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JEWEL SPEARS BROOKER CAITLIN MEEHAN-DRAPER Eckerd College A Conversation with Madison and Shailah Jones Place: Jones farm, 800 Kuderna Acres, Auburn, AL Date: August 10, 2009 Topic: Fiction; A Cry of Absence IN AUGUST 2009, MY STUDENT CAITLIN MEEHAN-DRAPER AND I CONCLUDED a year’s study of the fiction of Madison Jones by going to Emory University to study the notebooks in which he had written his great novel about the civil rights movement, A Cry of Absence., first published in 1971. We then drove to Auburn to visit Mr. Jones and his wife, Shailah, an accomplished painter, at their farm, Kuderna Acres. We were graciously received and both Mr. and Mrs. Jones joined us in conversation about his life and work. Mr. Jones was born in Nashville in 1925 and educated at Vanderbilt University and the University of Florida. He has published thirteen novels, including The Innocent (1957), Forest of the Night (1960), A Buried Land (1963), An Exile (1967), Season of the Strangler (1982), Last Things (1989), Nashville 1864 (1997), Herod’s Wife (2003), and The Adventures of Douglas Bragg (2008). An Exile was made into the 1970 movie, I Walk the Line. Mr. Jones has received fellowships from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations and numerous awards, including the T. S. Eliot Award, the Harper Lee Award, the Michael Shaara Award from the US Civil War Center, and the Andrew Lytle Short Story Prize from the Sewanee Review. For many years, Mr. Jones was Writer-in-Residence at Auburn University. Mrs. Jones died in February 2010; Mr. Jones still resides in Auburn. JSB: First, Madison, we wish to express our gratitude to you and Shailah for your hospitality and for giving us the privilege of interviewing you. MJ: Well, you’re more than welcome. 706 Brooker and Meehan-Draper JSB: OK, I’ll start, and Caitlin and I will take turns, more or less, asking questions. You have spoken, always with affection, of your grandfather, and of course, you memorialized him in Nashville 1864 . Because he read so many Old Testament stories to you, you have said that the writer who influenced you most was Moses! Which Old Testament story impressed you the most, and why? MJ: Well, David, I suppose. David’s career was so brilliant, and he was so sensitive to his obligations, both to his king, Saul, and to his people. His fall, of course, was a pathetic case, but he came back and was approved finally. It is a wonderful, wonderful tale in all respects. Of course, I love his fight with Goliath, and I have been interested to learn that people have reproduced slings like his. I have been made aware that they can deliver a rock with deadly accuracy, as sharp as a rifle almost. So it wasn’t just something cooked up, that he killed Goliath. He hit him right between the eyes, in fact! That was a wonderful moment. But of course there are a great many other moments. And King Saul. I felt sorry for him when he summoned the Witch of Endor. That was always an eerie thing for me, when he was told that he was out, that he had been rejected by Jehovah. I developed a great sympathy for him, but the whole story moves me in all kinds of ways. That’s just one of many stories that have stuck in my mind. CMD: You’ve said that the Tennessee in which you grew up was an “Old Testament world.” What did you mean by that? MJ: [chuckles]. Well, behavior, proper behavior, very disciplined and very intent on training, moral training. What I would describe as spirituality—that was in it, too. But the real thing was behaving yourself. I’ve always thought that if I’d been raised a Roman Catholic, that probably would not have been the case [laughs]. I was overly conscientious, in ways I can see carried through in my later life. I think that a confessor would have done me a world of good. But I was standing there right in the face of Jehovah [laughs]. I don’t think that was a very good thing at all...


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