English professor recognized for Southern fiction
Books fill every inch of the floor-to-ceiling shelves in her office. She is sitting in a cherry wood chair, reading one of her favorite books, Edward P. Jones’s All Aunt Hagar’s Children. LSU English professor Moira Crone looks up from the pages, her eyes wide. “He’s won a Pulitzer,” she said. “He’ll be at the conference.”
Crone and Jones, along with at least 30 other distinguished writers, will travel to the Arts & Education Council’s Conference on Southern Literature in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on April 2. The Fellowship of Southern Writers will present the 2009 Robert Penn Warren Award for Fiction to Crone during the conference, recognizing her body of work.
Crone is excited to attend the conference for the first time. There, she will give a reading from What Gets Into Us, and speak to a high school class.
“When I found out about the award, I was in utter surprise,” she said. “There is nothing more unexpected. It really is a dream come true.”
Crone is no stranger to the fiction world. Her stories have been published in several journals and magazines, including the Southern Review, New Yorker, Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, North American Review, Gettysburg Review, Mademoiselle, New Orleans Review, Habitus, Missouri Review, Triquarterly, and Ploughshares.
Her other publications include, A Period of Confinement, a novel; The Winnebago Mysteries and Other Stories, a collection of short stories; Dream State, eight stories set in Louisiana; and What Gets Into Us, her most recent collection set in North Carolina.
Crone was raised in Goldsboro, North Carolina, a town with a population of fewer than 40,000 in the eastern part of the state. She is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Smith College, and currently resides in New Orleans. Crone is influenced by landscape, and it is evident in her writing. The images from the many places she has lived are apparent in her descriptive work.
“How a landscape feels and looks can create a mood,” she said. “It can be very emotional.”
Discussing What Gets Into Us, Crone said the stories are based on things that happened in her childhood.
“I brought the people in my life up to date,” she said. “I go back to North Carolina two or three times a year to visit my sister and my parents. I guess those stories are from the things I’ve wanted to write about my whole life.”
Crone remembers vivid details about growing up in North Carolina. She can recall the habits of her neighbors, the general feel of her town, and even the stories from the “village crazy”—a brilliant man who fell in love with intellectuals on game shows.
“In North Carolina, everything had a boundary,” she said. “Maybe that’s usual of a small town, but there were lower ceilings. Everyone kept tabs on everyone, and you weren’t supposed to show your wealth; people didn’t even buy art.”
For Crone, the main difference between North Carolina and South Louisiana is acceptance.
“There is an acceptance of exaggeration of things that are off the scale here,” she said. “The trees, the rooms; they’re all huge. It’s a tolerance of breadth of emotion in the way people relate and interact.”
After teaching at Johns Hopkins University and Goucher College, Crone joined the LSU faculty in 1981 as an instructor and has taught English composition, fiction, and creative writing.
All of Crone’s stories in Dream State take place in the Deep South, including the title story set in St. Sebastianville. The story is told through a real estate agent, Beryl, who must help a movie star find a plantation home. This star returned to Louisiana after a scandal in Hollywood.
The collection of stories won the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Award, solidifying Crone’s talent for putting her vivid imagination on paper.
Mornings at Crone’s house in New Orleans begin with writing, before all else. She might have coffee, but skips the newspaper; for nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina, the Times-Picayune featured so much news about the aftermath that Crone said it would take her hours to get through it.
“I just work and start the writing,” she said. “That is when the creative juices are flowing, and you’re closer to your dreaming self.”
A notebook holds recent scenes or conversations Crone has experienced. She said she does research before writing hundreds of drafts in order to get all of the items in a story arranged the way she wants.
Her writing process obviously works; Crone has received several awards including the William Faulkner–William Wisdom Award for novella, the LSU Tiger Athletic Foundation Undergraduate Teaching Award, and the EGSA Outstanding Graduate Professor Award. Her stories have been selected for the “Year’s Best” by the anthology New Stories from the South five times and in “Best,” the 30th anniversary edition of the Ohio Review.
She received an individual artist grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College at Harvard, and an ATLAS grant from the state of Louisiana. Crone’s current work—writing stories set in post-Katrina New Orleans—is funded by a Departmental Excellence through Faculty Excellence grant.
Of all the honors and awards she has received, Crone said the recent Robert Penn Warren Award for fiction tops the list. The award is given out once every two years by the Fellowship of Southern Writers and represents significant work by Southern authors. Previous recipients of the award are Dorothy Allison, 2007; Donald Harington, 2003; Mary Hood, 2001; Barry Hannah, 1999; Allen Wier, 1997; Madison Smartt Bell, 1995; Cormac McCarthy, 1993; and Lee Smith, 1991. The Fellowship of Southern Writers was created in 1987 as a non-for-profit organization with a mission to encourage and recognize literature in the South.
“I’m really proud and happy,” Crone said. “Because I mostly write short stories, I don’t have a big audience. The award is presented from people who do the same thing as me and that’s an honor; it’s given me faith.”
Holly A. Phillips | Writer | Office of Communications & University Relations