Cover image for Shelby Foote : a writer's life
Shelby Foote : a writer's life
Chapman, C. Stuart.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, [2003]

Physical Description:
xxi, 317 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Format :


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Material Type
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PS3511.O348 Z625 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3511.O348 Z625 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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For a biographer Shelby Foote is a famously reluctant subject. In writing this biography, however, C. Stuart Chapman gained valuable access through interviews and shared correspondence, an advantage Foote rarely has granted to others.

Born into Mississippi Delta gentry in 1916, Foote has engaged in a lifelong struggle with the realities behind his persona, the classic image of the southern gentleman. His polished civil graces mask a conflict deep within. Foote's beloved South is a changing region, and even progressive change, of which Foote approves, can be unsettling. In letters and interviews, and in his writings, he often waxes nostalgic as he grapples to recover the grace of an earlier time, particularly the era of the Civil War. Indeed, Chapman reveals that the whole of Foote's novels and historical narratives serves as a refuge from deeply ambiguous feelings. As Foote has struggled to understand the radical shifts brought to his native land by modernization and the region's integration into the nation, his personal history has been clouded by ideological conflict.

This biography shows him pining for aristocratic, antebellum culture while rejecting the practices that made possible the injustices of that era. Privately and vehemently, Foote opposed George C. Wallace's and Ross Barnett's untenable segregationist stance. Yet publicly during the 1960s and '70s he skirted the explosive race issue.

Foote is best known for his dazzling and definitive The Civil War: A Narrative . Written from 1954 to 1974, the three-volume opus was published during years when the South exploded with racial and political tensions and was forever changed. This biography recognizes that nowhere are Foote's personal conflicts, ambivalence, and outright contradictions more on display than in his fiction. Although Love in a Dry Season , Jordan County , and September, September are set in the contemporary South, they reach no firm social resolutions. Instead they entertain, dramatize, and come to grips with the social, gender, and racial barriers of the southern life he experienced.

While showing how Foote's guarded embrace of the South's past and present characterizes his identity as a thinker, a historian, and a writer of fiction, Chapman discloses Foote's reluctance to address burning contemporary issues and his veiled desire to recall more gracious times.

C. Stuart Chapman is a Massachusetts State House aide living in Jamaica Plain. His work has been published in the Clarksdale Press-Register , Memphis Business Journal , the Memphis Commercial Appeal , Jamaica Plain Gazette , Modern Fiction Studies , and other publications.

Author Notes

C. Stuart Chapman, press secretary for Congresswoman Barbara Lee, lives in Washington, D.C. His work has been published in the Clarksdale Press-Register, Memphis Business Journal, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Jamaica Plain Gazette, Modern Fiction Studies, and other publications

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Shelby Foote (b. 1916) was first thrust into the limelight as the enchanting Southern gentleman historian retelling the history of the Civil War in Ken Burns's PBS series. As Massachusetts State House aide Chapman reminds us in this elegant biography, such fame eluded Foote during most of his life. He draws on interviews with Foote and letters between Foote and numerous correspondents, including novelist Walker Percy. Using this access, Chapman chronicles Foote's life from his birth into a family of Mississippi Delta gentry to his days as the cocksure editor of a lauded high school paper and his failed college career at the University of North Carolina. At the time, Foote considered himself primarily a novelist, and Chapman captures the writer's elation over the success of his first two novels, Shiloh and Follow Me Down. He follows Foote through a period of struggle and then narrates the 20 years during which Foote sequestered himself to write his greatest success, The Civil War: A Narrative. Chapman persuasively points out that although Foote opposed the segregationist policies of George Wallace and others, he preferred to lose himself in the past as he wrote the Civil War trilogy. Given its unrestricted access to the author and his papers, as well as its evenhanded insight, this is bound to become the definitive biography. For all libraries.-Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. IX
Author's Notep. XI
Introductionp. XIII
1. Rootsp. 3
2. Beginnings, 1916-1935p. 21
3. College Days, 1935-1937p. 50
4. Writing and Fighting, 1937-1945p. 70
5. First Successes, 1945-1951p. 94
6. First Failures: "Two Gates to the City" and Jordan County, 1952-1954p. 139
7. The Civil War, Volume I, 1954-1958p. 157
8. The Civil War, Volume II, 1958-1963p. 179
9. The Civil War, Volume III, 1963-1974p. 195
10. After the Deluge: September September, 1975-1978p. 221
11. Turning Home, 1978-1990p. 238
12. A Star Is Born, 1990-p. 257
Afterwordp. 270
Notesp. 272
Indexp. 309