I was — and to an extent still am — a tweedy English Major snob. At college, I focused on the evolution of the modern novel and Anglo-Irish literature. I read the big names like Cervantes, Dickens, Carlyle, Ruskin, Yeats, Eliot and Billy Shakespeare. I read the lesser-knowns like J.P. Donleavy and Patrick Kavanagh. And my senior thesis at Berry College was chock-full of 10-cent words like verisimilitude, epistemology and mimesis.
Why should I listen to my dad and read a book by a Georgia author with the curious name of Dr. Ferrol Sams?
Well, it is easy to tire of reading the “big names” in literature. The brutal realism, the 10-cent words and the, frankly, depressing plots are not exactly a salve to a troubled soul when life gives you enough struggles of your own. So about six years ago I finally picked up Sams’ novel, “When All the World Was Young.”
I was hooked.
Sams was a Southern writer — yes. And he captured the very essence of the South in his prose. But he was also something else. He was a poet in his vivid descriptions of the land and its people. He was a classic storyteller. And, most of all, he had that rare gift of combining tragedy and comedy. I always say any author can make you sad, but it takes an especially talented one to make you laugh out loud.
Sams had that gift.
Sadly, after 90 years on the planet, Sams died early Tuesday morning. He is survived by his wife Helen and several children and grandchildren.
It is sad when anyone leaves us, but Sams’ life on this planet is especially unique.
Most authors earn a reputation of being prima donnas, drama queens or high-maintenance snobs. And some of them deservingly so.
But, I think you would be hard pressed to hear anyone say that about Ferrol Sams. He won praise from national publications, was awarded various literary honors and published several best-sellers, including the popular, “Run with the Horsemen.”
But, he didn’t seal himself in an ivory tower, quit his day job or move to New York. He stayed in his home county of Fayette. He served as a doctor for more than 50 years. He lent his name and heft to dozens of worthy causes, including the Fayette Library and the Joseph Sams School, a unique school — named after his late grandson Joseph — that serves children with special needs.
And, thank God, he kept writing.
All in all, he gave us nine books.
It is easy in the last 10 years to overlook Sams. Though the literary world has respected him (even the elite-bent New York Times dubbed his writing, “elegant, reflective and amused”) Sams and his fellow contemporary Southern scribes such as Pat Conroy and Terry Kay fell out of vogue with critics the last decade.
But his books are still there. His words are still with us. And if they can make a tweedy English Major become a fan, they might make you too.
God bless you Ferrol. Now, go run with those horsemen again. You deserve it.
Mark Wallace Maguire is director of Cobb Life magazine and Cherokee Life magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.