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Shirley Abbott

  • To grow up female in the South is to inherit a set of directives that warp one for life, if they do not actually induce psychosis.

  • We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.

  • Within our family there was no such thing as a person who did not matter. Second cousins thrice removed mattered. We knew — and thriftily made use of — everybody's middle name. We knew who was buried where. We all mattered, and the dead most of all.

  • This curious sense of separateness is one of the most stubbornly preserved Southern attitudes. The South, its historians say, stands apart from other American regions because of its peculiar history. History has been cruel to Southerners, has persistently dealt them deuces.

  • The disintegration of a culture is a melancholy event.

  • If there is such a thing as an Indian heritage among Southern women, a legacy that amounts to more than hoecakes and bone structure, or even that damned, insolent look in the eye that so unnerved my father, it would have to belong to the people of the backwoods. I imagine that it may show itself in a certain cynicism that, in my family at least, runs through the political attitudes of the women like a fine seam of coal. One thing that they taught me was that politicians are the source of all disillusionment.

  • ... whatever your color or creed may be, when you get too close to civilization, you can probably expect to be done in.

  • She said they [injections of morphine] didn't kill the pain but locked her up inside it.

  • The South may be the last place where dying is still sometimes a community project.

  • As I grew to adolescence, I imagined, from closely observing the boredom and vexations of matrimony, that the act my parents committed and the one I so longed to commit must be two different things.

  • If the production of self-serving folklore qualified as an industry, the South would have been an industrial power since colonial times.

  • Anybody who grows up in the South may have to reckon, some time or another, with being born again.

  • Everybody must learn this lesson somewhere — that it costs something to be what you are.

  • My father, dead so long now, looms up as unexplored landscape, the mountains of the moon, a text that has lain in a drawer, undeciphered, for which I have had no Rosetta Stone.

  • This was the dawn of plastic eating in America. ... We doted on Velveeta. Spam. Canned ravioli. Instant puddings. Instant anything. The further a thing was from the texture, flavor, and terrifying unpredictability of real food, the better.

  • No better story than a horse race has ever been written. It takes less time than the telling of it, is as irreversible as a meteor's plunge, as inevitable as death, and you can't ever know the outcome in advance.

  • You washed those parts quickly, without looking at them. They had no names. Good people were required to refer to them with prepositions, rather than straightforwardly with nouns, as with decent things like tables and chairs. 'Down there.' 'In between.' 'Behind.'

  • ... her food had been a form of vengeance, the ultimate in female passive aggression, the punishment males had so richly earned for demanding three meals a day but never peeling a potato or washing a plate.

  • 'Daughter' is not a lifelong assignment.

  • All fiction may be autobiographical, but all autobiography is of course fiction.

    • Shirley Abbott,
    • in Mickey Pearlman, Listen to Their Voices ()

Shirley Abbott, U.S. writer, editor


Full name: Shirley Jean Abbott Tomkievicz.