Southern Press
A Review of
The New Georgia Encyclopedia Companion to Georgia Literature

(Hugh Ruppersburg, Volume Editor, John C. Inscoe, General Editor; Athens and London:  University of Georgia Press, 2007.)
The groundbreaking New Georgia Encyclopedia made its public appearance three years ago. In a Wednesday, February 11, 2004 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article titled "Virtual Georgia," journalist Don O'Briant wrote, "The New Georgia Encyclopedia debuts Thursday . . . but you won't need to add any bookshelves or lift a lot of unwieldy tomes." Elaborating on the unprecedented project, O'Briant stated, "Everything you need is just a click away, on what is the nation's first state encyclopedia designed exclusively for publication on the Internet."

A project of the Georgia Humanities Council in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, the Office of the Governor and the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education, the NGE is a work in progress. An important role of the NGE's small, dedicated staff is maintenance of the publication which occasionally entails updating articles as events transpire (e.g. the death of Coretta Scott King). With historian Dr. John C. Inscoe serving as editor, completion of the encyclopedia's first phase in 2006 made accessible some 1700 articles devoted to topics as varied as President Jimmy Carter, Rich's Department Store, Brunswick Stew, the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition, Otis Redding, Oglethorpe University, the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906, Okefenokee Swamp Folklore and Ty Cobb. Serving as a model after which other state encyclopedias might be patterned, the NGE has garnered regional and national recognition, including awards from the American Association for State and Local History, the Federation of State Humanities Councils and the Georgia Historical Society.

The recently published New Georgia Encyclopedia Companion to Georgia Literature is the "first in a new series drawn from articles written for the NGE." Described by the NGE as a "print anthology," the 474 page volume contains entries devoted to great Georgia literary artists, their works and and the various Georgia-based publications that foster such creativity and expression.

Biographies include those of novelists Vereen Bell (Swamp Water), Erskine Caldwell (Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre), James Dickey (Deliverance), Augusta Jane Evans (St. Elmo), Margaret Mitchell (Gone With the Wind), Carson McCullers (The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and The Member of the Wedding), Flannery O'Connor (Wise Blood) and Celestine Sibley (Jincey and Children, My Children) as well as poets Sidney Lanier and Conrad Aiken (who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning Selected Poems).

The NGE Companion to Georgia Literature also provides discussion and analysis of noted works like the adventuresome Swamp Water, the exposé I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang!, the critically acclaimed Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Driving Miss Daisy and its subsequent film adaptation.

The Peach State is home to nationally known literary journals like the Chattahoochee Review, the Georgia Review and Five Points. Evaluations of their illustrious histories and influence on Georgia literature is merited and, again, this book fails to disappoint.

With a distinguished reputation for cultivating extraordinary writers, Georgia certainly has no shortage of authors and works with which a book of this depth can be filled.

In the foreword, Dr. Inscoe writes ". . . Georgia is probably unsurpassed in the impact its writers have had on how the South and southern experience have been seen and understood by the rest of the nation and the world." Expounding on this notion, Volume Editor Dr. Ruppersburg, Professor of English and Senior Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia, states, "Georgia writers have written about the same subjects that have interested writers across history and throughout the world: family, war, hardship, ambition, love and death, change, the search for knowledge and meaning. But Georgia has provided its writers with a context of history and geography, with social and cultural values, that give their work an identity grounded in time and place, a shared heritage and experience, which out of all the world's literature and history make it distinctive and unique."

In addition to contributions by Doctors Ruppersburg and Inscoe, the NGE Companion to Georgia Literature includes articles by a host of scholars from within the confines of Georgia's borders like Stephen Corey (who fittingly wrote the NGE's entry on the Georgia Review, the UGA-based literary journal he once edited); Kim Purcell, Georgia Center for the Book; Keith Hulett, UGA Libraries; Gary Kerley, North Hall High School; and Atlanta's Lamar York (founder and former editor of the Chattahoochee Review).

A sampling of experts from within the region, across the nation and throughout the world who further enhanced the NGE's literature section include: R. Bruce Bickley Jr., Flordia State University, Tallahassee, Florida ("Joel Chandler Harris" and "Uncle Remus Tales"); Edwin T. Arnold, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina ("Tobacco Road" and "God's Little Acre"); Bruce Clayton, Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania ("Lillian Smith" and "Strange Fruit"); Qiana Whitted, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut ("Alice Walker" and "The Color Purple"); Michael O'Dwyer, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Ireland ("Julien Green"); John A. Kirk, Royal Holloway, University of London, London, United Kingdom ("Martin Luther King Jr."); and Yi-Hsuan Tso, National Taiwan Ocean University, Keelung, Taiwan ("Turner Cassity" and "Rosemary Daniell").

At the very least a practical, authoritative reference, the NGE Companion to Georgia Literature is capable of both thoroughly enlightening the merely curious and supplying a wealth of information from which serious students of great writing can glean.

Author:  Greg Freeman.  Published August 9, 2007.

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