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Hall of Fame Honorees

Bailey White

Through her commentaries for National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," Thomasville writer Bailey White has introduced millions of Americans to an intimate side of Georgia that is hidden from Atlanta-bound flyovers and the hurtling traffic on interstates I-75 and I-95. Yet White has said she does not consider herself a storyteller, but rather a writer who happened to appear on the radio, and it is her written work, which to date comprises two best-selling compilations of stories and a novel, which delivers her readers most fully to White's lifelong home on the Florida line, a half-hour north of Tallahassee.

June Bailey White has lived nearly all her life in Grady County, Georgia, where she was born the youngest daughter of Robb White, a novelist who moved away to Hollywood to write for B-movies and television, and Rosalie Mason, a formidable farmer who reared White and lived out her life with her in a house she built herself (and whose venerable character inhabits many of her daughter's stories). After she graduated from Florida State University in 1973 with an education degree, White taught first graders at Thomasville's E.R. Jerger Elementary School and in her spare time wrote short sketches for magazines like Smithsonian. In 1990 White corresponded with NPR contributor Daniel Pinkwater about his own children's novels, which she had used in her elementary class, and he encouraged her to submit a tape of her reading some of her stories. Soon after "All Things Considered" first aired White's commentaries-which she delivered in a distinctive quavering voice that many mistook to be that of a quirky elderly commentator-she had become one of the radio network's most popular contributors. Her radio popularity led to the publication of two collections of her magazine articles and audio essays, and in 1998 White published her first novel, Quite a Year for Plums, a comic tale told through the intertwined lives of characters in a small south Georgia town.

A book reviewer for the Washington Post said of White's first collection of writing (1993's Mama Makes Up Her Mind, and Other Dangers of Southern Living), "Like Truman Capote at his finest, White brings an enormous sensitivity to the characters that populate her life." In her novel and the longer stories contained in her two collections, Mama and Sleeping at the Starlite Motel, and Other Adventures on the Way Back Home (1995), White extends and enriches the south Georgia landscapes that she sketched in five-minute-or-less segments for NPR, depicting her own Thomasville family and neighbors with remarkably deep yet unsentimental sensitivity. White frequently pays homage to Victorian novelists in her writing, in particular Anthony Trollope, and the words with which Trollope's American contemporary Henry James praised Trollope could easily be said of White-i.e., that she mastered "a complete appreciation of the usual," and that her writing

. felt all daily and immediate things as well as saw them, felt them in a simple, direct, salubrious way, with their sadness, their gladness, their charm, their comicality, all their obvious and measurable meanings..

As they engage in often comic symbioses with one another, with the weather, and with the inevitable South Georgia flora and wildlife that she describes with deceptive simplicity and crystalline clarity, White's characters often remain in her readers' impressions like so many glistening cobwebs, kudzu vines and porch screens, interwoven with dazzling equanimity in that coastal plain climate where the summertime air is "a combination of heat and damp and green" and "vegetation does not know its place."

Now retired from teaching and devoting her time to writing and gardening, White has generally limited her radio contributions to Thanksgiving Day stories that she reads in what has become an NPR holiday tradition. Her audio commentaries remain available through recorded media, however, and her audience continues to grow as admiration for her work remains constant and her writing makes its way into other languages and other venues. Mama Makes Up Her Mind: And Other Dangers of Southern Living was honored in 1997 by the Fellowship of Southern Writers as the best nonfiction work that year. In 2005 Mama was adapted to the stage by the Stone Mountain (Ga.) ART Station Theater and was named by the Georgia Center for the Book to the center's "Top 25 Reading List" of Georgia literature. As of 2008 all of White's books had been translated into foreign editions (German and Japanese). Readers interested in Bailey White's stories may also be interested in the memoirs of her brother, Robb White IV, How to Build a Tin Canoe.

Bibliography

The following titles may be found in the Hall of Fame collection of the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library:

BOOKS/PRINTED MATERIALS:

Mama Makes Up Her Mind, and Other Dangers of Southern Living. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1993.

Der Tanz der Pelikane und andere Geschichten von meiner Mama aus Georgia [Mama Makes Up Her Mind. German] Munich: Nymphenburger, 1994.

Mama Makes Up Her Mind: and Other Dangers of Southern Living. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

Mama Makes Up Her Mind: and Other Dangers of Southern Living. London: Vintage, 1995.

Als meiner Tante die Badezimmerdecke auf den Kopf fiel und andere heitere Familienkatastrophen [Sleeping at the Starlite Motel. German.] Munich: Nymphenburger, 1995.

Sleeping at the Starlite Motel and Other Adventures on the Way Back Home (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1995)

Finding Myself [Broadside, from Mama Makes Up Her Mind.] Houston, Tex.: Ambleside Press, 1996.

Sleeping at the Starlite Motel and Other Adventures on the Way Back Home (New York: Vintage, 1996)

Faded and Flown : Three Stories . Lake Worth, Fla. : Red Wagon Press, 1997.

Der Tanz der Pelikane und andere Geschichten von meiner Mama aus Georgia [Mama Makes Up Her Mind.German] Munich: Heyne, 1998.

Mama wa kesshinshitayo. [Mama Makes Up Her Mind. Japanese.] Tokyo: Hakusuisha, 1998.

Quite a Year for Plums: A Novel New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998

Quite a Year for Plums [Broadside, from a reading in Portland, Maine, July 24, 1998.] Lake Worth, Fla.: Red Wagon, 1998.

Quite a Year for Plums: A Novel New York : Vintage Books, 1999

Ein gutes Jahr fur Pflaumen: Roman [Quite a Year for Plums. Quite a Year for Plums. German] Munich: Taschenbuch-Verlag, 2001

Quite a Year for Plums [Broadside, from a reading in Portland, Maine, July 24, 1998.] Lake Worth, Fla.: Red Wagon, 1998.

The following titles may be found in the UGA Library's Walter J. Brown Media Archives:

RECORDINGS:

Sleeping at the Starlite Motel [sound recording] / read by Bailey White. New York: Simon & Schuster Audio, 1995.

Quite a Year for Plums [sound recording] / read by Bailey White. New York, NY : Random House Audio, 1998.

Additional Links

Bailey White
INDUCTEE: 2008

Born: May 31, 1950
Thomasville, Georgia

University of Georgia Libraries | Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library