Go to New York State Writers Institute
Bobbie Ann Mason
Bobbie Ann
January 22, 2003

8:00 p.m. Reading
Recital Hall
Performing Arts Center

UAlbany, Uptown Campus

Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail

Elvis Presley

Bobbie Ann Mason, a major figure in the literature of the American South, is the author most recently of Elvis Presley (January 2003), a new biography in the Penguin Lives series of short biographies. Mason saw the book as a perfect opportunity to pursue her lifelong interest in Southern and popular culture.

"her face lights up with an almost girlish animation when talking about Elvis" - Orlando Sentinel

One of the things that Mason enjoyed most about writing the book was the chance she got to live for two weeks in the house that Elvis bought for his parents in Memphis in 1956, the year be became famous. The owners of the house had decorated it to look exactly as it did when the 21-year-old star lived in it. Born and raised in Kentucky, Mason feels she relates well to Elvis, a fellow Southerner. "He was one of us," she says, "a country person who spoke our language."

Bobbie Ann Mason, NYS Writers Institute, 1/22/03; credit:  Judy Axenson

Bobbie Ann Mason's award-winning novels, and short stories typically present the lives of working class people and farmers in western Kentucky. Her first novel, In Country (1985) explored the impact of the Vietnam War on a rural Kentucky family.

[Mason] "displays an ear perfectly turned to dialogue, an eye that catches every telling detail and quirky mannerism. Tiny, seemingly insignificant observations and revelations accumulate almost unnoticed until something trips them, turning them into literary grenades explosive with meaning." - Christian Science Monitor

In Country was made into a 1989 movie directed by Norman Jewison and starring Bruce Willis and Joan Allen.

Mason's most recent work of fiction, Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail (2001), is a short story collection that catches the restless energy of life in contemporary America. Her characters are travelers and seekers who feel their way toward, or away from, defining moments of their lives. They travel to England, Alaska, Texas, Saudi Arabia, and back home to Kentucky, ceaselessly searching, exploring and testing themselves.

"a shimmering collection [that] brings to life a winning cast of men and women who forge on, even though their quest for home has compromised their dreams." - Atlanta Journal - Constitution

Mason's memoir, Clear Springs: A Family Story (1999), was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. The book examines her ambivalent relationship to her country roots with wit and insight. The New York Times Book Review says that Mason "uses this memoir of growing up in the 1950s to provide a tantalizing glimpse into the origins of her fiction." Publishers Weekly calls it "a living embrace" of her Kentucky heritage and "a richly textured portrait of a rapidly disappearing way of life."

Mason's early short story collection Shiloh and Other Stories (1982) established her reputation as a writer. The book received nominations for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the American Book Award, the PEN-Faulkner Award for fiction, and the Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award. Writing in The New Republic, Anne Tyler hailed Mason as "a full-fledged master of the short story."

Mason has twice received the Southern Book Award, once for Feather Crowns (1993) a novel, and this year for the story collection, Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail. Her short fiction has appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and Harper's. She earned a B.A. from the University of Kentucky, an M.A. degree from SUNY Binghamton, and Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut. Mason is currently writer-in-residence at the University of Kentucky.

"I love the way Bobbie Ann Mason writes, the way she brings her people to life in so few words. I've been a fan since Shiloh." - Elmore Leonard

"Stuns with its effortless craft and lingering grace. . .Mason's stories are masterful in their quiet simplicity." - The Denver Post

"Mason's great skill is in creating fully realized lives in the space of a few pages." - The Miami Herald

Feather CrownsClear SpringsClear SpringsZigzagging Down a Wild TrailMidnight MagicIn Country