Author and editor Charles East was born 11 December 1924 in Shelby, Mississippi. The son of Elmo Montan East and Mabel Grandolph East, he married Sarah Simmons of Cleveland. After graduation from Louisiana State University, the couple moved to New York City, where East began his career as an editorial assistant for Collier’s magazine. He went on to publish numerous short stories and nonfiction in such literary quarterlies as the Yale Review, Antioch Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review. While working as an editor at the Louisiana State University Press and the University of Georgia Press, he helped establish their fiction publishing programs.
Between 1981 and 2001, East served as editor of the annual Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction series, which has been called the most important collection of contemporary short fiction. East selected the stories to be included in Listening to the Voices: Stories from the Flannery O’Connor Award (1998), which has been hailed as an invaluable contribution to the American short story.
East’s first collection of his own writings, Where the Music Was: Stories (1965), received the Henry Bellaman Award. East paints a picture of the South in the 1930s and 1940s, often with alienated characters or those just outside the mainstream of acceptable norms. His second short story collection, Distant Friends and Intimate Strangers (1996), told of a South with sensibilities more universal than regional.
East also published a meticulously edited and annotated edition of The Civil War Diary of Sarah Morgan (1991). According to East, Morgan’s story was “a life’s lesson learned in the most terrible way—compounded into the span of a war instead of a lifetime.”
East counted his Mississippi Delta upbringing and education as a godsend to him as a writer. In his introduction to The New Writers of the South: A Fiction Anthology (1987), he defined southern writers by where they lived in their early years, when they are “listening to the sound of voices, surrounded by the quirks and myths and lies that will shape [their] view of human history and that, though [they do] not know it yet, will in some mysterious way infuse [their] characters.”
East died in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2009.
- Charles East, Sewanee Review (Summer 1999)
- Charles East, ed., The Flannery O’Connor Award: Selected Stories (1992)
- Charles East, e-mail interview by Augusta Scattergood (May 2004)