Story telling

Originally from Meridian, author Brad Watson is known for his stories, humor and friendship | Local news

A brilliant and award-winning fiction writer, Brad watson his family and friends will remember his sense of humor, sharp intelligence, honesty, empathy, sheer genuineness, and his smile, which was often sly as though he was up to something.

For his friends, the only thing better than reading Brad’s stories was listening to them: stories that gradually weaved their way through many twists and turns, and were delivered in a deep but soft voice tinged with an accent of the Mississippi, whom he claimed to have lost when he moved to Hollywood as a young man to become an actor.

His empathy and humor were on display in his most recent novel, “Miss Jane,” in which he fully inhabited the title character, based on the life of his great-aunt who lived in rural Mississippi in the early 20th century. In an age when writers are often cautioned not to stray too far from their own small business, Brad boldly envisioned the lives of others, perhaps more majestically in his finalist, “The Heaven of Mercury”. for the National Book Award. The book’s main character, Finus, is full of nostalgia and melancholy, a man who admits his own “inability to see the world except through the crinolated filters of the need for self-awareness.” But in the pages of the book, Brad himself, as if granting Finus’ wish to “not be who he was,” flies from character to character, completely inhabiting them, from Finus to the unrequited love of. Finus, Birdie Wells, to Birdie’s maid, Creasie, until we experience a full, varied and heartbreaking world.

Wilton Brad Watson, who died Wednesday, was born in 1955 in Meridian, Mississippi, where he lived until he moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Meridian High School, where, as he put it, “He tried to get into the movies but ended up being a Hollywood garbage collector, instead. He returned to Mississippi after the death of his older brother, taking a job as a bartender at a bar called Crazy Horse (after Neil Young’s group) that his father owned, and gradually returning to school, initially. at Meridian Community College, then Mississippi. State, where writer Price Caldwell stoked his crazy dream of becoming a fiction writer, and finally graduate school at the University of Alabama, where he studied with the great Southern writer Barry Hannah. After graduating, disheartened by his job, Brad gave up fiction for nearly a decade, working as a reporter on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

Years later, after Brad’s first book, Last Days of the Dog Men (Norton, 1996), won the Sue Kaufmann Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the Great Lakes Colleges New Writers Award, and after Brad had landed a prestigious five-year position as Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Fiction at Harvard University, he brought in Barry Hannah and another Southern writer who had influenced him, Padget Powell, to speak to a full house at Harvard. Hannah, who was very ill at the time, cried on the podium, saying he felt “like Quentin Compson was coming to Harvard” and that he now knew “that southern boy made it”.

At Harvard, Brad spent winters on Cape Cod, and it was there that he met his wife and fellow writer, Nell Hanley. After leaving New England, Brad and Nell traveled and taught at various schools before landing in the New MFA Program at the University of Wyoming in 2005, where they recently bought a property south of Laramie with room for Nell’s five horses. Brad was known as a compassionate and caring teacher who deeply understood the difficulties inherent in creating art.

The effort to create a family despite the loss was a theme in Brad’s life as well as in his work. Brad was immensely proud of his sons Jason and Owen and, in his own words, was “the proud grandfather of Jason’s beautiful and talented daughter and his wife Katie, Maggie.” He was also a great friend to many, and raising a glass of whiskey with him was a pleasure those who did will never forget.

Brad can still be found in his work, which includes, in addition to the three books listed above, his collection of short stories, “Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives” (Norton 2010). In addition to the awards listed above, Brad has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Marfa Residency from the Lannan Foundation, a Residency from the Aspen Institute, a Fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation and a Prize in Letters from the American Institute of Arts and Letters.

He will be sadly missed by his readers, friends and family.

David Gessner was a friend of Brad Watson. Gessner is the author of 11 books and the Chairman of the Creative Writing Department at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.