(1934–1991), novelist, essayist,
and winner of first James Baldwin Prize. Raymond Andrews was born near Madison, Georgia, in Morgan County, the fourth of ten children born to sharecropping parents George and Viola Andrews. He helped with the farm work and absorbed the ambience of rural living that was to color his later writings. Andrews left home at fifteen and worked at a variety of jobs while beginning to write. He eventually took a position in New York City with an airline, a job that enabled him to travel extensively in the United States and Europe.
Raymond Andrews's first published piece was an article on baseball, which appeared in Sports Illustrated in 1975. In 1976, Ataraxia, a small journal edited by Phillip Lee Williams and Linda Williams, excerpted a section from the novel Appalachee Red, which was published in its entirety by Dial Press (1978). Appalachee Red, winner of the first James Baldwin Prize, was followed by Rosiebelle Lee Wildcat Tennesee (1980) and Baby Sweet's (1983), completing the trilogy about life in the fictional Muskhogean County, Georgia. After Dial Press was closed by its parent group, Doubleday Press, Andrews's books were out of print until 1987, when they were picked up and reprinted by the Brown Thrasher imprint of the University of Georgia Press. Andrews subsequently went to Peachtree Press to publish his next two books, The Last Radio Baby: A Memoir (1991) and Jessie and Jesus and Cousin Clare (1991). Peachtree Press plans to publish Once Upon a Time in Atlanta, also a memoir, written about the years after Andrews left Madison and moved to Atlanta. Andrews also left manuscripts for two additional novels; their publishing future is unknown.
Andrews's unique style owes a great deal to the cadences of rural southern speech; he noted in the preface to the 1987 edition of Appalachee Red that his “American roots (like those of most Afro-Americans) are southern rural.” He reported that his earliest favorite writers were Erskine Caldwell, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, and John Steinbeck. Indeed, Andrews remarked that the character Pirate in Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat made him realize that the creation of a character was possible.
Andrews primarily drew from a rich lode of oral tradition that he absorbed from his family and community. There are echoes of the southern folk preacher, the streetwise badman who inhabits bars and liquor houses, the folk wisdom of elderly black women who pass on their knowledge to the younger African American girls, and the rhythms of jazz and blues music. Andrews wrote from his own culture, and his broader experiences in the places outside Georgia only helped him to focus more clearly on the culture from which he sprang.
His work, like the man himself, is ribald, often obscene, but never vulgar. It is gently ironic, not confrontational, and not intended to be political. Andrews has said that he intended to include all that life includes— sadness, boredom, sex, happiness, violence, and joy— without trying to proselytize and without attempting to change the essential truth of the way life was at a particular time. In fact he took issue with writers who he felt attempted to show only the oppressor and the oppressed. While some of the characters in Andrews's books might be seen as victims, the intent is to show the humanity of all the inhabitants of a community, not to point to the degradation of one race by another.