 98.
Publishers Weekly, September 13, 1991, review of Keeper of the Moon: A Southern Boyhood, p. 70; June 9, 1997, review of The Last Great Snake Show, p. 36.
Southern Quarterly, summer, 2003, Tara Powell, "What Constitutes the Life of a Man: 'The Darkness of the Familiar' in Tim McLaurin's Memoirs," p. 109.
Washington Post Book World, January 18, 1998, Thomas M. Disch, "Two Lives in Verse," review of Lola, p. 11.
Peace Corps Writers Web site, http://www.peacecorpswriters.org/ (November 12, 2004), "Tim McLaurin."
University of North Carolina Library Web site, http://www.lib.unc.edu/ (November 12, 2004), "Tim McLaurin."*