Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Birmingham-born Author Paul Hemphill Dies

Paul Hemphill at Alabama Bound 2006
Noted author Paul Hemphill died of oral cancer Saturday at the age of 73. He was born in Birmingham in 1936, and graduated from Woodlawn High and received a B.A. degree from Auburn University. He moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1964 to work at the Atlanta Times. He was later hired by the Atlanta Journal where he wrote a column six days a week, modeled after the writing style of Jimmy Breslin, whom he admired for his "taut 1,000-word human dramas."

In 1970 Hemphill left newspapers behind and wrote his first novel, The Nashville Sound: Bright Lights and Country Music (1970). This was to be a subject he successfully returned to in 2005 when he wrote the acclaimed biography of Hank Williams, Lovesick Blues: the Life of Hank Williams.

Along with country music, Hemphill also loved sports. He wrote about baseball and bowling at his newspaper jobs, and even played minor league baseball in Florida and Kansas. Books on his favorite sports include The Heart of the Game (1996), Wheels: A Season on Nascar's Winston Cup Circuit (1997), and Long Gone (1979), which was made into a 1987 HBO movie starring William L. Peterson and Virginia Madsen.

Though critical of many aspects of the south that he loved and chronicled in his books Leaving Birmingham: Notes of a Native Son (1993) and The Ballad of Little River: A Tale of Race and Restless Youth in the Rural South (2000) , he said he would never leave it and had no business writing about any other location.

Hemphill was a guest speaker at BPL's book fair Alabama Bound in 2002, 2003, and 2006.

He is survived by his second wife, Susan Percy of Atlanta; three children from his first marriage; a daughter from his second marriage; and six grandchildren.


Hunter said...

Great post. That was really well done, Tressa.

Tressa said...

Thanks, Hassel.

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