The world lost a powerful and compelling voice on Thursday, January 20, 2011 with the death of Reynolds Price. Price was 77. Equally at home writing novels, poetry, essays, memoirs, and biblical exegesis, Price drew the reader into whatever story he was telling.
I first came to Price’s work after hearing him as a commentator on National Public Radio. His radio essays were so thoughtful that it would have been unthinkable not to seek out his other writing. Price is sometimes classified as a writer of Southern fiction, and much of his work is indeed grounded in the red clay of Piedmont North Carolina. His writing often explored connections, between individuals, between generations, and between the past and the present. But he was not a regional writer, whatever that really means. Rather, Price spoke to the awe-full power of love to both heal and to break. He examined the lives of his characters with an unflinching compassion that never excused their faults, but never excluded the possibility of redemption.
It is difficult to say where one should start reading if you have never read any of Price’s work. Perhaps with the novels of strong women and their lives — Kate Vaiden or Roxanna Slade. Equally powerful is Price’s writing about his own physical challenges, a spinal cancer in 1985 that took his ability to walk. The story is in A Whole New Life. Maybe one of Price’s books on religion, where he explores the concepts of belief and faith — A Serious Way of Wondering. Or try the collected essays from his stint at NPR, those pieces that first drew Price to my attention, Feasting the Heart. The only thing missing here will be the resonant sound of Price’s voice reading the stories.
It probably does not matter where you start. The important thing is to take up one of Reynolds Price’s books and read it and to mourn the passing of this wonderful storyteller whose voice has been taken from us.