Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tennis Courts in Oxford, Miss., Named After Late Ole Miss Writer-In-Residence and Writing Teacher, Barry Hannah

     I was reminded recently of the late writer-in-residence and writing teacher, Barry Hannah at Ole Miss where I attended college for five years in the early 80's by an article that was written by Oxford, Miss., writer, Jim Dees, called "Was There A Golden Age" in Oxford?" Also, because of the fact that the City of Oxford had named some tennis courts in a local park after him that made national news earlier this month.
Photo Taken By Galen A. Smith Sr.
Ole Miss, 1986

      I remember learning about Mr. Hannah being at Ole Miss when I saw some of his posters for some books he had written posted around campus.  To me, it seemed he just appeared out of nowhere.  Little did I know that Mr. Hannah had accepted a position with the university teaching writing courses in the English department on campus and also became our writer-in-residence.  Also, he already had several books published, won awards and had taught at other universities. Eventually, I think most students and Oxford citizens realize that we now had another pretty well-known and respected writer in the vicinity besides our other well known writer-in-residence, another Mississippi writer, Willie Morris. Barry and Willie were basically two different types of writers. Mr. Hannah, fiction, and Willie, non-fiction. Although, I am sure that they hung out at night together some with the same people in the same circle of friends at the former Hoka, the famous little bohemian coffee shop and theater in the small university town.  And I'm sure some of his quick new friends when he arrived in town were probably of course, Willie, and Ron Shapiro, who owned the Hoka, and Jim Dees who worked there.
"Week Of Initiation," One of the Short-Stories
that I wrote for Mr. Hannah's course.  I was
proud of the comments he gave me on it.
      Eventually, I took Mr. Hannah's fiction writing course and got an "A" in it.  I think one of the things he liked about me as a writer is that I took chances by writing such short stories like an expose piece about a fraternity initiation that was loosely based on truth.  It was foul-mouth and dirty.  But he liked it.  In the Summer of 1986, I was the Entertainment Editor of  Ole Miss' student newspaper, "The Daily Mississippian."  Mr. Hannah allowed me to come to his home and interview him for the student newspaper.
Written By Galen A. Smith Sr.
Published June 19, 1986
"The Daily Mississippian"
    While I was in Mr. Hannah's class, I met another young writer and Ole Miss student by the name of  Katie Powell from Bowling Green, Ky., who would eventually become his daughter-in-law.  Mr. Hannah's son, Barry Jr., was also a student at Ole Miss at the time and I had several classes with him.  I would also see Katie at the Hoka where she worked some serving cheesecake and coffee.  Eventually, I had moved to Bowling Green after I married a Kentucky lady down in Oxford who was also from the Bowling Green area and we eventually settled there in 1988 after we had married in 1986.  That same year in 1988, I saw Katie again at a local Italian restaurant in downtown Bowling Green where she was serving and invited me to her wedding to Barry Jr.  The wedding was at the historical St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bowling Green with a reception at the Bowling Green Country Club.  At the reception, I saw Mr. Hannah again and I think he was really surprised to see me and probably wondering how in the hell I got there!  I don't think he understood the connection at the time.
     Eventually as time went by, I lost touch with Ole Miss and Oxford and the local writer's scene with the Hoka and the famous, little, independent book store, "Square Books" where they had a lot of book signings and readings for authors from all over the country and world.  By the time 1994 had arrived, it seemed Oxford was in the national spotlight all the time because of legal thriller writer and Oxford resident John Grisham's major success.  So I decided to attend the "Second Annual Oxford Conference For The Book" in 1994 that was taken place on campus at Fulton Chapel with a reception following in the library.  Superstar horror writer, Stephen King was there along with John Grisham and Mr. Hannah was moderating.  Before the session began, I saw Mr. Hannah sitting down on a wall on the side of the building smoking a cigarette and I decided to walk around and talk to him.  Obviously, Mr. Hannah was trying to enjoy his cigarette and I started to ask questions about getting published and he got really irritated with me so I decided to back off and leave.  However, I did get to shake Mr. King's hand after the session was over with.  However,  Mr. Grisham was standoffish and apparently didn't want to be bothered either with the public.  Apparently, fame and being the center of attention was closing in on him.
    Regardless, I held no grudge against Mr. Hannah.  I am the one who invaded his space and privacy that day.  However, I am extremely happy for Mr. Hannah and his family and grandchildren for being remembered and honored by the City of Oxford and by naming the tennis courts after him since he loved the game of tennis as well as writing and teaching. Mainly, he was an excellent teacher of fiction writing in my opinion and I really enjoyed taking his class.  His class was one of the best in my five years at Ole Miss!