Feature

Donald Harington

The novelist who created a surreal Ozark world

Donald Harington
1935–2009

Donald Harington set 13 of his 15 novels in the fictional town of Stay More, Ark., in the heart of the Ozark Mountains. Borrowing from Greek mythology and plots reworked from the classics, he created a surrealist world that some critics compared to William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. Yet he was all but ignored by the mainstream media, leading Entertainment Weekly to once call him “America’s greatest unknown writer.”

Harington grew up in Little Rock, Ark., but spent most of his summers in the tiny Ozark town of Drakes Creek, the inspiration for Stay More, said The Washington Post. At age 12 he lost his hearing to bacterial meningitis and became a passionate reader. After earning a master’s degree in art history at Boston College, he spent the next 20 years teaching at Bennett College in Millbrook, N.Y., where he befriended novelist William Styron, who lived nearby. In 1970, with Styron’s help, he found a publisher for his first Stay More novel, Lightning Bug, and later its sequel, Some Other Place. The Right Place.

Harington went on to create a 140-year history of Stay More through six generations of the Ingledew clan, said The New York Times. He also illustrated the books himself, and moved so “elusively through fictional categories” that it was difficult to classify his work. By turns it was called regional, magical realism, metafictional, traditional, and even nonfiction.

In the 1980s, Harington re-ceived a letter from a reader named Kim McClish, who said his novels had inspired her to visit the ghost towns of Arkansas. He joined her in the project; they were married in 1983. He later credited her with helping him to overcome alcoholism, writer’s block, and depression.

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