Renowned author and Graves County native Bobbie Ann Mason discussed drawing from regional history in her stories to a packed audience Tuesday night at Murray State University. Mason was the featured speaker for the history department's inaugural Easley Lecture Series.
She described finding inspiration for her famed short story Shiloh from a Mayfield High School teacher who took class trips to the Civil War battlefield. Through correspondence, she gleaned historical context for the story. This is how a fiction writer's mind works, she said, "You try to create a credible scene or situation, one that comes to life in the story itself."
In Country centers around the Vietnam War, which Mason said was not necessarily a familiar topic to her - as she was a child during the war and said many of the stories and experiences were not eagerly talked about. She said denial of war is a common reaction, but her character in the story wanted to know what it was like, what it felt like, what it looked like and sound like. Mason said of her character, she wanted it to come alive in her mind so that her father would be alive in her mind.
Mason segued into describing an interest in how and why people 'lose their history.' For instance, family recipes and the people who created them, how some relatives got interesting nicknames and the origins of dialectical language. She described western Kentucky speech patterns and their similarities to dialects of other early European settlers - English and Scotch-Irish roots.
She said people lose their history and posited it as a denial of the hardships of pioneering or of civil war. "Nothing much to say," she said was something her grandmother would tell her, yet discovered the most important things were hidden, like the death of a sibling at a young age. The forgetting comes from the trauma of migration and the effects sieve down over generations, she said.
The series was created in honor MSU alum and regent, county attorney and Calloway and Marshall Counties district judge Sid Easley, who died in 2016. The series is designed to be an annual opportunity to explore historical topics. The Sid Easley Lecture Fund was created by family and friends.
Mason is known for her work including Shiloh and Other Stories and In Country, which was turned into a film starring Bruce Willis. Her work often features people and life in west Kentucky.