Oct. 27, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Julia May
Contributed By: Claude Wooley
In January 2012, 13E Note Editions, a publishing company in Paris, will be releasing in French translation SHSU professor Paul Ruffin’s fourth collection of stories, "Living in a Christ-Haunted Land."
The title of the book comes from the response of Southern writer Flannery O’Connor to a question she was asked one time about the south: “Do you think that the South is Christ-centered?” Her answer was, “I don’t know about it being Christ-centered, but it is certainly Christ-haunted.”
“I was brought up in rural Mississippi in a highly-charged religious atmosphere,” Ruffin said, “and everything that happened in my life, good or bad, according to my parents and whatever preacher was holding down the pulpit at time in the Assembly of God church I grew up in, happened because it was the 'Will of God.' Christ was everywhere. My Wednesday nights, Sunday mornings, and Sunday nights were all spent in church, and Vacation Bible School came along every summer. We could not have a television in the house because it was a wicked influence, what with all those trashy soap-opera stars and those scantily-clad women who sometimes appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. I could not hunt or fish on Sunday because it was the 'Day of Rest', a rule that came straight from the Bible, Mother said, though it always struck me as strange that she worked harder in the kitchen on Sundays than she did any other day of the week. I could not dance or go to parties, even birthday parties, but I could go on Easter egg hunts and to church social functions.”
It is no wonder, then, that religion plays a major role in the characters of "Living in a Christ-Haunted Land." Sometimes there are direct references to God or Jesus, and sometimes their spiritual presence merely hovers in the background.
In “Manhunt” a young black convict eludes his white pursuers as if by magic. After all the other men have left for home, the narrator hears an eerie sound from the woods and then sees the boy high in a gum sapling: “At first I see nothing, nothing but sleet slicing down into the beam, beyond it the winter-smitten kudzu and trees, and then I see him, clinging high in a sparsely leaved gum sapling, a thin Negro no larger than a schoolboy, his head thrown back in consuming mirth, arms and legs spread out in the branches like Christ against a Golgothan sky.”
In “Jesus in the Mist” a man steals from his Jackson, Miss., Holiday Inn room a bathroom mirror in which he has seen Jesus’s face and mounts it in the back of his truck, spending the rest of his days traveling about the South fogging up the mirror and revealing the face to believers.
The central character in “The Man Who Would Be God,” a wealthy Texas oil man, becomes God to Mexican illegals who are camping on his land.
When asked how his book managed to end up in the hands of a French publisher, Ruffin explained, “Well, a piece on me appeared in the French magazine Transfuge three years or so ago, and this publisher ran across it and asked whether I would submit a story for an anthology they were putting together. The Noir Anthology it was called. They liked the story quite a lot apparently and asked whether I would put together a collection of stories for them. I did, and they liked it, so there you are.”
When the publisher recently emailed Ruffin a proof of the cover of his book, he was surprised to find that the title was "Jesus Dans Le Brouillard," which translates to "Jesus in the Fog" or "Jesus in the Mist."
Another French publisher, Fayard, is currently considering the release of Ruffin’s first novel, "Pompeii Man", in French.
“Much of that book is set in New Orleans,” Ruffin said, “so I’m hoping that will help sell the book to them. The publication of the book of stories should enhance my chances.”
When asked what he thinks this book will mean for his writing career, he said, “Well, many an American author had his career kicked into gear in Paris, so I naturally hope that this book will add impetus to mine. One of our Texas Review Press authors had a book released in French. Then a publisher in Britain decided to bring it out. It just depends on how well the book does in France, I suppose. 13E Note Editions has brought ought out books by such American writers as Richard Burgin, William Burroughs, Jr., Barry Gifford, Tom Grimes, and Tim O’Brien, so whatever happens, I’m flattered to have them bring out my book.”
Paul Ruffin is a Texas State University System Regent’s Professor and Distinguished Professor of English at SHSU, where he edits The Texas Review and directs Texas Review Press. He is the author of two novels, four collections of stories, four books of essays, and seven collections of poetry, and his is the editor or co-editor of 12 other books.
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