Meeting Peter Taylor and Donald Justice stand out among my pleasant memories of the Sewanee Writers Conference, which I attended twice. I look back proudly on my brief friendship with Mr. Taylor, who warmly shared with me his recollections of his days at LSU with Robert Lowell and Robert Penn Warren and invited me to his home for a writers conference faculty party. I knew Mr. Justice less well, but remember one amiable breakfast conversation with him. His deceptively simple poetry was one of my early models.
Later, I discovered that Mr. Taylor and Mr. Justice were brothers-in-law, each married to sisters from the North Carolina Ross family. Mr. Taylor's wife, Eleanor Ross Taylor, was fiercely protective of her husband, who heroically read at Sewanee, persevering against the disabilities of a stroke. She was a gracious and warm lady, whose fine poetry I later discovered.
Now, I've found that Mr. Justice's widow, Jean Ross Justice, is also an accomplished writer. Mrs. Justice has two poignant poems in the Sewanee Review's spring issue. One, "The First Impulse Toward Fiction," is a touching childhood memory of Eleanor. Further research revealed that Mrs. Justice, like Mr. Taylor, is best known as a short story writer.
The two couples represent a golden era of Southern literature that examined the connections between the old rural South's transformation into modern urbanism. Their work showed a commitment to tradition in conflict with change. Mr. Taylor's short stories, as well as a couple of his novels, are among the highest exemplars of a high-culture American style that still remains universal. The same could be said of Mr. Justice's poetry.
Mr. Taylor, Mrs. Taylor, and Mr. Justice are gone now, and Mrs. Justice is in her 80s. Their era has mostly vanished, but their work stays vital for future generations.