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Mississippi College Family Remembers Author Barry Hannah

Barry Hannah
This week's death of award-winning author Barry Hannah touched many lives on and off the Mississippi College campus.

Emily Fokeladeh, who's in her 37th year teaching German at Mississippi College, was one of Hannah's classmates at Clinton High and MC.

"This was really sad to me - he was one year older than I," Fokeladeh said over lunch Wednesday at the Christian university's cafeteria. "His life was cut short."

A 1965 MC graduate, Fokeladeh remembers Hannah, a 1964 MC graduate when he was the bright young editor of the "Arrowhead," the university's literary magazine. She saw Hannah for the last time a few years ago when the English Department honored him as its alumnus of the year. She recalls hearing Hannah read some of his "delightful stories."

"Barry Hannah's death means a loss to American contemporary literature and is a loss to the larger Mississippi College alumni community," said MC English professor David Miller, the honors program director. "His return to campus three years ago marked a renewal of the relationship between the writer and the world which helped form him."

The MC English Department, Miller said, joins the larger literary community mourning his passing but also "celebrates his place in the family of American writers."

Hannah's first novel, "Geronimo Rex" was published in 1972. It received the William Faulkner prize for writing and was nominated for a National Book award. His 1996 short story collection "High Lonesome" was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He taught writing at the University of Mississippi for 25 years.

Hannah died at his Oxford home Monday. The Mississippi native was 67.

It was a different time when Fokeladeh, her brother, James Gordon, and Hannah were all MC students, and all were English majors in the 1960s. The same was true of their days at Clinton High. "We were all friends at Clinton High," said the MC language professor and 1960 CHS graduate. Hannah was also a member of the band at Clinton High with her brother. Fokeladeh also knew his parents at First Baptist Church in Clinton.

Word of his death this week triggered an avalanche of media stories. "The New York Times," among others called MC offices Tuesday. From "Vanity Fair" to the Associated Press, Hannah's death received big-time news coverage.

Vicksburg Post Executive Editor Charlie Mitchell, who spoke to a class of MC journalism students Wednesday, is a Hannah fan. He heard the news on National Public Radio.

Mitchell, who's spent 30 years in the newspaper business and writes syndicated columns appearing in papers around the state, used to teach journalism at Ole Miss. One of his students in the mid-1980s on the Oxford campus was the famous author's son, Barry Hannah, Jr. That was a challenging assignment, Mitchell said.

Longtime friend Malcolm White, the director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, told Associated Press reporter Emily Wagster Pettus, that Hannah "loved words, fishing, his family and going fast."'

Hannah, who earned a master's degree in creative writing from the University of Arkansas, told the student newspaper at Ole Miss in 1996 that teaching inspired him. "The short fiction form that I teach is a great format for fine classroom conversation about the art," Hannah said. "My writing has always been enhanced by my teaching."

Reports say Hannah battled cancer in recent years and he died of a heart attack at his residence in north Mississippi.