See Marlin Barton's remembrance of Jones in our upcoming summer 2013 issue.
“Read a lot, write a lot, even if you don’t think it’s very good. But take note of what good writers do. A lot of people would love to write, but they either get discouraged or sidetracked.” These are the words of Madison Jones, a giant of literature whom Allen Tate dubbed “the Thomas Hardy of the South.” Jones recently passed away at the age of 87, leaving behind a great legacy fondly remembered by anyone who has experienced any of his eleven novels, two nonfiction books, numerous short stories, or classes taught at Auburn University over a span of 37 years.
Jones was a frequent contributor to the Sewanee Review. His publications in the quarterly include “The Fugitives” (summer 1954), “Prologue” (fall 1956), “The New World” (winter 1960), “The Watery Grave” (spring 1963), “An Exile” (winter 1967), “Craft as Mirror” (an essay in winter 1974), and “Zoo” (summer 1992), for which he won the Andrew Lytle Fiction Prize.
The author lived a life full of awards and honors, including a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in 1968, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973, the T. S. Eliot Award for Creative Writing and the Michael Shaara Prize for Excellence in Civil War Fiction, both in 1998, and the Harper Lee Award for Alabama's Distinguished Writer of the Year in 1999.
Even those who may not have been frequent readers had a chance to experience some of Jones’s rich storytelling in 1970, when Gregory Peck and Tuesday Weld starred in “I Walk The Line,” a film based on Jones’s 1967 novel “An Exile,” with a soundtrack by Johnny Cash. Jones gives his opinion on the film—among other things, including Auburn football—in this fascinating interview.
Jones may have been prolific and was certainly busy, but he was still a devoted family man: he and Shailah Jones, his wife of 59 years before her passing, had five children and were able to see each of their twelve grandchildren. Read a reminiscence by his son Percy here.
Through the years Jones presented himself as a man who believed in the power of the “South back then,” a place populated by friendly people and close-knit communities. His novels explore the South with what Robert Penn Warren praised as Jones’s characteristic “basic seriousness of intention, and his deep, natural sense of fiction.” When Flannery O’Connor read Jones’s first novel, “The Innocent,” she wrote emphatically, “He’s so much better than the ones all the shouting is about.” Well, Ms. O’Connor, now we’re shouting about Madison Jones, and we sure hope he can hear us.