Martin: Remembering Reynolds Price at his 80th birthday

Mar. 23, 2013 @ 12:55 PM

If Reynolds Price had not died two years ago, he would have celebrated his 80th birthday last month.

Why am I thinking about Price today?

I noticed that Wednesday morning one of UNC-TV’s cable-only channels is re-airing a 10-year-old Bookwatch program featuring Price talking about one of his most provocative books, “A Serious Way of Wondering: The Ethics of Jesus Imagined” in which he speculates about Jesus’s views on homosexuality, suicide and the plight of women under male domination.

It has been more than 50 years, but I still remember my introduction to the work of Reynolds Price.  In 1957 my mother was reading a new book called “A Long And Happy Life.” “This is one of the best books I have ever read,” she said.  “And it is written by a North Carolinian.”

My mother thought that she had “discovered” Reynolds Price and his engaging characters.  But lots of other people quickly discovered Price as well -- and not just in North Carolina.  His sensitive and moving stories are about people whom his readers come to know as if they were next-door neighbors. The stories and the characters have enchanted people all over the world. 

“A Long and Happy Life” won the William Faulkner Award, and his fiction kept on winning awards throughout his life.  Reynolds Price was probably the most prolific of North Carolina's nationally known writers, with 40 books of essays, poetry, memoirs, translations and interpretation of Scripture and fiction to his credit.

His great gifts as a storyteller earned Price a place in our country's literary pantheon. And his description of life and characters in 20th- and 21st-century America make his work a blessing forever for those who will seek to learn how we lived and thought. 

Reynolds Price's own life reads like a novel.  His struggle with cancer, with excruciating pain and with paralysis that made it impossible for him to move about without a wheelchair, would have taken many of us into despair.  But Price refused to give up. He continued to write, even more prolifically. 

As James B. Duke Professor at Duke University, he taught generations of future writers.  His struggles enriched his writing, deepened his spirituality and inspired his many admirers and still inspire them.

I am thankful for the chance to see and hear him again — even if it is only in the morning on a digital cable channel.