Reed brings to life the French Quarter during Faulkner’s residency

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Published: October 15,2012

Tags: Dixie Bohemia, French Quarter, New Orleans, William Faulkner

“Dixie Bohemia” by John Shelton Reed is published by Louisiana State University Press ($38, hardcover).

There are a wealth of books written about New Orleans and/or set in that quirky, historical city that hugs the Mississippi River. Even with a plethora of Crescent City literature, it’s doubtful we’ll run out of material for books any time soon. It’s a unique place among American cities and the interesting stories are certain to continue.

One of the latest publications is non-fiction and delves into the lives of writers who called the famous French Quarter home in the 1920s. The author is John Shelton Reed, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and a co-founder of the Center for the Study of the American South and the quarterly Southern Cultures. He has written or edited 19 books, most of them about the American South and recently served as chancellor of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. With those hefty credentials, professor Reed is surely qualified to write about a literary and cultural icon that was the French Quarter circle of writers in the 1920s.

One of the key players of this circle was our own William Faulkner. His apartment mate was William Spratling, an artist, and their neighbor was the distinguished novelist Sherwood Anderson. Faulkner and Spratling are described as two young guys who authored a little satirical album, with text by Faulkner and sketches and caricatures by Spratling, of the writers, artists and musicians active in the French Quarter. At the time, Faulkner was taking one of his breaks from Mississippi. Many of the others were also expats who were gently soaking up the artistic atmosphere of the Quarter.

Ben Steelman of the Wilmington, N.C., Star News says Reed is a wise and learned fellow and funny to boot. “Reed’s academic prose bubbles like freshly uncorked champagne and leaves no hang over,” he wrote in a review of this book. “He’s also one of the few sociologists who writes well in standard English. He was one of my favorite teachers at Chapel Hill.”

Reed says the book serves as an introduction to the world that this circle of writers, artists poseurs and hangers-on created. “It was a brief moment in the Quarter’s evolution from slum to tourist trap when it was a sort of Deep South, vest-pocket Greenwich Village,” he said in an interview with The Page 99 Test.

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