Evans Burnham Harrington, educator, author, editor, and civil rights activist, was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on 5 October 1925. The son of a Baptist minister, he grew up in a succession of small towns and churches in southern and central Mississippi, graduating from Ellisville Agricultural High School in 1943. After serving in the US Naval Reserve from 1943 to 1945, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi College in 1948. For the next two years he taught high school English and social studies in Decatur. In 1951, following the completion of a master’s degree at the University of Mississippi, the university hired him to supervise the English practice teachers at University High School. Four years later he was appointed to the university’s English faculty. He received a doctorate in English from the university in 1968.
During a teaching career that spanned more than three decades, he taught courses in creative writing and American literature and served as chair of the English department at the University of Mississippi from 1979 to 1987. A cofounder of the annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, which he directed from 1974 until 1993, Harrington was also a longtime participant in the Southern Literary Festival, serving as president of that organization in 1965, 1976, and 1987.
Harrington’s published writings include The Prisoners (1954), a realistic novel about the struggle to maintain personal dignity and integrity under the dehumanizing effects of penal conditions; several short stories, including “The Knife in the Dark,” published in the Saturday Evening Post (1954) and subsequently dramatized on television by Rod Serling; the script for the documentary film Faulkner’s Mississippi: Land into Legend (1965); and a 1976 musical adaptation of William Faulkner’s comic story “My Grandmother Millard and General Bedford Forrest and the Battle of Harrykin Creek.” He published three novels under the pseudonym Gilbert Terrell: Willa (1961), Missy (1962), and Lily (1964). These three books, published by Dell as paperbacks with rather provocative covers, all had southern settings, mixed themes of love and frustration, sexual relationships, small-town life, and the occasional literary reference. One character in Missy, for example, says of a visiting writer, “Well, I just hope [he] doesn’t write like Williams or Faulkner or Caldwell, or so many of our Southern writers.” The Prisoners, the only novel Harrington published under his own name, occasionally reads more like the works of Faulkner, with unusually long sentences and complex but inevitable relationships among characters. Harrington also published a number of personal and critical essays, and he and Ann J. Abadie coedited four volumes of papers presented at the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference.
A passionate advocate for individual liberties and civil rights, Harrington was an active member of the American Civil Liberties Union, Mississippi Council on Human Relations, American Association of University Professors, and Common Cause. His identification with such liberal organizations made him a frequent target for the ire and occasionally the threats of Mississippi’s political reactionaries. In 1962, along with historian James Silver and other University of Mississippi liberals, Harrington openly supported the enrollment of James Meredith, the first black student to attend the university. In 1965 state politicians and even some of his colleagues at the University of Mississippi castigated him for inviting African American students from Tougaloo College to attend the Southern Literary Festival hosted by the university—the first meeting of that organization to be integrated. In 1972, as faculty sponsor of Images, the University of Mississippi literary journal, he joined with his student writers in a successful suit against the university’s attempt to suppress an issue of the magazine that contained controversial language.
Harrington’s ambivalent feelings about being a liberal in a conservative state and region that he dearly loved find poignant expression in “Living in Mississippi,” an essay that appeared in the Yale Review in 1968. Harrington died in 1997.
- Robert W. Hamblin, Journal of Mississippi History (May 1991)
- Robert W. Hamblin, Living in Mississippi: The Life and Times of Evans Harrington (2017)
- Evans Harrington, Yale Review (Spring 1968)
- Evans B. Harrington Collection, Department of Archives and Special Collections, J. D. Williams Library, University of Mississippi.