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The Voice at the Back Door - 1956

One of the early novels dealing with
racial tensions in the South, this book was
written in Italy on a Guggenheim Fellowship.
It takes place in a small Mississippi county
seat around the late ’40’s and concerns
a race for county sheriff in which the hero,
Duncan Harper, a one-time Ole Miss football
star, is persuaded to enter. His fine but
somewhat simplistic character leads him
to believe that a new approach to race
can be introduced in this traditional society.
Involved as major characters are also a rather
enigmatic semi-educated black man, Beckwith
Dozer, Duncan’s wife Tinker, his former fiancee
(returned home as a war widow), his wife’s
devoted admirer, the lawless Jimmy Tallant,
and a number of other colorful local characters
—bootleggers, farmers, courthouse familiars
business men, black families, children,
the rich and poor and inbetweens. A rich
variety of racial attitudes, from a dawning
commonsense compassionate liberalism
to total hardline conservatism, have a chance
to surface in dramatic context throughout
the book. The summer election campaign
for sheriff furnishes the plot structure from
beginning to conclusion, but many other
dramatic confrontations both personal and
public are set in motion and brought to a head.

The Pulitzer Prize jury voted this novel as
winner of the 1957 Pulitzer Prize, but the award
was refused by the board. It received the first
Rosenthal Award of the American Academy,
was brought out in England and translated
into a number of foreign languages.
The reviews were enormously favorable,
and a contract was concluded with M-G-M
to option it for a major production. The movie
was cast and a script written, but a strike
in Hollywood interfered, and nothing was ever

The book is still in print at Louisiana State
University Press

The Night Travellers | The Salt Line | The Snare | No Place for an Angel | Knights & Dragons
The Light in the Piazza | The Voice at the Back Door | This Crooked Way
Fire in the Morning | Starting Over | The Southern Woman | The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales
On the Gulf | Marilee | Jack of Diamonds | The Stories of Elizabeth Spencer
Ship Island | Landscapes of the Heart | For Lease or Sale

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