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vii from the editor The first thing I learned about her was that she was dead. Her short story “The Hill” had just walloped me. I was still feeling a little blindsided and concussed on finishing it—my fingers tingling—and so her obituary was an unfortunate place to commence her biography. I mean the writer Berry Morgan. Before reading this story, I had been a stranger to her name. She had come to my attention through Edith Pearlman, a short-story writer who advocated her for Ecotone’s new “Reclamation” department. Edith told me that Morgan’s story “The Hill,” published in 1973 in the New Yorker, was among the best stories she’d ever read, but that for some reason no one to whom she mentioned it could remember ever having read it. The story was not even given a mention by the anthologies in the year following its publication, and although it was later included in Morgan’s collection, The Mystic Adventures of Roxie Stoner, it has never, to my knowledge, been reprinted. Morgan’s first book, a novel called Pursuit, was released in 1966. Writing for the New York Times, Joyce Carol Oates, author at the time of the astonishingly low number of three books, said that Morgan produced “an exotic marriage of Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor,” with a “distinctive touch” and an “irresistible drama,” right down to the “very look and smell of the old plantation.” But somehow, eight years later, a writer who had merited not one but two reviews in the New York Times for her debut novel didn’t nab a single write-up in that newspaper for her short-story collection about Roxie Stoner. However, Michael Wood (now the chair of Princeton’s English Department, then a professor at Columbia), writing in the New York Review of Books, rated Morgan better than the contemporarily modish Muriel Spark and Evan S. Connell Jr., the other two writers considered in his review. In discussing the eponymous Roxie, he even went so far as to invoke characters created by Dickens and Dostoyevsky. Morgan, he said, offered us not “facts or Sleuthing viii ecotone outlines or diagnoses of life” but “the feel of life”; she “tells us things we don’t know.” Don’t you like to be told things you don’t know? Satisfying that curiosity is one of the reasons I read. So how does a writer such as Berry Morgan vanish? Fame: what a bitch! Well, it requires every kind of excess, as Don DeLillo reminded us. Maybe that wasn’t Morgan’s style. Her family, I presumed, owned the rights to “The Hill.” This was the twenty-first century. It wouldn’t take much to track them down. But of the four surviving children mentioned in Morgan’s 2002 obituary, two had common names that, paired with “Morgan,” would be near impossible to track down, especially since one lived in Houston. But one of the sons was named after his father, an unusual name. His was the only listing for this name in Virginia Beach, his city of residence. Bingo. But the number was out of service. The last option was the youngest daughter, but her phone number was unlisted. Although there was an address, our deadline was too close to send a letter and wait for a response . The obituary said Morgan had died at a nursing home near her property, Aylmere Farm. I tried the nursing home. The nurse who answered was very kind, but said she had been working there seventeen years and had never known anyone by the name of Berry Morgan to be there. A writer, I said. She was in the New Yorker! No, sorry, the nurse said. Morgan had been Catholic, and a priest had officiated the funeral, according to the obituary. Maybe he would know the family. But he seemed to have moved away, to eastern Maryland. Finally I located a court document from 1998 that showed the youngest daughter as the owner of Avanti’s, a restaurant. Aha! The obituary had said this was where the celebration honoring Morgan’s life would be held. I called the restaurant. It appeared to...


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