Authors: Madison Jones

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Innocent, 1957

Forest of the Night, 1960

A Buried Land, 1963

An Exile, 1967 (also known as I Walk the Line, 1970)

A Cry of Absence, 1971

Passage Through Gehenna, 1978

Last Things, 1989

To the Winds, 1996

Nashville 1864: The Dying of the Light, 1997

Short Fiction:

Season of the Strangler, 1982

Nonfiction:

History of the Tennessee State Dental Association, 1958 (with Thomas Davidson Dow)

Biography

Madison Percy Jones, Jr., was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 21, 1925, the son of a well-to-do businessman and Mary Temple (Webber) Jones. Madison was raised as a Presbyterian, absorbing an uncompromising moral outlook that dominates his works. Like most “Old South” families, the Joneses sent their son to private high schools so that he would receive a classical education. When Madison was thirteen, his father bought a farm in Cheatham County, north of Nashville, and as a teenager, Jones spent much of his time there, learning to farm and to train Tennessee walking horses.{$I[A]Jones, Madison}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Jones, Madison}{$I[tim]1925;Jones, Madison}

After high school, Jones enrolled in Vanderbilt University, but he dropped out after three semesters and spent eighteen months working on the farm. He then returned to Vanderbilt for three more semesters before he was drafted in 1945 and sent to Korea, where he served in the military police for two years. When he returned to Vanderbilt, Jones took creative writing courses with the famous Agrarian writer and critic Donald Davidson. Although Davidson liked his writing, Jones returned to the farm for a year after receiving his B.A. in 1949 and seriously considered becoming a farmer.

Having decided to continue with his writing, he went to the University of Florida to study with Andrew Lytle, another prominent Agrarian. In 1951 he received his M.A. That same year, he married Shailah McEvilley. They would have five children. Jones continued his graduate study at the university for two more years, completing all the requirements for a Ph.D. except for writing a dissertation. In 1953 he left to write a novel. That fall he began teaching at Miami University in Ohio, but the following year, having obtained a Sewanee Review Fellowship, he moved back to Florida and worked on The Innocent. The next year Jones taught at the University of Tennessee. Then in 1956, he went to Auburn University. He became Auburn’s writer-in-residence in 1967 and a full professor in 1968. In 1982 he was named to a chaired professorship, which he held until his retirement five years later, when he moved permanently to a small farm outside Auburn.

Over a forty-year period, Jones published ten novels and one volume of connected short stories. Although all of the works are set in the South and deal with the same themes (the conflicts between good and evil, conscience and compulsion), their time frames vary widely. For example, Forest of the Night is set in the early nineteenth century, while A Buried Land deals with the Tennessee Valley Authority’s acquisitions of land in the mid twentieth century. By contrast, A Cry of Absence, the novel about integration which Jones considered his best work, appeared not long after the events that inspired it. Similarly, Season of the Strangler was written not long after the series of murders in Georgia that gave Jones the idea for his book, although he dated those stories ten years earlier.

Over the years, Jones won numerous honors, including an Alabama Library Association Book Award in 1967, a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1968, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973-1974. A chapter of To the Winds that appeared in the Summer, 1992, issue of the Sewanee Review was awarded the Lytle Prize for short fiction. Jones’s work also aroused the interest of filmmakers. An Exile was the basis of the popular film I Walk the Line (1970). Although Jones wrote a film treatment of his best-selling book, A Cry of Absence, the film was never made.

Jones’s many admirers cannot account for the fact that even though critics have ranked Jones with such writers as Sophocles, Thomas Hardy, and William Faulkner, his novels have not sold as well as those by other major southern authors. Although in the 1980’s and 1990’s Jones was the subject of more scholarly articles than in previous years, in 2002 there was still no book-length study of his work. Nevertheless, his compelling plots, his poetic style, and his profound understanding of human nature assure Madison Jones a permanent place among the finest writers of his era.

BibliographyBinding, Paul. “Madison Jones.” In Separate Country: A Literary Journey Through the American South. Rev. ed. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. A perceptive study, based not only on a close analysis of the novels but also on Jones’s conversations with Binding.Bradford, M. E. “Madison Jones.” In The History of Southern Literature, edited by Louis D. Rubin, Jr., et al. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985. Jones is classified as a traditional southern writer and an uncompromising realist. A thoughtful essay.Gretlund, Jan Nordby. “The Last Agrarian: Madison Jones’s Achievement.” The Southern Review 22, no. 3 (July, 1986): 478-488. Though Jones still holds many Agrarian views, Gretlund insists that his later works are less pessimistic than the earlier ones and that he is more a moralist, concerned with universal truths, than a regionalist.Gretlund, Jan Nordby. “Madison Jones: A Bibliography.” In Bulletin of Bibliography 39, no. 3 (September, 1982): 117-120. Lists the author’s earlier works, including short fiction, critical essays, and reviews. A valuable reference.Jeffrey, David K. “Madison Jones.” In Contemporary Fiction Writers of the South: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook, edited by Joseph M. Flora and Robert Bain. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. Includes a biographical section and a concise commentary on each book-length work, ending with Last Things. Includes bibliography.Morrow, Mark. “Madison Jones.” In Images of the Southern Writer. Athens: University of Georgia Press. 1985. This brief essay, reporting an informal conversation with Jones on matters ranging from his relationships with other writers to his view of his profession, reveals the blend of humor and sadness which are found in his works. Opposite the essay is an excellent full-page photograph.Parrill, William. “‘The Language Instructs You’: A Conversation with Madison Jones.” In The Long Haul: Conversations with Southern Writers. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1994. The author comments both on his own works and on those of his contemporaries. A segment on his religious views is especially interesting.Rice, William. Review of Last Things, by Madison Jones. National Forum: Phi Kappa Phi Journal 70 (Spring, 1990): 47. Comments on the revelations of moral horror in the context of the familiar which make this novel, like Jones’s earlier works, both dramatic and memorable. Rice points out how one shock of recognition follows another to the climactic confrontation between father and son.Walsh, William J. “Madison Jones.” In Speak So I Shall Know Thee: Interviews with Southern Writers. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1990. Focuses primarily on Last Things. Also includes interesting speculation as to why Jones has not attained greater popular and critical recognition.
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