Andrew Nelson Lytle
|Andrew Nelson Lytle|
December 26, 1902|
Murfreesboro, Tennessee, U.S.
|Died||December 12, 1995
Monteagle, Tennessee, U.S.
|Institutions||University of Florida|
|Alma mater||Vanderbilt University|
Andrew Nelson Lytle (December 26, 1902 – December 12, 1995) was an American novelist, dramatist, essayist and professor of literature. He was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and early in his life planned to be an actor and playwright. He studied acting at Yale University and performed on Broadway when he was in his 20s.
Unlike other Southern intellectuals who left the region never to return, Lytle went home after the death of a kinsman. Except for brief sojourns elsewhere, he remained in the South for the rest of his life.
Lytle's first literary success came as a result of his association with the Southern Agrarians, a movement whose members included poets Robert Penn Warren and Allen Tate, whom Lytle knew from Vanderbilt University. In fact, most historians of the Agrarian movement consider Lytle to be one of its driving forces and the movement's most artful and consistent spokesman. The group of poets, novelists and writers published the 1930s I'll Take My Stand, which expressed their philosophy. In 1948, Lytle helped start the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Florida.
Lytle first published a biography of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general of the American Civil War: Bedford Forrest and his Critter Company (1931). Lytle went on to write more than a dozen books, including novels, collected short stories, and collections of essays on literary and cultural topics.
Most critics consider The Velvet Horn (1957) to be Lytle's best work. It was nominated for the National Book Award for fiction. His 1973 memoir, A Wake For The Living, is a tour-de-force in Southern storytelling, combining a deep religious sensibility, an expansive view of history that links events across decades and even centuries, and—sometimes—bawdy family tales.
Lytle served as editor of the Sewanee Review from 1961 to 1973 while he was a professor at the University of the South. During Lytle's tenure, the Review became one of the nation's most prestigious literary magazines. Lytle was an early champion of Flannery O'Connor's work. Lytle encouraged many writers, including Allen Tate and Robert Penn Warren, but also Elizabeth Bishop, Caroline Gordon, and Robert Lowell. His insightful criticism often improved their work.
Though Lytle retired from the University of the South in 1973, he never fully retired from either writing or teaching. In the last years of his life, he had what he called the "great pleasure" of seeing most of his earlier books come back into print. Several university presses published collections of his stories and essays.
A warm and hospitable host, and an irrepressible raconteur, Lytle spent the last 20 years living in his cabin on the grounds of the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly in Monteagle, Tennessee, not far from the campus of the University of the South. A trip to the cabin became a kind of pilgrimage for many writers, teachers, and scholars. One famous tale concerned Lytle's making a trip to Nashville and riding on an elevator with his pet rooster. He often recounted a favorite memory from his youth: one Sunday morning in church, as the collection plate was being passed, his father noticed a young Lytle dropping a quarter in. The father removed the quarter, handed it back, and remarked with a wink: "A penny makes just as much noise."
Lytle had two great literary loves in his life. One was Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary and the other Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter. The latter helped earn its Norwegian author the Nobel Prize for literature.
Lytle's last book was short; Kristin: A Reading is an affectionate, insightful, and idiosyncratic take on Undset's work. It was published in 1992, just a few years before Lytle's death.
Lytle died on December 13, 1995, two weeks shy of his ninety-third birthday. At the time of his death he was still living in his cabin at Monteagle. Lytle was buried at the University of the South Cemetery, Sewanee, TN.
- Among others, see Robie Macauley, "Big Novel: The Velvet Horn by Andrew Lytle." The Kenyon Review, 19(4):644-646. Macauley says, "It is a novel of unique setting and feeling, and of intricate artful telling. Without the least bit of cant, it arrives at a hopeful and positive conclusion. In short, it should assure Mr. Lytle of his rightful place among the first rank of American novelists practising today."
- Andrew Nelson Lytle !902-1995
- John Jeremiah Sullivan, "Mister Lytle: An Essay", Paris Review, Fall 2010
- "Andrew Nelson Lytle", University of Florida
- J. O. Tate, "A Passionate Voice", National Review, March 13, 1987