Patti Callahan Henry may not have started life as a Southerner, but she’s definitely become one. And in so doing, this New York Times best-selling author has joined the ranks of the nation’s most preeminent Southern novelists.
Some people were meant to be Southerners. Most of them, quite naturally, are from the South—but not all.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in South Florida—which she is quick to point out is “not the South”—Patti Callahan Henry has been hailed as a “fresh voice in Southern fiction.” The irony isn’t lost on the forty-something minister’s daughter.
She’s called Georgia home since the age of 22, but Alabama was where The New York Times best-selling author discovered her Southern “roots.” A petite blonde, whose beauty isn’t the least bit subdued by a pair of stylish reading glasses, Henry often uses self-deprecation to ward off flattery. But she’s gracious—the epitome of Southern graciousness.
“Auburn [University] is where I decided I was a Southerner, where I started my impersonation,” she says, with just a hint of a smile.
If it’s an act, she’s doing a great job. Henry’s books overflow with the timeless tides of the Lowcountry, and that setting has been an important factor in her success. Readers clamor for her literary-meets-commercial novels, which now number six—Losing the Moon, Where the River Runs, When Light Breaks, Between the Tides, The Art of Keeping Secrets and Driftwood Summer. Her latest, a novella called The Perfect Love Song, was published in October and bears a local impression. Two of the characters get engaged in Savannah.
Henry is just writing about what she knows. Like her characters, she too became engaged on the Creative Coast. The young Patti Callahan had met Patrick Henry at Auburn. He proposed to her on nearby Daufuskie Island, in front of its historic lighthouse.
The pair eventually bought a home there. They have since sold that property and re-purchased another in Palmetto Bluff, which Henry owns with photographer Sandee O. Bartkowski, wife of Steve Bartkowski, former quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons.
“It’s an outdoor paradise,” she says of their beach-themed writer’s retreat. “It’s been used exactly the way we want it to, which is a little bit of an artist retreat, a little bit of a family retreat and a little bit of an outdoors retreat. I use it when it’s time for me to edit or brainstorm.”
To read more about Patti Callahan Henry, pick up the latest issue of South magazine!
Photos by Shawn Heifert
Tags: Annabelle Robertson, New York Times best-selling author, Patti Callahan Henry, Story of the South