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Critical Essays on the Writings of Lillian Smith edited by Tanja Long Bennett

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This is a collection of seven scholarly essays about the work of Lillian Smith (1897-1966). She lived with her family in Florida until, when she was 17, they relocated to property they owned in the northeastern Georgia mountains. After a year in college and a couple of years at a conservatory, she returned home and taught in mountain schools and then taught music in China. In 1925, she returned to Georgia and took over Laurel Falls Camp which her father had founded five years earlier but was no longer healthy enough to run. When Paula Snelling became a counselor there, she and Lillian Smith became life-long partners. After their deaths, their correspondence revealed that they considered themselves lesbian lovers, although they understandably did not make that public during their lifetimes. From 1936 until 1945 they published a literary magazine that ended up being named South Today. Publication ceased that year because the previous year Lillian Smith published the novel Strange Fruit that became a best-seller. The title, she maintained, did not refer to lynching, but to the “damaged, twisted people (both black and white) who are the products of our racist culture.” Because it dealt with inter-racial romance, it was banned in places all over the country, and the U.S. Postal System forbade it from being shipped until Eleanor Roosevelt convinced her husband to lift the ban. Smith followed that literary success with a book of essays, Killers of the Dream (1949) that, in prose, stated her unambiguous anti-racist perspective.  Five subsequent books and numerous articles fleshed out her literary contribution, unparalleled in terms of her courage, as a white Southern woman in her time, in tackling crucial controversial subjects despite the virulent repression of dissent in her era.  She was an early supporter not only of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but also of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. In Critical Essays, two of the essays focus on Killers of the Dream, while the other five each focus on one of her subsequent books including her last book published in 1964 - all except Now Is the Time (1955). The editor, Tanya Long Bennett contributes an introductory essay and the first essay on Strange Fruit. She is an English professor at the University of North Georgia.

Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2021. 179 pages with an Index, maps, photos, and illustrations. Trade paperback.