Saturday, February 19, 2011

Book Report: Biography on Byron Herbert Reece, Mountain Singer

This is a book report on the book MOUNTAIN SINGER, subtitled The Life and Legacy of Byron Herbert Reece, by Raymond A. Cook; published by Cherokee Publishing Company, Atlanta, Georgia, 1980.

First of all, I like to call my book reviews “book reports” to help make up for the times in school I falsely gave a book report on a book that I didn’t read. I either read the Classic Comicbook with that titled or kind read what others said about the books in reviews and things – that was before Google, can you imagine the hell I went through?*

(* I remember I made up a book in my mind about an invisible man that didn’t want to be invisible but no one seem to notice him – I thought up things as I spoke with the teacher, Mrs. Skelton, sitting back with a knowing smirk on her face. She gave me an A!)

Second of all, I would like to mention that Byron Herbert Reece is family. We are 4th cousins. We are both descended from John Hunter. He is my claim to fame.
Now, on with the report:

Byron Herbert Reece was born in Union County, Georgia, September 14, 1917, and took his own life June 3, 1958.

Byron was very much aware of his need to help his parents on the farm they operated. He worked 10 to 20 hours a day with very little pay. The income of the farm mostly helped his sickly parents with doctor bills and medicine.

He squeezed in a education in segments over the years at nearby Young Harris College.

He wrote poetry at night and developed himself into one of the best poets of his time. He sent his poems to magazines that published poetry. The magazines he chose had a fine literary reputation but paid very little. He couldn’t quit his day job.

Having published poetry that became famous he was asked more and more to speak at literary functions. He went and spoke for a while but found they were counter-productive. His farm work waiting on him, along with more, and his speeches paid little in money and a lot in appreciation.

He also found that a lot of times the groups he spoke to knew little about poetry or any thing of that sort; they were just being pretentious, which he came to resent.

Byron was even asked to speak at universities such as Harvard and Princeton and even teach there, which of course he couldn’t desert his parents.

He was also known for his down to earth plain-spoken personality. He became good friends with Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor Ralph McGill. Mr. McGill called on him several times at his home in Union County. It was easier than calling him, the nearest phone was something like seven miles away.

It seemed to me that book continued to talk about Byron’s conflicts: Time writing and becoming a well known writer and being devoted to his parents, who needed him. The more he was in demand in the literary world the sicker his parents, mostly his father, became. His father ended up with TB and so did Byron.

Money was always a problem. His writings paid very little and he got several Guggenheim grants that tied him and his family over in hard times.

He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in literature. But you know how many cups of coffee you can buy with a Pulitzer Prize nomination don’t you?

He taught at Young Harris College off and on and taught there up until the time he shot himself.

The biography part of the book is 143 pages. The rest of the book, about 100 pages, is his poetry.

There are also two books he had written, which I have not even seen.

I do not know much about poetry and shudder to think what Byron would think of me if I tried to make an intelligent statement about what he was writing about, so I better not say it here either. However, I did read every poem, and they all had, what seemed to me a fast pace rhythm or beat. And many dealt with death and ghosts.

I better quit while I am ahead.

above: Bryon Herbert Reece at Vogel State Park, probably sitting just about where his parents farm used to be.

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