Talking the South with Marion Montgomery

If you don’t know who Marion Montgomery was, you should.

Professor Marion Montgomery, b. 16 April 1925, died 23 November 2011, was a figure of the Southern literary scene since the end of the Second World War. His works include T.S. Eliot: An Essay on the American Magnus (1970), Possum, and Other Receipts for the Recovery of Southern Being (1987), The Truth of Things: Liberal Arts and the Recovery of Reality (1999), John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate: At Odds About the Ends of History and the Mystery of Nature (2003), On Matters Southern: Essays About Literature and Culture, 1964-2000 (2005). During his lifetime, Prof. Montgomery befriended many of the original authors of the 1930 Agrarian book, I’ll Take My Stand. Allen Tate, Donald Davidson, and Andrew Lytle were all acquaintances of Montgomery. Flannery O’ Conner and M.E. Bradford were also friends of Montgomery. Although retired from UGA since 1987, Montgomery was a longtime Professor of English and remained an active participant within the realm of Southern intelligentsia.

In this interview I conducted in April 2009, as a young and dumb graduate student, Montgomery reflects upon his understanding of the South. He also discusses his friendship with prominent Southern writers of the twentieth century, such as Allen Tate, Andrew Lytle, and M.E. Bradford. Montgomery describes his definition of the South and its tradition; he discusses the differences and similarities between the terms Conservatism, Tradition, and Orthodoxy, and their individual applications to Southern culture and identity.

We did the interview in the second floor study of Marion’s home outside Athens, Georgia. There was something decidedly traditional and Southern about the place. He greeted me at the front door of his home wearing khaki pants and a clean white button-down shirt, the typical attire of the Southern gentleman. A cigar was pressed on the edge of his mouth (he said he liked to chew on it throughout the week and smoke it on Sunday). In the study, wall-to-wall shelves of books smiled down upon the both of us. There were no computers, just an old typewriter. I treated the interview as a simple conversation. Marion poured out his thoughts as if he were speaking to a crowd of accomplished intellectuals. After a little more than an hour, I could tell he was tiring. Not only did I gain insight into the mind of a preeminent Southern intellectual, after that interview I also gained a friend. Hope you enjoy what he had to say that day.

-Alan

 

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