The Brilliant Gay

The Brilliant Gay February 25, 2012

“I have something to say, if I could ever figure out a way to say it,” William Gay.


I met William Gay in Nashville. I can’t remember if it was Silas House or Sonny Brewer who introduced us. We were all there as authors appearing at the Southern Festival of Books. I knew men like William Gay, had grown up around them all my life, storytellers who honed their skill while leaning up against  post or tilting back in rocker.

The college-educated illiterate might dismiss men like William Gay as just another Tennessee redneck. It’s not necessarily a term that would offend William Gay.

It was at that same Nashville conference that an attendee noticed me & Kaye Gibbons talking.

“Do you know Kaye Gibbons?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Are you friends?”

“We are professional acquaintances,” I said.

“So are you a writer?”


“Are you famous? Should I know you?”

“Apparently not,” I said.

There is a cowboy in the town I live in who always stops to talk to me about writing. I don’t really know how much writing he actually does but he told me outside the grocery store one day that he is writing for one reason only — he intends to get rich from it.

Yeah, good luck with that, I said, walking away.

Most of the really good writers I know have a difficult time rubbing two nickles together.

William Gay should have been rich.

His books, not Dan Brown’s, ought to have been on bedside tables all across America.

He should be required reading for senior English.

But William Gay never got the recognition he was due from the reading public.

Gay was widely regarded as a literary writer.

That’s slang for what the Brits call Brilliant.

Or what other writers just call damn good.

Publishers tell damn good writers all the time that nobody reads literary work anymore. It’s a kiss of commercial death to be considered a literary writer. While editors may love your work, sales teams don’t.

Gay has been compared to Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy.

Sonny Brewer, the editor of A SILENCE OF MOCKINGBIRD, and William Gay were the best of friends. The two were to do a reading together on Monday night. My publisher, David Poindexter at MacAdam/Cage, figured Gay to be a Literary Rock Star. He regarded Gay the way many men do Bono. Gay’s novel The Lost Country is to be published by MacAdam/Cage.

When I met William Gay in Nashville that year, he and I spoke about his stint in the Navy, about his being a Vietnam Veteran. He was kindly, talking to me about my daddy, another Tennessee native. He poked fun of the lime green cowboy boots I was wearing.

Everywhere William Gay went that day, writers were nudging each other and pointing at him, gap-mouthed with awe. Gay was the Genius-Wonder among the crowd.

I imagine that God didn’t have any trouble picking Gay out from the crowd.

I bet God has William Gay’s books on his bedside table.


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