Edwin Granberry was a celebrated writer and teacher whose works engaged the interaction between the southern landholding class and laborers in the early twentieth century. Born in Meridian, Mississippi, Granberry moved with his family to Jacksonville, Florida, as a child and attended the University of Florida. After serving in the US Marine Corps during World War I, he attended Columbia University, graduating in 1920. He became a professor of romance languages at Miami University of Ohio before attending the renowned 47 Workshop at Harvard from 1922 to 1924, during which time he wrote the play Hitch Your Wagon to a Star.
In March 1924 Granberry married Mabel Leflar, and they went on to have three sons. From 1925 to 1933 Granberry served as Latin and French master at Stevens School in New Jersey. During this era he published The Ancient Hunger (1927), Strangers and Lovers (1928), and The Erl King (1930). His 1932 “A Trip to Czardis” won the O. Henry Memorial Award as the year’s best short story; Granberry later expanded the story into a novel, which was released in 1966. In addition to writing fiction, Granberry worked with artist Roy Crane and later Henry Schlensker on the cartoon Buz Sawyer.
In 1933 Granberry became writer in residence at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and in 1940 he was named the school’s Irving Bacheller Professor of Creative Writing. He was an inspiring and innovative professor, often holding class outdoors or at his home. He developed friendships with writers Sinclair Lewis, Thornton Wilder, Irving Bacheller, and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who sometimes appeared in his classes as guest lecturers.
In 1936 Granberry reviewed Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind in the New York Sun, proclaiming the work a War and Peace for twentieth-century America and comparing it to the writings of Hardy and Dickens. Granberry viewed the work as an antidote to southern writing of the time, which was concerned primarily with barren, cruel landscapes rife with incest and abject poverty and provided no redeeming view of the contemporary South. Mitchell wrote to Granberry a few weeks after the review was published, beginning a close friendship between the authors and their families.
Critics described Granberry’s work as examining the romantic “feudal” South, a space where noble plantation or ranch owners interact with poor whites, who are often (though not always) portrayed as noble. Granberry’s novels evoke the wild landscapes of Florida (A Trip to Czardis, Strangers and Lovers, and The Erl King) and of the western prairies (The Ancient Hunger), with settings particularly attuned to the environment. Granberry wrote evocatively of seasonal change and of human interaction with the natural world and was known as a “backyard agriculturalist, zoologist, and ornithologist.” Sexuality is an important theme in Granberry’s work, with issues of infertility and gender roles driving his narratives.
Granberry died on 5 December 1988.
- Edwin Granberry, New York Sun (July 1936)
- Edwin Phillips Granberry Collection, Department of Archives and Special Collections, J. D. Williams Library, University of Mississippi