I had sent the issue to my mom to add to her collection of GWTW trivia.
When I ran across it recently, it had made its way from Mama’s stuff to — of all places — my Mary Hood file. In fact, it was open to a page with the headline “A Word on Words” by Mary Hood, and there was Mary smiling at me. At that time, folks around these parts referred to her as Woodstock author Mary Hood.
But in a bigger literary circle, even national, she was Georgia author Mary Hood, and we were so proud to claim her. In 1988 she had won the coveted Townsend Prize for Fiction (in Georgia) for her short story collection “And Venus is Blue,” topping such competitors as Ferrol Sams, Anne Rivers Siddons, Pat Conroy and Canton’s David Bottoms.
Before that, in 1983, “How Far She Went” won for her the UGA Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, followed by LSU’s Southern Review Short Fiction Award in 1984.
Her novel, “Familiar Heat,” was published in 1995, and she proved in this work that her talents were not limited to the short story genre. The title she chose is a term found in Virgil’s “Aeneid” and refers to the heat that all of nature feels.
The story is set on the Florida coast and its characters are diverse … white, black, Cuban, priests, charter boat captains, baseball stars, the aged and the young.
In a column from that time, I wrote, “As I read, I was reminded of inchworms. You’ve watched how they extend their heads toward their destination, then pull the rest of their body to catch up, then extend again, then catch up. The story progresses like that; it inches along, pulling up memories and situations and past loves and past hates, weaving it all together until it’s time to extend again. And when it slows to rest, the reader sighs with relief that all’s well, that the heroine will be all right, that life is not futile, that love conquers all.”
One AJC reviewer, Cathy High, made the observation that Hood’s characters “have been given verbal flesh; they are real and dear.”
After the success of her novel (Paul Newman even picked up the movie rights) she was selected to hold the Grisham Chair in Fiction for 1996 at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, teaching writing there for a semester. Back here in Woodstock we missed her, but her letters and notes from there are evidence of the excitement she felt in being there.
Later Mary moved away, but we kept in touch. My file is filled with print-outs of emails, notes, newspaper and magazine articles over the years, and even a couple of notes from her mother, Katherine, who had been “Mrs. Hood” in our household, having had our daughter Sarah as a Latin student at Cherokee High in the 1970s.
No doubt, Mrs. Hood influenced Mary in many ways, not the least of which might be her own love of our language and her ready wit and wisdom. Latin teachers are unique specimens of mankind, an endangered species treasured by language lovers. Mrs. Hood aptly fit that description.
It’s been a while since we saw Mary in print or in person. When I gently suggested that it would be nice to have the author come to Woodstock for a visit since the Woodstock Bookworms have chosen to read “Familiar Heat” this month, in all her kindness, Mary said she would be delighted.
The icing on the cake is that her visit will be to FoxTale Book Shoppe so that all of her old friends, and the new friends that she has never met, can be together to meet and greet and listen.
The date is Thursday, April 11, at 6:30 p.m. For those of you who have never heard of Mary Hood, and for those who haven’t met her and those who have, and for those who have never been to FoxTale (really?!), here is your chance.
There will be copies of her books, and she will have her pen handy. Here’s hoping we’ll hear more from her about more recent work she has done.
And here’s a heads-up. In October her work will be featured in “Mary Hood and the Southern Canon: a Conference” at the University of North Georgia.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.