In Under Magnolia, Frances Mayes brings us a lyrical memoir about her childhood in the South
#1 New York Times bestselling author Frances Mayes returns to the place that shaped her as a child
- Imprint: Crown Publishers
- On sale: April 1, 2014
- Price: $26.00
- Pages: 320
- ISBN: 9780307885913
“One of those books you want to devour but realize it’s more satisfying to savor for as long as possible.”
—Kirkus, starred review
“A best-selling sensation worldwide, Mayes will galvanize readers with this vigorously promoted coming-of-age tale set on her home terrain.”
“Under Magnolia is a gorgeous, dreamy remembrance of hot Southern afternoons, mothers in red lipstick and Shalimar, Elvis turned up loud to cover up the family troubles that ran deep. An unflinching love song to her simultaneously rich and troubled childhood, it is Mayes’ most generous work yet.”
“Like the rest of America, I fell in love with Tuscany and Italy when I read Frances Mayes’s wondrous memoir Under the Tuscan Sun. She followed her Tuscan books with a beautiful novel called Swan, which alerted me to her southern heritage. In her new southern memoir, Under Magnolia, Frances Mayes describes the birth of her extraordinary sensibility, the deep-pooled clarity of her writing, her giddy love of nature, and her sharp and satirical eye for those who brought her up to honorable womanhood in the tortured South of her girlhood. Her prose style is seamless to me and she writes in a royal style.”
—Pat Conroy, New York Times bestselling author of The Prince of Tides and The Death of Santini
“No one could have invented a more combustible, joy-starved pair of glam and oblivious parents or a more incandescent child to dive into the blue ruins; explore the sealed-off passages, blacked-out dreams, and neglected outlets by the beams of her own incredulous eyes; and then break the surface a smart-mouthed, truth-seeing sensualist, fully in attendance to the vibratory moment. The deft framing, exacting word picks, apposite references, high-speed wit, singled-out synecdoches of a life and the cadence, phrasing, and pulse of a muted Georgian accent are all signature to the prose and poetry, stovetops, and passport stamps of Frances Mayes. In her memoir Under Magnolia they are second skin. When she comes clean, you feel, can I say it, cleansed. Freer. Floatable. What an offering.”
—C. D. Wright, author of One with Others
“Under Magnolia is one of the most brilliant memoirs ever written, shedding new light on a certain mysterious South and offering a memorable portrait of the artist as a young girl. Frances Mayes, a petite, brainy beauty from what we used to call politely “a troubled home” has written an unnervingly honest and refreshingly open account of how a child can be neglected even amid privilege and a large family. Filled with curiosity, she is “always reading under the covers and looking for secrets, whatever was hidden. I taste the sharp medicine and liver pills in the bathroom, know the sour bush whiskey someone from out in the county brought my father.” In the chapter on Randolph Macon we have the best portrait ever drawn of life at the “girls schools” of the older South. Frances has a genius for the perfect image, the telling detail, much as her mother Frankye had a genius for fabric. I’m sure Frances is one of the few writers in the world who grew up knowing that “a peach chair will go with anything.” Reader, artist, scholar, poet—Frances Mayes gradually became the aesthete and writer she is today, a passionate lover of the world and the word.”
—Lee Smith, author of Guests on Earth
“No other writer today breathes life into place like Frances Mayes. In Under Magnolia, she turns her prolific gift of language and description to the South and her childhood there. This memoir recalls bygone days filled with neighborhood characters, sultry weather, Sears Roebuck catalogs, smothered quail—all the trappings of a southern childhood. Under Magnolia is a love song, a rich and beautiful book.”
—Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle and Comfort: A Journey Through Grief
“Mayes has written a brash and delightful, cringe-worthy and uproariously funny memoir. As I read, I wished Mayes had been my teenage neighbor. Wit as well as misery loves company.”
—Margaret Sartor, author of Miss American Pie
Following on the heels of her beloved books of life in Italy—Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany, Every Day in Tuscany, The Tuscan Sun Cookbook—FRANCES MAYES now brings us UNDER MAGNOLIA: A Southern Memoir (Crown; April 1, 2014). Her most personal book to date, UNDER MAGNOLIA is a lyrical account of Mayes’s coming-of-age in the deep South, her decision to leave it behind to explore the world, and her return there to start a new life.
For most of her adult life Mayes’s American home was in California where she served as chair of the Department of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. She embraced that life for twenty-three years before being drawn back to the South by family ties and by “Edenic connections with what I love most about the South: the powerful landscape . . . I’m born knowing that the place itself runs through me like rain soaking into sand.” Following her own philosophy of stare attento—to stay alert to the next opportunity—she left California and resettled in an artistic community in North Carolina.
Once there, inspired by finding an old cache of autobiographical writing, dusty scrapbooks and her still-locked childhood diary, Mayes began to examine the South through the lens of maturity. UNDER MAGNOLIA captures a particular time in the region—the dawning of the Civil Rights era—when the world was about to change but Mayes’s hometown of Fitzgerald, Georgia, wasn’t yet aware of that. Mayes delves deeply into the past, the bitter and sweet stories of her complicated family: her beautiful yet fragile mother, Frankye; her unpredictable father, Garbert; her grandfather Daddy Jack, whose life Garbert saved; her grandmother Mother Mayes; and the family maid, Frances’s confidante Willie Bell.
Chronicling her travels as a young woman throughout Virginia, New Orleans, Florida, and Georgia, Mayes explores the power of place and the idea of home. With acute sensory language, she relishes the sweetness of the South, the smells and tastes of her childhood meals—the sweet tea, peach ice cream, pressed chicken, brown sugar muffins, grits with cheese, and black bottom pie—and the fragrance of her hometown trees: the crape myrtle, oak, palm, long-leaf pine, magnolia, pecan, and sycamore. She writes of her youth as a spirited tomboy, a rebellious and secretive child through her university years—a period of exquisite freedom that imbued her with a profound appreciation of friendship and a love of travel—to her escape into a new life in California. Mayes exuberantly re-creates her world of intense relationships and her passionate connection with the land from which she sprang.
With her gift for luminous physical description, and vivid and affecting characterizations of family and friends, UNDER MAGNOLIA is a searingly honest and unforgettable story of a girl whose perspicacity and dawning self-knowledge lead her out of the South and into the rest of the world, and then to a profound return home.
About the Author: In addition to her worldwide bestselling Tuscany memoirs, FRANCES MAYES is the author of the travel memoir A Year in the World, illustrated books In Tuscany and Bringing Tuscany Home (with Edward Mayes), and The Tuscan Sun Cookbook (also with Edward Mayes). She has published a novel, Swan, set in the South; The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide for Reading and Writing Poems; and five books of poetry. Her books have been translated into more than fifty languages. She divides her time between Tuscany and North Carolina. Learn more at www.francesmayesbooks.com.