Author Ellen Douglas died on Wednesday at the age of 91. Douglas, a native of Mississippi, was probably best known for her 1973 novel Apostles of Light, which became a 1973 National Book Award nominee.
Douglas credited fellow Mississippi native William Faulkner as a literary influence and went under the pen name Josephine Ayres Haxton, according to USA Today.
She took the pseudonym to protect her family’s privacy. The author’s work, which was set in Mississippi, spoke candidly about race relations, families, and the role of women.
Ellen Douglas grew up in Hope, Arkansas, and Alexandria, Louisiana. She spent summers at her grandparents’ home in Natchez, Mississippi, where her family’s roots can be traced back for generations.
She attended and graduated from the University of Mississippi and authored 11 books. Six of the books were novels, while others were collections of short stories and essays.
Douglas most well-known novel, Apostles of Light, is a complex story about the mistreatment of residents at a retirement home in Homochitto, Mississippi. Douglas stated in an interview in 2005 regarding race relations and other forces that helped shape literature, “If you don’t have conflict, you don’t have fiction.”
Boston.com notes that State Representative Steve Holland is the funeral director handling arrangements for Ellen Douglas’ funeral, which he said are pending. Douglas passed away on Wednesday after what he called an extended illness resulting from congested heart failure.
Once she wed, Douglas settled down and raised her family in Greenville, Mississippi, though she has lived in Jackson for the past 30 years. The Mississippi author spoke about Faulkner’s influence on her writing during a 1980 oral history with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
She stated that she was influenced by the “overwhelming hypnotic style” of William Faulkner, who lived and wrote at Oxford while she was a student at UM. She added that she was able to meet him a few times, but did not know him well.
Along with Apostles of Light, Douglas also authored The Rock Cried Out, A Family’s Affairs, and Can’t Quit You, Baby. She won a lifetime achievement award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters in 2008.
Douglas was also honored when she became the University of Mississippi’s writer-in-residence from 1978 until 1983. One of her creative writing students during that time was Larry Brown, a firefighter from Oxford who writer Big Bad Love and other gritty Southern novels. Brown passed away in 2004.
Ellen Douglas, who died on Wednesday, is survived by her three sons: Righard Haxton, Brooks Haxton, and Ayres Haxton.
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