Shelby Foote, author and raconteur, who was sadly most thought of as "that guy" in the Ken Burns Civil War miniseries, "whose drawl and grizzled face evoked the ghost of the Confederacy," died yesterday.
My first encounter with Foote was through his Paris Review Art of Fiction interview from several years back. His invocation of both Homer's Iliad and Proust got me all roused, so I went out and bought his giant 3-volume Civil War. Though I never finished it (let's be realistic - it is thousands of pages long), I did read a couple hundred pages and was totally taken by his genius for narrative; a natural storyteller. It really is worth sitting down for a year and absorbing it all. I may go back and try.
Unlike Hunter Thompson or Saul Bellow, I can actually say I would like to have had dinner with Shelby. Like, once a week.
Most of what I remember about the interview I read was how much I liked him. He was no stuffy historian; he was old enough and bright enough to have a natural, almost organic, ability to transfer facts to story. Plus, he wrote everything with an old what-he-called dip pen. He literally dipped his pen in ink before starting each new sentence, wrote that way, by hand, everyday. He was 88 and deserves at least my slight mention.
Extra quotes from the Washington Post: "Shelby was one of the truly wildasses of the Delta. That's hard to say because everybody from the Delta is a wildass." "He usually represented reflecting, reasoning southerners well." "His eyes always looked real tired, like they had seen too many problems and not enough solutions. Or maybe too much Proust."