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Reynolds Price: Novelist, Poet, Essayist--Great Southern Writer


Getting to Know the Life and Works of Writer Reynolds Price.

I first saw Reynolds Price in the early 1980's at a writers conference. He was tall and handsome and lithe. I thought he was one of those beautiful, talented people--doubly blessed.

When I saw him next, just a few years later, he was in a wheel chair and did not look much like the young man I had previously seen. During the intervening years he had suffered a catastrophic illness that had dramatically altered his life. The story of his illness and his talent as a writer drew me to his works over the years, and, like many others, I was saddened by his death in January 2011 at the age of seventy-seven.

A Whole New Life for Reynolds Price

That Reynolds Price had lived to the age of seventy-seven was in itself remarkable. He had survived a near fatal bout with a malignant spinal tumor which left him a paraplegic for the last twenty-five years of his life. He writes of this illness and his life after the illness in his memoir A Whole New Life. It's a remarkable story. "The fact that my legs were subsequently paralyzed by 25 X-ray treatments ... was a mere complexity in the ongoing narrative which God intended me to make of my life," he said.

This illness did not seem to slow his literary career, however. He went on to publish another twenty-six books before his death, a little better than one a year. Before this illness he had been productive, publishing a book every couple of years. But after the illness his productivity increased despite the illness and its accompanying pain. In doing research for this article, I am reminded of the number of Price's books I still have to read, giving more meaning to the adage, “So many books, so little time.” In Price's case, there really are “so many books”.

Reynolds Very Productive Life After Surviving Cancer

Price first came on the literary scene in 1962 with the publication of his first novel, A Long and Happy Life. It won him immediate acclaim, including the William Faulkner Award for a best first novel. It also brought him the inevitable comparison to William Faulkner, a comparison he disliked but eventually accepted. Eudora Welty, who was one of his champions early on, said of this novel, "Reynolds Price is the most impressive new writer I've come across in a long time. His is a first-rate talent and we are lucky that he has started so young to write so well. Here is a fine novel."

In addition to being a prolific novelist, Price also published several books of poems, essays, translations of the Bible, and three volumes of memoirs. His book, Feasting The Heart (2000), is a collection of controversial and personal essays, originally broadcast on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. He even wrote the lyrics to two James Taylor songs, Copperline and New Hymn.

Except for the three years he spent at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, Price was a lifelong resident of North Carolina. He was educated at Duke University and after his stay in London returned to Duke to teach for 52 years until his death in 2011, becoming a legendary professor. A few of his students, like Josephine Humphreys and Anne Tyler would go on to become well-known, talented writers also.

Reynolds Price as an "unothodox, nonchurchgoing" Christian

His Christian faith was an important part of Price's' life, as evidenced in many of his writings, including his memoir A Whole New Life, his translations of the Gospels, and Letter to a Godchild: Concerning Faith. He called himself an “outlaw” Christian. In his obituary, the New York Times called him an unorthodox, nonchurchgoing Christian”.

Reynolds Price, The Teacher

Reynold Price's Last Book Before His Death

His final book, Ardent Spirits: Leaving Home, Coming Back, was published in 2009. The book discusses his leaving home to study at Oxford and return to North Carolina to begin his teaching career at Duke University. In this book he discusses for the first time his homosexuality, though he always preferred to call himself “queer'” and not gay or homosexual. “A 'queer' friend once said,” he writes, “Please don't call me gay. If you need an adjective, call me morose." He discusses this book, his homosexuality and prior reluctance to discuss this matter in a wonderful interview with his friend Charlie Rose in 2009. See the interview at

You can read an excerpt from ardent spirits at

When an event was held after his death in a chapel at Duke University to celebrate his life, the event was called “A Long and Happy Life”. At another event at Duke three years earlier to celebrate his 50 years of teaching there, Price was overheard to say, "What a good time I've had. You've never met someone who has enjoyed life as much as I have."

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Jo Miller


Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on June 27, 2019:

Hi, Scott. Thanks for dropping by. Glad you are interested in checking out Reynolds Price. I think as an introduction his autobiographical A Whole New Life would be a great place to start, but there are many to choose from. He had a long career and was always very prolific.

promisem on June 14, 2019:

I find myself lately looking for serious American writers to discover, and Price sounds like one of them.

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The increase in his productivity after his illness made me wonder if he recognized he had limited time left on earth, so he tried to make the most of it.

Do you have a favorite book of his that you have read so far?

Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on August 06, 2017:

Glenis, Hope you enjoy the book. He was a fascinating person.

Glen Rix from UK on May 06, 2017:

Thanks for this introduction to the works of Reynolds Price. I intend to read his autobiographical work that covers his time in Oxford, palace I have visited many times - my sister used to live there.

Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on May 27, 2014:

Mel, Hope you get to read some of his novels. His autobiographies are very interesting also. He's a great Southern novelist.

Thanks for stopping by and reading and for the follow. I will be checking out your work. Have a great day.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on May 26, 2014:

I have never heard of Reynolds Price but I am going to have to look for one of his novels now. Perhaps he wrote so much after his illness because writing can serve as sort of a catharsis for a lot of things. When I'm writing I tend to forget all of my woes, which is part of why I enjoy it. Great hub!

Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on March 23, 2012:

Paul, I hope you enjoy reading Mr. Price. He's still on my reading list. I'm really looking forward to reading Ardent Spirits because his other memoirs were excellent.

Jo Miller (author) from Tennessee on March 23, 2012:

ytsenoh, Thanks for reading and commenting. I didn't know Price wrote those lyrics either until I began researching this piece, though I'm a long time fan of both Price and Taylor.

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on March 22, 2012:

An excellent account of Reynolds Price. I must add him to my reading list.

Cathy from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri on March 22, 2012:

Thank you for this piece because I've learned something. I did not know he wrote James Taylor's song, "Copperline," which used to be a favorite of mine. You have good information here to help memorialize a writer's life.

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