City has ties to famed novelists

Published 1:45 pm Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I received an interesting brochure through the mail today, reminding me of the upcoming Alabama Writers Symposium in Monroeville on April 29-May 1. While Monroeville will always be known as the “Literary Capital” of Alabama, I started thinking about what connection – if any – that Greenville has with a southern literary tradition. I discovered some pretty interesting things, some of which you might already know, so if it’s not news to you, I apologize. But for myself, it was pretty neat to discover.

Native Peggy Vonsherie Allen’s recently released The Pecan Orchard relates the trials of her sharecropping family growing up in Alabama. Sharecropping – where a tenant farms the land and the landowner receives a percentage of the crop – was prominent throughout the south following the Civil War, especially for black farmers. But at least two sharecropping families in Butler County gave birth to a pair of the nation’s most famous writers.

Margaret Walker’s 1966 landmark novel Jubilee traces the story of her great-grandmother, Vyry, who settled in Greenville after the Civil War.

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Walker visited Greenville in 1953 to research her family here where she received a chest, belonging to Vyry, from her grandmother’s youngest sister. Walker, in an interview, stated that most of her great-grandmother’s belongings were sold over both “Methodist Hill and Baptist Hill.” She received a call from a Greenville woman in the late 80s, who brought her great-grandmother’s marriage license and will to her in Jackson.

Another famous author with ties to Greenville is Chloe Ardelia Wofford. Who is that you ask? You may know her as Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize winner and author of The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon and Beloved. Morrison was born in Ohio, but her mother’s parents, Ardelia and John Solomon Willis, left Greenville in 1910 after losing their farm because they couldn’t pay the debt.

Just additional proof that the planet Earth is really a small world after all.