Lifelong Writer Publishes First Book
At the age of 83, Betty Jean Tucker of Linden is doing anything but slowing down. Recently, Dr. Tucker published her book, “On a Darkling Plain: Stories of the Great Depression”, from Livingston Press. The book is a collection of short stories. The first story, “Callie”, was published in 1951 when the then Betty Jean Foxhall was only 19.
Born in 1931 in the heart of the Depression, Dr. Tucker has first hand experience with the hard times that era brought. In his introduction to her collection, Dr. Norman McMillan, an emeritus professor of English at the University of Montevallo, writes, “Tucker understands [the Depression] and she is quite willing to explore this world with grit, grace, courage, and a total lack of sentimentality.”
But Tucker is not simply a woman willing to write about hard times. She is an authority in the writing field. After earning her degree in English from Alabama College (now the University of Montevallo), Tucker taught at Linden High School for eight years. She then went on to hold the position of chairman of the English department at the University of West Alabama for 20 years.
Her writing reflects her literary knowledge. The title “On a Darkling Plain” is a reference to Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach”:
For we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight.
There is no better way to encapsulate Tucker’s collection than with these lines. Her characters’ outlook on life is fitting with the culture of a country fraught with economic troubles. Religion is to some a poor solution to their heartache.
Tucker says that the “one of the effects [of the Depression] on my characters was a loss of faith” not a discovery of it.
She adds, “My object as a writer is not to give you a momentary rosy view of life, but to make you feel…to make you feel and think.”
Reading just one story will provoke feelings and thoughts that only a great author can create. Tucker captivates and often horrifies the reader with her vivid and stark language. For example, in the story “Hungers,” she writes: “Her head was no head at all. There was just a big bloody hunk of bone and hair and a few of the little rat-like teeth.”
Her collection is a culmination of six decades of writing. When asked why she chose to write such vivid stories of the Depression now, Tucker explains: “I was led to write most of the “On a Darkling Plain” stories by the comment of a friend, Emily Burge, who read the story “Hungers” and said, ‘you ought to write more of these stories because when our generation is gone, there will be no one who can write with the authority of having experienced the Great Depression up close and personal.’ When our current economic tsunami struck, it seemed an opportune time to publish the stories.”
The time is certainly right for the younger generations of America to read stories like these. Often the Depression is for us a story of hard times when people had to buckle down, work hard, and perhaps tighten their belts a bit. But we believe that every man, woman, and child had the success story characteristic of the “American Dream.”
Tucker’s stories sing a different tune. Her characters don’t experience the archetypal “happy ending,” but their strength and determination ring true with the core of American ideals.
Historian and author Wayne Flynt writes this of Dr. Tucker’s collection: “The stories seem powerfully resonant, eerily familiar, and deeply troubling. We encounter…people beat down, distorted, broken, desperate. But we also find characters who are indomitable, resilient, unyielding, determined.”
Her collection contains ten short stories, each set in the Alabama Black Belt during the Depression, or looking back on it. Some have the happy ending we all expect, most do not. Even the happy endings are riddled with pain.
Though entirely fictional, Tucker considers her writings true to the times. There is no sugar coating.
Dr. Tucker dedicated her collection to her two children, Ken and Tracy, and to her seven grandchildren, “all of who make sure that the landscape of my own life is not a darkling plain.” Her book is written in memory of her mother, Adelle Foxhall, who lived from 1912 to 2012, an entire century.
Dr. Tucker’s book can be purchased from the University of West Alabama Bookstore, from Livingston Press (visit www.livingstonpress.uwa.edu) or the Linden Library. She will also have book signings on June 18 at 1 p.m. at the Linden Public Library and on June 20 at 2 p.m. at the Demopolis Public Library.
Betty Jean Tucker’s accomplishment is a testament to a lifelong career as a teacher and writer. But her kind soul is a testament that not all those who suffered during the Depression emerged callous and hard.
By Cristiana Shipma
Last Updated: November 10, 2016