Byron Herbert Reece: Trafficking With The Alphabet
Byron Herbert Reece was born in 1917 to Emma and Juan Reece in a one-room log cabin to a family who had lived in the North Georgia mountains since the early 1800s. As an American author, the soul of his mountain homeland resonates through his four volumes of poetry and two novels. Reece’s life and career ended early at age forty when he committed suicide in response to illness and depression. He was found in his office at Young Harris College, Mozart on the record player, his students’ papers graded and neatly stacked.
Solitary throughout his life, Reece was a bright schoolboy, graduate of Blairsville High School, and attended Young Harris College while teaching school between 1935 and 1942. By age fifteen he was publishing poems in the local Blairsville newspaper and after high school produced many poems for newspapers and small journals. Both Emma and Juan suffered from tuberculosis, which Reese also contracted while caring for them, so his responsibilities on the farm often took him away from school and writing. He once told a reporter, “The leeway between us and starvation was narrow. I had to farm.”
Five times Reece received the Georgia Writers Association’s literary achievement award, was nominated for a Pulitzer Price in poetry, and earned two Guggenheim awards among other prestigious awards. He served as poet-in-residence at both Young Harris College and Emory University. In 2001 The Georgia Writers Hall of Fame inducted Reece and his life story is at the center of Georgia’s state drama, The Reach of Song. Highway 129 from Blairsville to Neels Gap is now called “The Byron Herbert Reece Memorial Highway.”
BYRON HERBERT REECE (right) AND FATHER JUAN REECE
Courtesy of: Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries
In 2003 a group of writers formed the Byron Herbert Reece Society and in 2004 constructed a museum to the write on the site of his family farm. Open to the public, the museum is a depiction of early 20th century farm life. The Reece Farm (pictured) includes exhibits telling the story of Byron Herbert Reece as a farmer, writer, and poet who lived on the farm. There is also a vegetable garden, restored barn, corn crib, chicken house, smokehouse, spring house, and petting farm with animals.
Nearly all of Reece’s poetry center around four theme – nature, death, love, and religion. From “I Am the Dust”:
Too soon I too shall be as quiet
As they who know not how the night
Is dark nor how the day is clear,
But for a fleeting moment yet
I traffic with the alphabet
Before I am anonymous
And scattered everywhere.
In his own words: