Ann B. Ross
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Ann B. Ross is the author of a series of New York Times bestsellers set in her home state of North Carolina that generally share a group of returning characters. The central character, "Miss Julia," whose name appears at the beginning of each title and from whose point of view the novels are written, believes the universal truths are "that family and faith and doing what is right and proper make up the core of a healthy and happy life." However, "being well acquainted with the consequences of womanly submission," by book two of the series, Miss Julia also believes that "a woman ought to take up for herself, if you ask me."
Miss Julia (aka Mrs. Wesley Lloyd Springer), "a refined Southern woman whose late husband’s secrets disrupt her life," first appeared in 1999. As she begins her widowhood, her household consists of herself and Lillian, her African American maid who comes in each day and occasionally stays overnight. The first addition to her household is a male deputy from the local police force, Coleman Bates, who rents a room in her spacious house (until he moves out to marry Binkie Enloe, Miss Julia's lawyer, in book three). His presence is meant to reassure her, according to Sam Murdoch, a retired lawyer and Julia's confidant/admirer. As Wesley Springer's secrets reveal themselves, the consequences of his actions bring a mother and son, Hazel Marie and Little Lloyd, into her residence. Adjusting to the presence of these newcomers, Miss Julia's involvement in their lives and theirs in hers helps her to create a new life of her own as an independent woman after life with a domineering husband. As Ross puts it, Miss Julia "has just begun to grow up" only once she becomes a widow, and watching her develop is part of the series' strength and appeal. "I think of that first book, well, maybe the series as a whole, as a coming-of-age story." Ross also thinks Miss Julia is a successful character because "readers can identify with her in some ways, but they also can stand outside of her and not only laugh with her but laugh at her sometimes."
Although Ross tried to make the books "stand alone," she found that increasingly difficult as the number of characters increased and their lives intertwined. The upside is that "it seems as soon as I sit down to start a new story, one or more of [her characters will] pop up with a problem for [Miss Julia] to solve.” One of these characters, Etta Mae Wiggins, first appears in a relatively minor role but then reappears in the next novel and eventually in her own stand-alone novel, Etta Mae’s Worst Bad-Luck Day (2015). Ross uses irony frequently to show how other characters view Miss Julia, but this novel is exceptional in being situated in another character's point of view.
The novels' plots often depend on points of North Carolina state law to do, for example, with inheritance, mental competence, and a mother's fitness to care for her child (as in Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind and Miss Julia Takes Over). As Miss Julia learns about these laws through her own experiences, her perception of the world around her changes, leading her to increasingly independent actions, sometimes even knowingly going against laws she sees as unfair and harmful to herself and those she loves. Both Miss Julia's spoken and internal dialogues as well as Ross' presentation of events and their consequences show the vulnerability of aged and/or poor members of society, particularly if they are female. While Miss Julia is a pillar of the Presbyterian church located across the street from her own house, she and Hazel Marie, whose uncle, Brother Vern Punkett, is a televangelist, both suffer from aggressive efforts on the part of religious men to control their lives and appropriate the wealth inadvertently left to them by Miss Julia's hypocritical husband. Book by book, Miss Julia more and more clearly expresses her dislike of hypocritical and sexist preachers.
Miss Julia at times makes it clear that she is an old-school Tar Heel Democrat who has no use for Republican party policies controlling aspects of family life and social justice in general. By book four (Miss Julia Takes to the Road), in which Miss Julia attends "a protest meeting at the Reverend Morris Abernathy's AME Zion church" in hopes of helping Lillian and her neighbors find a solution to being evicted by their white landlord, her fellow Presbyterian Clarence Gibbs (who has obtained ownership of their homes through less than Christian means), Miss Julia's political views seem drawn from Democratic socialism. She realizes that she can't simply take care of Lillian on her own. She tells Hazel Marie, "If all those people're put out on the street, it'll be a matter for the whole town to take on." By force of will and her own example of sacrificing her dignity for the good of others, she gets the whole town involved in raising money to buy the land and houses involved, preventing the evictions and thereby also protecting a small historical cemetery important to the local black community.
Set in the South, the Miss Julia novels cannot avoid being considered in terms of relations between the races. Miss Julia Takes to the Road deals explicitly with racism when first Little Lloyd and then Lillian ask Miss Julia direct questions about events in the novel. In addition to potential arguments about writing dialectal speech accurately, the Miss Julia novels raise inevitable questions about attitudes and the perspective they embody. Miss Julia and the other characters speak with a regional accent that reflects both race and social status, including education. In the era of Black Lives Matter it is almost impossible not to question Lillian's trusting response to contact with the local police. Yet when Lillian sleeps over, Miss Julia proves that she is no Miss Ann by insisting that Lillian sleep in one of the guest bedrooms in the bed rather than in a cot, as Lillian suggests. When Lillian nearly loses her own house, Miss Julia realizes how much she relies on Lillian and not only risks her own house but even declares her love for Lillian "most of all." In Miss Julia Throws a Wedding, the pianist for the wedding, one of Lillian's black friends, accompanies a white police lieutenant whose vocal range is unexpected and out of character, at least from Miss Julia's point of view--and the lieutenant's character is of more concern to her than that of the pianist. In addition, Reverend Abernathy conducts the ceremony, causing Miss Julia to feel more confidence in his abilities and moral rectitude than she feels for the white ministers who have left her in the lurch, thereby bringing about this somewhat improbable situation. Any traditional racial prejudices and social customs Miss Julia has grown used to give way to practicality and an appreciation of individual morality when tested.
Miss Julia's reactions to people and events around her--her character development--as well as the plots themselves contribute to the series' interest. At the AME church, Miss Julia ponders the appropriateness of a "figure of Christ on the wall" that is neither "fair-skinned" nor "real dark," concluding that it "was probably closer to the real thing than any picture I'd ever seen before." In this same novel, Miss Julia considers "the dangers in taking [Bible] verses out of context" and responds to a sermon on how Christian women should behave with "a flash of insight": She feels insulted not just on her own behalf but for all the women in the congregation. Novel by novel, Ross presents a picture of Southern culture that challenges preconceived notions of a monolithic and unchanging region. Unsurprisingly, given the range of discussion points handled with thoughtfulness and humor, the Miss Julia series is popular among book club readers across America. It has also transcended regional and national boundaries to succeed internationally, e.g., in Germany, Japan, and Poland. Ross is nonetheless particularly proud of a fan letter from her fellow Southerner Dolly Parton.
Ross began her publishing career in the early 1980s with two paperback murder mysteries. They "didn't do very well" and she gave up on writing. While a graduate student, though, she published her "first hard-cover book," The Pilgrimage, an adventure story about two North Carolina sisters who go west in the 19th century as missionaries; "again, it didn't do very well." Retrospectively these two experiences seem less like failures to Ross, "because how many people get published?"
Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind "went through six printings in the space of a year and was ranked #9 on the Independent Booksellers’ 76 most highly recommended books for that year. It also was named to the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers list." It was "printed in Reader's Digest Condensed Books in twelve different languages." In 2017 Miss Julia Inherits a Mess was nominated for a Southern Book Prize by the Southern Independent Booksellers Association. As of December 2018, there are twenty books in the Miss Julia series, which appear under the Penguin Random House/Viking Press imprint. Ross also has had a Los Angeles agent to handle interest in adapting her novels into films.
Ross completed an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Asheville in 1984, while her children were also at university. She earned a Ph.D in Old English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1991. UNC-Asheville has honored her as a "Distinguished Alumna" as well as employed her as part of its teaching staff.
Her career in creative writing progressed along with her career as a university teacher, which was when Miss Julia just "came into her head." “For the first time in my life, I was no one’s daughter, niece, wife or mother. I was just Ann, and my identity came from my classroom performance alone. ... It was absolutely liberating.” A full-time writing career followed on from the success of her first Miss Julia book."
She is "the mother of two daughters and one son, and the grandmother of four grandsons (including twin boys) and two granddaughters, both of whom are her namesakes." Ross lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina, the basis for the town in the Miss Julia books.
- Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind (1999)
- Miss Julia Takes Over (2001)
- Miss Julia Throws a Wedding (2002)
- Miss Julia Hits the Road (2003)
- Miss Julia Meets Her Match (2004)
- Miss Julia's School of Beauty (2005)
- Miss Julia Stands Her Ground (2006)
- Miss Julia Strikes Back (2007)
- Miss Julia Paints the Town (2008)
- Miss Julia Delivers the Goods (April 2009)
- Miss Julia Renews Her Vows (2010)
- Miss Julia Rocks the Cradle (2011)
- Miss Julia to the Rescue (2012)
- Miss Julia Stirs Up Trouble (2013)
- Miss Julia's Marvelous Makeover (2014)
- Etta Mae's Worst Bad-Luck Day (2014)
- Miss Julia Lays Down the Law (2015)
- Miss Julia Inherits a Mess (2016)
- Miss Julia Weathers the Storm (2017)
- Miss Julia Raises the Roof (2018)
- Bernhard, Johnnie (13 July 2017). ""Miss Julia Weathers the Storm," by Ann B. Ross". Southern Literary Review: A Magazine for Literature of the American South. Retrieved 14 Dec 2018.
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- Schaefer, Cindy (13 April 2015). "Ann B. Ross: Creator of 'Miss Julia' headed to the Triangle". The News and Observer. Retrieved 13 Dec 2018.
- Martin, D. G. (23 July 2005). "Ann B. Ross, Miss Julia's School of Beauty". North Carolina Bookwatch (TV broadcast). PBS/UNCTV. Retrieved 23 Feb 2019.
- Dasen, Faye M. (6 April 2015). "The World of 'Miss Julia': Ann Ross Visits the Country Bookshop". The Pilot Newspaper (Moore County, NC). Retrieved 2019-02-22.
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- Sides, Derrick (21 May 2015). ""Miss Julia" author Ann B. Ross to visit Asheboro". Randolph Arts Guild. Retrieved 14 Dec 2018.
- Martin, D. G. (11 June 2017). "WNC writers vie for Southern Book Prizes". Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC). Retrieved 23 Feb 2019.
- "Miss Julia series". GoodReads. Retrieved 13 Dec 2018.
- "Ann B. Ross". Retrieved 12 Dec 2018.
- "HCWP Events: Ann B Ross: Tea Time and Signing". Hub City Writers Project. Retrieved 13 Dec 2018.