Society

Professor praises Rockdale scribe Perry

By KEN ESTEN COOKE Reporter Publisher

University of Houston history professor Garna Christian talked with George Sessions Perry enthusiasts at the city library on Thursday. University of Houston history professor Garna Christian talked with George Sessions Perry enthusiasts at the city library on Thursday. History professor Garna Christian said Thursday he has only two regrets after publishing his book, "George Sessions Perry: The Man and His Words."

One was not ever meeting Perry, though his family and the Perry family crossed paths when Christian was younger. The other was not getting the inspiration to write the book while Perry's widow Claire was still alive. He said she would have made a great interview.

Still, Christian's book will do a lot to shine a light on Rockdale's most well known scribe. Perry, a 1943 National Book Award Winner for "Hold Autumn in Your Hand," remains obscure by best-seller standards, but he is highly regarded by critics and teachers of literature.

"There was so little written about him, so I decided to do a book," he said. "After I read all his works and letters, I had the highest regard for him."

Christian spent a lot of time camped out at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, going through Perry's papers which Claire had donated. Among the treasures are eight unpublished novels, which the self-effacing Perry joked were "unpublishable."

At left, he visited with former Rockdale teacher Mark Brady, who was instrumental in getting a historical marker dedicated in honor Perry and placed at the library. Reporter/Ken Esten Cooke At left, he visited with former Rockdale teacher Mark Brady, who was instrumental in getting a historical marker dedicated in honor Perry and placed at the library. Reporter/Ken Esten Cooke Sympathetic character

Christian said there is a lot of Perry in his fictional characters, along with his wife, who typed and edited all his pages.

"He wrote sympathetically about African- Americans in that day's segregated south," Christian said. "He was skeptical of the southern government ever giving equal rights and wrote that the dominant Democrat party needed a serious challenger in order to change things."

Perr y, know n mostly for his af fable, country characters, also wrote rarely seen essays on politics, foreign relations and even economics.

He was very modest — one colleague said he was the only writer who wouldn't accept a compliment — deflecting praise with a witticism. But Christian said he could get angry when his work was challenged.

Like most authors, he had trouble getting published at first, but wrote to one editor that his "fingers itched for your throat" after he had "bled the life out of my story."

'De-fictionalized' Christian said some of Perry's writings and letters showed him as "strongly anti-fascist" but he was also a pacificist. Like so many Americans, World War II affected him negatively. Unable to enlist, he served with the troops as a war correspondent, essentially following them out onto the battlefields, but without a weapon.

When fans inquired why he no longer wrote fiction, choosing shorter magazine articles for the Saturday Evening Post, he told them, "The war de-fictionalized me."

Even though at one time he was considered the highest-paid writer in the country, Christian said Perry struggled with feelings of inadequacy, "thinking of himself as a quitter or a slacker," Christian said.

Those feelings likely reached back into his childhood. His mother had committed suicide.

Perry's own life was cut short when he disappeared into a Connecticut river.

"All through the 1950s he deals with spinal arthritis. He was in terrible pain the rest of his life," Christian said.

Self-medication through drinking only exacerbated the situation, and led to his likely suicide.

Christian also asked how a writer could top "Hold Autumn in Your Hand," a national best-seller adapted into a movie, "The Southerner."

Signed copies of the book are available for purchase at the city library.


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