THE CHARACTER OF PLACE
Robert Penn Warren knew a good place when he saw it. In 1979 he wrote: "Tom Zerfoss had wanted to buy a farm where I could write, a place where he could keep his horses and I could keep a garden and write….I made a search and did find such a place, a perfect little farm in Williamson County,…but by then I had been fired and my dream of Middle Tennessee country was gone.
Warren, the first Poet Laureate of the United States and a noted novelist, was not the first author who wanted to make Williamson County his home, nor was he the last. That he wanted to, even desperately, says something about Williamson County, its history, traditions, and natural beauty. It is a Place with a capital "P".
Critics say that in Southern literature, the one continuous theme is Place - the love of the land, of its people and their goodness (and badness, too), and that Southern writers have the ability to take the particular aspects of a place and make it universally relevant. Tolstoy wrote about Russia, but he was writing about us, too. Faulkner wrote about Mississippi, but he wrote about us, too. The best writing done in Williamson County, Tennessee, is also about us, but it moves beyond our locale to encompass the universalities of the human heart.
There has always been something about Williamson County. It is indefinable, but it has been there from the beginning. John Lipscomb, a Revolutionary War veteran who came to Williamson County in 1784 to claim a land grant, was the first person who can rightly be called a Williamson County author, even if it did take 150 years for Samuel Cole Williams to publish Lipscomb's diary in a book, Early Travels in the Tennessee Country. Lipscomb liked what he saw here and stayed until his death in 1820.
Our county has also been home to hot-blooded, driven men such as Thomas Hart Benton, John Henry Eaton and Matthew Fontaine Maury, men who made a mark on the nation and then wrote about their efforts. And there was Dr. John Sappington, who helped mark the original boundaries of Franklin, then moved to Missouri, and there became a pioneer in the treatment of malaria. Indeed, Williamson County was a good place to be from, as well as a good place to start again.
Many, many factors have gone into making Williamson County such a fertile ground for the writer. There is material prosperity, to be sure. There is also a restlessness that brought people here, or took them away, combined with a certain sensibility toward reflection. The combination, which has spurred so much creativity, has proved fertile indeed. As Alison Touster-Reed, a Williamson County poet has put it:
- Two senses intermingle
- As primal oils mix
- Into a more basic equivalence
- The scent of a harlequin
- Or the tickle of peacock's feathers.
When the publication of Williamson County Celebrates the Written Word was first conceived by the Williamson County Arts Council in 1993, the aim was straight-forward: to honor every person who had lived in the county and who had published a book. It did not matter how long they had lived in the county, or when, or if they were still alive. The mandate was broad.
That first year, the committee, chaired by Jane Langston, discovered more than 130 authors, including such luminaries as Madison Jones, Madison Smartt Bell, Skeeter Davis, Tom T. Hall, and Jim Crutchfield. As part of that first year's celebration, a Williamson County Authors' Hall of Fame was established with the first inductee being Virginia McDaniel Bowman, author of Historic Williamson County, Old Homes and Sites, which has become the primary source for those seeking an appreciation of the heritage of the county.
In the ensuing years, more authors have been added to this Directory, until there are now more than 250 authors listed. That is an impressive number and the subjects of their writings include all branches, from fiction to poetry, local history and genealogy, science, and religion. Five more members have been added to the Hall of Fame, as you have seen on page eight.
It was decided early in the process of compiling and printing the annual author directories that at a future date all the known authors would be combined and updated into one larger, more substantial book, providing an educational resource for researchers and students alike. Under the guidance of Charlene Ring and an enterprising Literary Committee from the Arts Council, this has been done
It is the hope of the Williamson County Arts Council that this book will soon be outdated. That will require the addition of more writers, of course, and more works by those who have already written. We fully expect this writing aspect of our heritage to continue, even in the face of current rapid growth, because the love of place endures here. The possibilities, as our forebears knew and as the men and women in this book reflect, are limitless.
Bob Holladay, Committee Member