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Jim Grimsley’s Plays Invite In a Gay South

Friday from the Archives: “Muscle Men, Tennessee Williams, and the State of Southern Drama: An Interview with Jim Grimsley” by Gary Richards from NCLR 18 (2009).

For our 2009 issue on “North Carolina Drama,” writer Gary Richards interviews novelist and playwright Jim Grimsley. Grimsley’s writing often, though not exclusively, focuses on gay men, their relationships, and both bio- and -logical family connections. In this, Richards asks, naturally, “you are part of an impressively well-known, talented group of gay writers who call North Carolina home in some fashion of the term. (Allan Gurganus and Randall Kenan are just two other key persons within this grouping.) What do you make of this fact?” Grimsley replies:

I have no explanation for the fact that so many writers come from North Carolina and in particular from the rural east. Allan, Randall, and I are all from that desolate country east of Raleigh, and Allan and
I both have our roots near Rocky Mount. Reynolds Price comes from near there, too.
The isolation and poverty of that part of North Carolina cultivate a certain kind of imagination in a dreamy child, and books provide a sense of private escape from them. This would be my best explanation for my own love of books and writing. Had I not come to reading early, I wonder whether I would have survived my childhood with any degree of sanity.

Like any Southern novelist having Faulkner invoked when discussing their books, so too does the name “Williams” become present when discussing Southern playwrights. While Richards and Grimsley do discuss Williams’ work (and its impact on Grimsley’s stories), Grimsley is less interested in that style of work as indicative of modern-day South. He says, “I am not a fan of the common run of white Southern drama, in which time is frozen in an era that is more or less like the 1950s. Southern plays set in quaint small towns displaying the steely wills of Southern grotesques are not useful and are often hideous to watch. I prefer the writing of Southerners who are prepared to deal with the painful history of this place, including a frank approach to race and history.” He specifically names Pearl Cleage, Margaret Edson, Steve Murray, and Shay Youngblood as Southern Playwrights to watch.

We are thrilled Grimsley has returned home to North Carolina and we look forward to reading more of his writing or watching more of his plays in the future.

Read the entire article at Proquest or order either the 2009 issue or the Jim Grimsley collection!