Thursday, October 4, 2012

John Shelton Reed's "Dixie Bohemia"

John Shelton Reed is William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor Emeritus of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a co-founder of the Center for the Study of the American South and the quarterly Southern Cultures. He has written or edited 19 books, most of them about the American South, and was recently Chancellor of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Dixie Bohemia: A French Quarter Circle in the 1920s, and reported the following:
My book, Dixie Bohemia, uses another book as its starting point. In 1926 the young William Faulkner and his apartment-mate in the French Quarter of New Orleans, an artist named William Spratling, self-published a collection of Spratling’s drawings of 40-odd members of their circle, with an introduction by Faulkner in the style of their neighbor, the distinguished novelist Sherwood Anderson. Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles (the title is a complicated and not very funny joke) serves as an introduction to the world that this circle of writers, artists, poseurs, and hangers-on created, a brief moment in the Quarter’s evolution from slum to tourist trap when it was a sort of Deep South, vest-pocket Greenwich Village.

Roughly the last half of my book comprises biographical sketches of the individual “Famous Creoles,” who range from the president of Tulane to one of the university’s cheerleaders, a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer who was also a prize-winning architecture student. As it happens, page 99 is the first page of this second half, and it begins with a discussion of whom Faulkner and Spratling chose to include and why they passed over some likely candidates. For instance: “Being dead . . . seems to have been an implicit disqualification. Basil Thompson, the Byronesque figure generally agreed to have been the life of the Double Dealer [a “little magazine” of the time], would have been a fine addition, had he not essentially drunk himself to death two years earlier. The tobacco millionaire, philanthropist, and pioneer preservationist William Ratcliffe Irby would also have been a likely candidate, except that the month before the book appeared he visited an undertaker, made arrangements for his funeral, picked out his casket, lay down in it, and put a bullet through his head.”

The last two sentences on the page: “Fortunately, if the point is to talk about the kinds of people in the circle rather than particular individuals, the omissions are less troublesome than they might be, because nearly all of the plausible candidates for Famous Creole status are represented in the book by someone similar.”
Learn more about Dixie Bohemia at the Louisiana State University Press website and John Shelton Reed's website.

--Marshal Zeringue