This view shows Coffee County on the left and Telfair County on the right.
This afternoon, I had the pleasure of attending a talk about the fiction of Brainard Cheney at the Glennville Public Library. During the 1980s, Stephen Whigham recognized the importance of Cheney’s works set around the Altamaha, Ocmulgee, and Ohoopee Rivers during the late 19th century and has now brought them back into print after decades of obscurity. Lightwood, River Rogue, This is Adam, and Devil’s Elbow recall the lore of the river and the river people long gone from the landscape.
Brainard Cheney was born in Fitzgerald in 1900 and moved to Lumber City by the time he was six years old. Upon the death of his father at age eight, he and his sisters were raised by their mother. He attended the Citadel during his teen years and later, at Vanderbilt was a student of John Crowe Ransom and a roommate of Robert Penn Warren. Ransom and Penn Warren were the best-known members of the Fugitives. From 1925-1942 he worked for the Nashville Banner. (Other contemporaries were Andrew Nelson Lytle, Caroline Gordon, and Allen Tate).He and his wife Frances, herself the author of a widely-used textbook of library science, converted to Catholicism in the 1950s and became close friends of Flannery O’Connor’s. From 1952-1958, Cheney was public relations director for Tennessee Governor Frank Clement. He died in 1990 at the age of 89.
If you’re interested in the history of these rivers or the folklife of the region, I think you’d enjoy these reprints, and Stephen Whigham’s accompanying work, The Lightwood Chronicles: Being the True Story of Brainard Cheney’s Novel Lightwood. I really can’t say enough good things about how lucky we are to have renewed access to these works and the dedication of someone who believes in the literature of his region. It’s not just fiction, it’s the culture of a people nearly as gone as the Creek and the Cherokee…