Tom Franklin was born on 7 July 1963 in the small town of Dickinson in southwestern Alabama and lived there until his family moved to Mobile in 1981. Franklin earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of South Alabama in 1989. While in college Franklin worked at a variety of jobs, including a four-year stretch as a heavy-equipment operator in a sandblasting-grit factory, a stint as a clerk at the Mobile Infirmary morgue, and a time as a construction inspector on a hazardous-waste cleanup crew at a chemical plant. Franklin published short stories in both the Chattahoochee Review and the Nebraska Review before receiving a master of fine arts degree from the University of Arkansas in 1998. He subsequently held residencies or taught at the University of South Alabama, Bucknell University, Knox College, and the University of the South before accepting the position of John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi in 2001. Both he and his wife, poet Beth Ann Fennelly, now teach in the university’s creative writing program.
The stories in Franklin’s first collection, Poachers (1999), were revised while he was in graduate school. The title piece, first published in the Texas Review, won the 1998 Edgar Allan Poe Award. The story is set in the swamps of Alabama, along the banks of the Alabama River, and involves three brothers who are caught illegally poaching game. They murder a young and ambitious game warden to conceal their crime, and the local sheriff sends for an infamous game warden, Frank David, to search out the brothers. He does, tracking them to their home in the swamp and meting out a brutal justice. Other stories in the volume draw inspiration from Franklin’s various jobs, mining his native Alabama for settings and characters and portraying a world that is distinctly southern and uniquely South Alabaman.
Franklin’s next book, Hell at the Breech (2002), is a historical novel based on real events that occurred a few miles from his childhood home. The novel is set in 1897 and follows the vigilante justice that occurs after the accidental killing of an aspiring politician in rural Mitchum Beat, Alabama. Friends and relatives of the slain man form a night-riding society, Hell-at-the-Breech, to terrorize the townsfolk they believe are responsible for his death, driving a wedge between people who are perhaps not very different.
Franklin’s third book and second novel, Smonk (2006), is set in 1911 and follows the one-eyed, dwarflike, goitrous, sickly, and excessively violent E. O. Smonk just days before his trial for general mayhem in Old Texas, Alabama. He has resolved to kill every male citizen of the town before they can try him, and he nearly does, but not before he encounters the boyish waif Evavangeline, a fifteen-year-old prostitute who is every bit Smonk’s violent equal. Smonk counts among its themes incest, fratricide, insanity, violence, and the emotional detritus left scattered across the rural South even decades after the Civil War. Violent though Smonk is, it is not without the dark comedy that can be compared to that of humorists of the Old Southwest such as Henry Clay Lewis and Johnson Jones Hooper. The settings and characters in Franklin’s work remind his readers that some areas of the South remain part of the nation’s frontier.
Franklin’s highly regarded work has been compared to such gothic southern authors as Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Larry Brown, Cormac McCarthy, and Harry Crews. Franklin’s writings have appeared in the Black Warrior Review, the Southern Review, the Oxford American, Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, and New Stories from the South, 1999. Franklin’s third novel, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (2010) moved from his native Alabama to rural Mississippi, and in 2013 Franklin and Fennelly published a coauthored novel, The Tilted World, set in Mississippi during the Great Flood of 1927.
- Greg Johnson, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (27 August 2006)
- Veronica Pike Kennedy, Birmingham News (3 September 2006)
- Fredric Koeppel, Memphis Commercial Appeal (8 October 2006)
- Mary A. McCay, New Orleans Times-Picayune (24 September 2006)