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Shades of Grau

[whitespace] Shirley Ann Grau
Christopher Gardner

An annotated guide to the works of Shirley Ann Grau

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

One of Shirley Ann Grau's books, Roadwalkers (1994), is still in print with Alfred Knopf, its original publisher. Here Grau uses African-American protagonists, and the result is so good that a few Web lists include the book as an example of African-American literature. The story begins in the Depression with an abandoned black girl, Mary Woods, and ends many years later with the marriage of her daughter, Nanda. Grau has attempted to parallel the long walk of African-Americans out of the poverty of slavery and into--well, that gives away the ending.

The Black Prince and Other Stories, originally published in 1954 and reprinted in 1996 by the University of Georgia Press, is Grau's first book. The collected stories capture the feel of the Deep South in an often-overlooked era: the 1940s. Many of the stories explore the lives of Southern African-Americans, a remarkable feat for a white writer of that time. Grau often uses small events to highlight great themes, demonstrating that ordinary folk can be far more interesting--and, perhaps, more important--than the high and mighty.

In The House on Coliseum Street, originally published in 1961 and reprinted by Louisiana State University Press in 1996, Grau turns her gaze to one of the signature struggles of the 1960s: the drive of women to overcome the gender bonds in the days before there was such a thing as a women's movement. A rebellious young woman from an old-money Southern family faces an unwed pregnancy by her sister's old boyfriend. Here Grau shows her mastery at building powerful storylines through quiet, intense struggle.

The Keepers of the House is Grau's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and, not surprisingly, it is her masterpiece. Originally published in 1964, it is available in a reprint edition from Louisiana State University Press. Keepers is the story of a romantic relationship between a black housekeeper and a member of an aristocratic Southern white family. Grau shows a fine grasp of the art of storytelling, expertly switching points of view between blacks and whites and providing a regional history lesson that is reminiscent of Robert Penn Warren's work in All the King's Men.

Five of Grau's earlier books are presently, and unfortunately, out of print: The Condor Passes, 1971; Evidence of Love, 1977; The Hard Blue Sky, 1958; The Wind Shifting West, 1973; and Nine Women, 1986.

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Web extra to the February 26-March 4, 1998 issue of Metro.

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