A story set in a small Southern town has been receiving national acclaim in literary circles.
The novel, “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter,” by Tom Franklin, assistant professor of fiction writing in the University of Mississippi’s Department of English, most recently was awarded the LA Times Book Prize in the “Best Mystery/Thriller” category.
The book also was nominated for a Barry Award, an Edgar Award, a Hammett Award and a SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Association) Award. It is the recipient of the Alabama Librarians Association Award for Best Novel.
“Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” is Franklin’s third novel. Like “Hell at the Breech” and “Smonk,” it is set in a small Southern town. A native of Dickinson, Ala., a town of around 500 people in south-central Alabama, Franklin possesses an innate understanding of the collective guilt and secret sins that lie just under the surface of the Southern psyche.
“The South has more than its share of secrets—old sins that haunt us,” Franklin said. “There are things people don’t want to talk about because they remind us of what we are and what we are capable of. It’s a cloud that is over all of us, and we are trying to get out of the shadow of it.”
Dickinson is just a stone’s throw from Monroeville, Ala., the home of Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Franklin said he was affected by the book, the beauty of the language and the sensitive yet progressive way it dealt with the darkness of racism and discrimination. Lee is one among many Southern writers who has influenced and inspired Franklin.
Franklin, who was the recipient of the 2001 Guggenheim Fellowship, credits the College of Liberal Arts and the English department with nurturing and encouraging his work as a writer.
“I can’t even imagine a more supportive environment for writing,” he said. “Not only does the administration encourage me as a writer, but they make it easier for me to write—for example, providing a summer research grant so I have the time away from classes to work. Knowing there are expectations for me as a writer, as well as a teacher, keeps me on my toes and motivated.”
According to Ivo Kamps, professor and chair of the English department, the national attention Franklin’s novel has garnered brings acclaim to the department and to the university.
“Tom Franklin is an enormously talented writer and storyteller whose novels and stories raise the reputation of the English department and its M.F.A. program across the country,” Kamps said. “Having his novel ‘Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter’ win the LA Times Book Award after spending several weeks on the New York Times best-seller list firmly underscores this point and helps us attract highly talented students to Ole Miss. We are extraordinarily fortunate that Tom and his wife, the poet Beth Ann Fennelly, have made Oxford and the English department their home.”