Eleven-year-old Ellen from the book Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons, grows up in a household where her father is an abusive alcoholic and her mother is too sick to complete everyday tasks....
A few years ago, I read "On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon," by Kaye Gibbons. She also wrote "Ellen Foster" and "Charms for the Easy Life," among others, and has received acclaim for her efforts.
Best known for fictional works about self-reliant Southern women who transcend the difficult circumstances of their lives, Kaye Gibbons entered the American literary scene with the publication of Ellen Foster (1987), a Southern coming-of-age novel. Set predominantly in rural Southern communities, Gibbons s novels are told in plain, direct regional language through first-person narrators. From the matriarchal folk healer to the uncompromising eleven-year-old, her powerful protagonists are guided by an innate wisdom and a steely determination not to succumb to self-pity.
Kaye Gibbons was born on May 5, 1960, in a small rural community in Nash County, North Carolina. Gibbons’s father was a poor tobacco farmer who struggled with alcoholism and was often abusive. Her mother suffered from bipolar disorder, which causes a person to experience extreme swings from periods of depression to periods of mania, a state that includes intense activity and sleeplessness. She committed suicide when Gibbons was ten years old, and Gibbons’s father died only a few years later from complications associated with alcoholism. Afterwards, Gibbons was passed around from relative to relative, a lifestyle that provided her much of the material that evolved into Ellen Foster. By the time she was twenty, Gibbons had also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Kaye Gibbons’ use of simple diction, unmarked dialogue, and a unique story structure in her first novel, Ellen Foster, allows the reader to explore the emotions and thoughts of this heroic, ten-year-old girl modeled...
However, Ellen, the main character and protagonist of the novel Ellen Foster, exemplifies a substantial amount of independence and mature, rational thought as a ten-year-old girl.
After graduating from high school, Gibbons attended North Carolina State University on a scholarship, majoring in English with the intent of becoming a teacher; however, her interest in writing led her to enroll at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There, Gibbons became familiar with the works of James Weldon Johnson, an African American poet whose use of common speech patterns and idioms in his writing greatly influenced Gibbons’s prose style. Already a wife and mother of two by this time, Gibbons enrolled in a literature class taught by Louis Rubin, a renowned teacher and noted scholar of Southern literature, as well as the founder of the Algonquin Press. After Gibbons showed him a poem she had written from the viewpoint of an African American girl, the character who later became Ellen Foster’s friend Starletta, Rubin encouraged Gibbons to develop the poem into a novel. Two months later, she presented him with a manuscript that she had written during a six-week manic episode.