The Kaye Gibbons Archive

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Comments: Welcoming Kaye Gibbons

by
Robert B. Patterson, 

Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of History, 
and President, Thomas Cooper Society

 

On April 24, 2007, when Thomas Cooper Library's acquisition of her literary papers was announced, Kaye Gibbons spoke at the Thomas Cooper Society's annual dinner.  Professor Patterson's comments below introduced her on that occasion. 

Kaye Kaye Gibbons is not the first to use the Carolinas and its environs for story-telling, but through some nine books, from the smash hit ELLEN FOSTER to THE LIFE ALL AROUND ME BY ELLEN FOSTER, she has established herself as one of its most accomplished raconteurs -- having discovered, in her words, `the voice of ordinary men and women as a pure form of art and force of nature.' 
       No recounting of Kaye Gibbons' major achievements is possible in the time allotted to me, even at the speed of a tobacco auctioneer, but I will at least provide you with illustrative samples, some of which may improve on what you already know: ELLEN FOSTER hailed in London as one the twentieth century's twenty greatest novels; the Legion d'Honneur from the French government: CHARMS FOR THE EASY LIFE, a New York Times best-seller, and both CHARMS and ELLEN FOSTER adapted as films; ELLEN FOSTER and A VIRTUOUS WOMAN Oprah Book Club selections; membership in the Fellowship of Southern Writers; prizes from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters; a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to write A CURE FOR DREAMS; a Special Citation from the Ernest Hemingway Foundation; and the distinct honor having her work included in the reading lists of high schools and colleges.
      Kaye Gibbons' readers cannot help but become engaged with her stories, irresistible -- even inspirational-- tales featuring casts of highly revelatory characters, perhaps typically, strong females of varying ages and types, enhanced by her highly expressive, well-honed and simple style.  When you read Ellen Foster's letter to the president of Harvard seeking admission you may not be able to isolate the exact reasons for your attraction, but you know that you are hooked for the rest of THE LIFE ALL AROUND ME BY ELLEN FOSTER.  Through the thoughts of her characters and third-person observations Gibbons may prick our social consciences: in ELLEN FOSTER, Ellen's emerging awareness of the dignity and stability of her friend Starletta's black family in contrast to her own white one comes to mind--; Kaye also can dispense homespun psychology, philosophy and theology: speaking of her parents' twists and turns to death and the thereafter a very young Ellen Foster muses `They finally gave into the motion and let the wind take them from here to there'; or Gibbons can just make us laugh.  In CHARMS FOR THE EASY LIFE Margaret's grandmother concocts a reply to a Dear John letter received by a blind, wounded sailor in the form of a `grand curse': `Dear Arlene ... you will see me everywhere you wander.  And wander you will, from dolt to dimwit until you find the one of your dreams....  May your children inherit your husband's scoliosis, clubfeet, recessed testicles, or whatever has kept him out of the fighting.'
       Not the least of Kaye Gibbons' attributes is her skill as a speaker which we will shortly be able to enjoy. But first, I am happy to announce for the benefit of those who may not already know that the Thomas Cooper Library has acquired, in part through the generous gifts from our speaker, the Kaye Gibbons Archive. This collection includes such items as books, page proofs, manuscripts, various notes, diskettes, correspondence, and reviews -- obviously a most significant addition to the Library's holdings of contemporary authors.
       For this and for all of the above The Thomas Cooper Society is delighted and proud to welcome Kaye Gibbons.  

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