Shelfari edited the description of Witnessing Sunday, November 15, 2009.
Ellen Douglas, one of the South’s most admired writers, brings forth a collection of nonfiction essays full of her lifelong faith that literature can bear witness to the human spirit. "To mean something, to make a reader feel something . . . I want, not to tell about—to express—my feelings, but to evoke feeling in the reader of my story," she explains in Witnessing (University Press of Mississippi). As the author of Truth: Four Stories I Am Finally Old Enough to Tell and such novels as Black Cloud, White Cloud; Can’t Quit You, Baby; and Apostles of Light, Ellen Douglas is one of the most accomplished southern writers of the twentieth century. Few have told stories that represent with more persuasive moral intelligence the variety of experience in the intricate world where she has been a lifelong witness of public and personal history. In her new book, Douglas delivers sixteen illuminating essays, a majority of which appear here in print for the first time. Each reflects Douglas’s conviction that bearing witness to life around us, to events both historical and personal, is a writer’s essential calling. In her essay, "On Eudora Welty," Douglas writes that to be a witness is "to be someone outside the action, waiting to see—seeing. And then? Shaping, limiting, putting into a frame. . . . We want our stories to bring to bear the past on the present." Her range of subjects is wide, but the essays each serve as witness in some way, foregrounding the effects of the past upon the present day. "There are so many things to be said about putting the past to use, so many ways to approach it." She puts to use her own past, her influences and her experiences, to bring forth the story of her writing and reading life. "The great phenomena of our past are constantly being reshaped, like clouds, by the winds of our own time." Douglas contemplates her early life in Greenville, Mississippi, among literary lions Hodding Carter III, Shelby Foote, and Walker Percy. She witnesses the racism and politics of the South. She celebrates the art of writing, the joys of reading, and the company of friends both real and imagined. Her essays on such Mississippi writers as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Richard Wright are forceful not just as works of literary criticism, but as evocations of her experiences of reading literature.