Monday, January 10, 2011

Atlantan John Bayne photographs the graves of Southern writers

Posted By on Mon, Jan 10, 2011 at 8:57 AM

As I lay dying: The graves of  novelist Robert Penn Warren and his wife as photographed in John Baynes book “Gravely Concerned”
  • As I lay dying: The graves of novelist Robert Penn Warren and his wife as photographed in John Bayne's book “Gravely Concerned”
Southern writers have long had a fascination with death, so it's not surprising that an avid reader might develop a fascination with the death of Southern writers. Such is the case with John Bayne, an Atlanta book collector and fan of Southern lit who has spent the past 7 years photographing the tombstones of Southern authors like Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Flannery O'Connor, Richard Wright and others. Bayne has recently published a book of photographs titled Gravely Concerned: The Graves of Southern Writers.

“A lot of people when they talk about Southern literature will immediately say the word gothic,” says Bayne. “And it's true there's no shortage of death and dying in Southern literature. Another aspect of Southern literature is the sense of family. And there's a real sense of affection for the land and a sense of place, memory and the past... All of those themes kind of synthesize in a cemetery plot.”

Bayne's fascination with Southern literature goes back to his years in high school, but he first started making pilgrimages to the graves of Southern writers to take pictures in 2003 during his frequent business trips for his job as a consultant for AT&T.

Some graves were, of course, right here at home in Atlanta's cemeteries—Margaret Mitchell is buried in Oakland, and Joel Chandler Harris' grave is in Westview—but others were much further afield. “James Agee is buried on the farm in New York where he lived at the time he died,” says Bayne of the author of A Death in the Family and Let us Now Praise Famous Men. “His son lives on that farm now part of the year. He said I could come photograph it. It's just a stone. There's no lettering on it. It's just a boulder behind his house.”

Intruder in the dust: Atlantan John Bayne
  • Intruder in the dust: Atlantan John Bayne
The grave of early 20th century Southern humorist George Washington Harris took over a year for Bayne to locate in Dade County, Georgia, with the help of an Alabama genealogist. “The grave was marked only by a field stone... The English Honor Society paid to install a grave marker. We had an unveiling, and descendants of George Washington Harris and the mayor came. We had speeches and flowers to honor the new marker.”

Photographing the graves was not without its share of spooky experiences either: The search for the grave of poet Archibald Rutledge led to a cemetery in a small town outside of Charleston. “It was just at dusk, and it was a spooky time of day anyway, with the changing light and the Spanish moss,” recalls Bayne. “I really thought I saw something, some gray ethereal being in the shadows.”

And another thing that puzzles him: Who—or what—is buried in Truman Capote's tomb? Capote has a crypt in Westwood cemetery in Los Angeles, but then there are also news photographs from after his death of friends and loved ones scattering his ashes at Crooked Pond in Long Island. “There's something in there,” says Bayne of the crypt he photographed. “So I don't know if a portion of him is buried there in the crypt in Los Angeles? Or maybe the lost manuscript of Answered Prayers is in there.”

NB: John Bayne's speaking event originally scheduled at the Decatur Library on Tuesday, January 11, at 7:15 pm has been canceled due to severe weather conditions. For more information, visit Georgia Center for the Book.

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