Kate Vaiden

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by Reynolds Price

There are wonderfully poignant scenes from the pre-war rural South that take your breath away. The penny show that Kate’s mother creates from funeral flowers laid in a damp dirt hole covered with glass and then hidden behind another layer of dirt, only to be uncovered after payment of a penny.

While Kate is an engaging character who meditates on others’ assessment of her strength, she is a passive character.  Life happens to her; she doesn’t take stands, set goals or overcome challenges. A classic example is living within an hour’s drive of where her abandoned son lives and never once going to see him.

The Author

Reynolds Price (1933 – 2011) was a poet, novelist, dramatist, essayist and James B. Duke Professor of English at Duke University.

He was born in the Great Depression and spent his childhood moving around rural North Carolina. Early on he developed a taste for reading, writing, painting and opera.  He eventually received a full scholarship to Duke, where he finished Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude. When he graduated in 1955, he received a Rhodes Scholarship and attended Merton College at Oxford University. His thesis focused on the English poet John Milton.  When he graduated in 1958, he was hired by Duke University and remained there for the rest of his academic career.

In 1984, he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor on his spinal cord.  While surgery and radiation got rid of the tumor, he was left a paraplegic in constant pain for the rest of his life. He later said that the experience made him more patient, more watchful and a dramatically more prolific writer.  He died in 2011 of complications from a heart attack.

Price wrote 38 novels, short stories and memoirs.  His first novel, A Long and Happy Life, published in 1962, won the William Faulkner Foundation Award. Kate Vaiden received the National Books Critics Circle Award.

He co-wrote the Top 40 song “Copperline” with singer James Taylor.  Former President Bill Clinton described Price as one of his favorite authors.


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