This is a part of a series called Literary South, which highlights important literary landmarks and the writers and authors who made them known.
Born in rural North Georgia on September 14, 1917, Byron Herbert Reece first began writing poetry at Blairsville High School. His work was inspired by Old Testament stories and life in Appalachia. Later in life, his works became published, including Ballad of the Bones and Other Poems in 1945.
His 1950 publication, Bow Down in Jericho, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. From there, he worked on his first novel, Better a Dinner of Herbs, and received a Guggenheim Fellowship for fiction in 1952. Reece would go on to publish two more volumes of poetry and a second novel. He also received honors from the Georgia Writers Association and served as poet-in-residence at both Young Harris College and Emory University.
After a battle with illness and depression, Reece died by suicide on June 3, 1958, at age forty. During his final years, he taught at nearby Young Harris College, where he had attended intermittently and was found in his office with Mozart playing in the background and his students’ papers neatly graded.
He was posthumously inducted into the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame. Ralph McGill heralded him as “one of the really great poets of our time, and one to stand with those of any other time,” but he never received widespread recognition.
Byron Herbert Reece Landmarks
Reece Heritage Farm, Blairsville
The Byron Herbert Reece Society opened a museum dedicated to his life on the site of his family farm, now owned by Union County. At Byron Herbert Reece Society in Blairsville visitors will find a welcome center with a museum dedicated to the writer’s life as well as a gift shop selling his published works.
You can see the building where he spent much of his time writing as well as exhibits on life in rural Appalachia, the workings of the farm, and a short film on Reece’s life.
Young Harris College, Young Harris
Reece attended classes at Young Harris College during high school and went here on and off, but never completed his degree. Later in life, he would teach classes at the then-two year school. Today, the four-year co-ed institution is known for its scenic campus and liberal arts degrees.
Old Union Cemetery, Young Harris
After his death, he was interred at Old Union Cemetery in Young Harris, Georgia. A simple marker denotes his plot.