These are some well-known facts in William Gay’s official biography: that he lived in a cabin in the woods, that he didn’t use email, that he worked in construction his whole life until someone finally noticed he was a great writer. But these facts tell only part of the story.
For readers and writers, at least, the fuller story depends upon an eternal question: is a writer born, or is he made? William Gay was born a writer. As a late-life literary success who didn’t attend creative-writing programs or pay for professional workshops, Gay symbolized the hopes of struggling writers, especially rural ones. He was good, and he found a way to let the world know he was good—those are facts we cling to as evidence of what is possible. Throughout history, people have made long pilgrimages to witness lesser miracles.
William Gay’s death last week of heart failure sent tremors through the community of writers and readers in Tennessee and beyond, people who loved him as a friend and as a writer. We have asked some of those who knew Gay, in ways large and small, to send us their stories. They come from New York City and from Wyoming, from Maine and from Virginia, and, of course, they come from Tennessee. Together, we hope these recollections—from Darnell Arnoult,Adrian Blevins, Sonny Brewer, Tom Franklin, Robert Hicks,Derrick Hill, Suzanne Kingsbury, Randy Mackin, Inman Majors, Corey Mesler, Clay Risen, George Singleton, Brad Watson, and Steve Yarbrough—present a portrait of a man who will be greatly missed.