I have cited Barry Hannah as one of my favorite writers since I read his novel Geronimo Rex during my last summer in Bellingham, WA. He passed away this past March.
I bought the novel with graduation money and it was an integral part of my golden summer of gardening, friendship, and deep conversion from casual maker-of-things to desperate maker-of-things. He was emphatically recommended to me by my friend Elizabeth who was reading his The Tennis Handsome, which still might be the coolest title of any piece of creative work I've heard of to date. Elizabeth was on summer vacation from her MFA at Oxford College in Mississippi where Hannah was her adviser.
It was such a rush to know that the author of the words which were flooring me so much was only one person away. All the time I kept thinking, "I have to have Elizabeth tell Barry Hannah ... for me." His words connected with my imagination and feelings in the same way Marquez and Bulgakov's had. And while Marquez' heart continues to beat to this day, these authors aren't human beings to me. They're from some place where normal humans are forbidden, and first-rate sentences are strung together reconciling the shortcomings of existence with the inexhaustible joy of breathing. Meanwhile, my friend Elizabeth spoke of him as Barry, and made fun of his habits and speech patterns.
Later in the summer, to my complete bewilderment, my aunt Carol casually and coolly told me she and Barry (if you could hear my aunt's Southern drawl, you'd understand why I just italicized Barry. It's a marvel.) used to share an office at the University of Arkansas in the 1960s when they were getting their MFAs. She told me stories of how he'd hole himself in their office all hours of the night writing on the school's typewriters.
Even though I've always surrounded myself with active and creative best friends, it never occurred to me that people (with a lower-case P) make art. To all of a sudden be confronted with these personal anecdotes of interactions with a Person who wrote beautiful things was unravelling. It wasn't like celebrity name-dropping where people say, "Oh, I totally partied with RUN DMC last night at Social Club in Paris," which enforces mythology. No, they were talking about Barry like I'd talk about Adi or Martin.
Just a guy with a heartbeat, typing through the night, saying hi to my mom's sister Carol when she came in for the morning. Not too big of a deal, only making stuff.
I liked it. It made me feel like anyone could do anything if they tried their hardest.
I would have liked to have met him.
Here's a passage from Geronimo Rex that I find especially wonderful. In fact, I think it's close to perfect:
"When did you get married?"
"About at the first of last summer, out at the Alamo Plaza Motel Courts, which we've been to again several times. The ceremony went like this: I woke up with my hand on her nipple. She left the bed and went to the television and then got back in bed. She replaced my palm on her nipple, and on the television came a gospel show, the Blackwood Brothers, because it was Sunday morning. These boys were singing in earnest, the bass man with his mustache, the slick skinny man singing high, the blind man with sunglasses on piano. So holy, you know; they'd never made a cent out of doing this. 'I take this man,' she said, lifting up the sheets, 'while these men look on and sing.' Then she kicked the sheets back and raised her toes to the ceiling, and I enjoyed her, while she hummed with the quartet on TV with her eyes closed. I happened to be on my knees holding onto her ankles above me. It was the condition of being in an ascending chariot. I cherished the music I heard behind me and the music under me. Everyone agreeing, everyone celebrating."