Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Blessed Assurance: The Life and Art of Horton Foote

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Blessed Assurance: The Life and Art of Horton Foote

Article excerpt

Blessed Assurance: The Life and Art of Horton Foote. By Marion Castleberry. Foreword by Hallie Foote. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2014. Pp. [xxxvi], 500. $35.00, ISBN 978-0-88146-505-1.)

The Pulitzer Prize- and Academy Award-winning dramatist Horton Foote, author of The Trip to Bountiful (1962), The Young Man from Atlanta (1995), and Tender Mercies (1983), was part of a great generation of American playwrights. Born in Wharton, Texas, in 1916, Foote saw his first Broadway plays in the 1940s and emerged as a playwright alongside Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. In their lifetimes the three men were equally well known, and their posthumous reputations are all thriving. Each has been hailed as the greatest American playwright, but for different reasons.

Miller's and Williams's claims to greatness are supported by an extensive academic infrastructure: prominently published biographies, broad critical traditions, classroom-ready paperbacks of their major works that are always in print, handsome hardbacks enshrined in the canonical Library of America. With Foote it is otherwise. Most of his plays have long been out of print, while others are available only in cheap editions meant to support dramatic productions. Though there are now three biographies of Foote, all were published by regional or specialized presses, as were the handful of critical books on his work. Foote lives, for the average theater fan, not in the classroom or the library but in the productions that continue to be mounted in regional theaters throughout the country and in the excellent movies that are still being made of his best plays (two in 2014, one in 2015). His most persuasive advocates have been not critics or scholars but actors, who find in his understated scripts--as notable for their silences as for their show-stopping speeches--an empowering freedom.

In both its strengths and its weaknesses, Marion Castleberry's Blessed Assurance: The Life and Art of Horton Foote, which is the most recent and detailed of the three Foote biographies, can help explain the discrepancy. …

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