Ellen Douglas

Douglas, Ellen Dies at 91 - Author of Twelve Books, Winner of Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship, Twice Listed Among the Top Five Fiction Writers of the Year by the New York Times. Ellen Douglas, acclaimed author of fiction and nonfiction, died, November 7, 2012, after a long illness, in her home in Jackson, Mississippi, where she has lived since the 1980s. She was born, Josephine Ayres in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1921, and grew up in Alexandria, Louisiana, before attending Ole Miss, where she met her husband, the late Kenneth Haxton. After he finished serving in the Navy in World War II, they settled in his hometown of Greenville, Mississippi, where they raised their three sons, Richard, Ayres, and Brooks, in a house full of books, music, and passionate devotion to the arts. In the early 1960s when her first novel, A Family's Affairs, was awarded the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship and her first novella appeared in The New Yorker Magazine, she began to use the pen name Ellen Douglas. Her first two books were listed among the five best works of fiction for the year by the New York Times Book Review, and her third book was a finalist for the National Book Award. In six novels, a book of short fiction, and four books of nonfiction, she was an unusually candid and perceptive observer of the kinds of characters and social relationships formed, for better or worse, in a world inflected by Southern traditions of gender and race. The art of the fiction and nonfiction, in her hands, was the art of telling a good story, and the best stories she could tell involved the most pressing and difficult problems in the world where she spent her life, in places like Natchez and Greenville. Critics were virtually unanimous in their high praise of her accomplishment, and, among many honors, she was awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards by the Fellowship of Southern Writers and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. She taught in the writing programs at Ole Miss, the University of Iowa, and elsewhere. In her private life, she was a loving mother, wife, and friend, who enjoyed good company and good food, and who appreciated the accomplishments of people in every human pursuit. She also liked to fish for bream, swim, and pick chanterelles. She is survived by two siblings, Richardson Ayres and Archer Postlethwaite, her three sons, seven grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.

Published in Chicago Sun-Times on Nov. 10, 2012