- The Taylor File (2007)
- That Inward Eye, A Collection of Poems (2005)
- The Tar Babies (2003)
- Sing One Song (2003)
- The Birth and Death of Athenian Democracy: The Story of Pericles (2003)
- Greek Fire, A Novel of Ancient Greece (2002)
- In the Season of the Wild Rose (1986)
Clara Rising was born in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, on October 23, 1923, to Clara Duffy Coates of New Orleans and Frederick Coates of Boliver, Tennessee. She earned her Ph.D. in English and became professor of English at Kansas State University and later humanities professor at the University of Florida. She is the author of seven books. Her first book, In the Season of the Wild Rose, is a Civil War novel about John Hunt Morgan, a Kentucky cavalry general. It was published by Random House in 1986 and chosen by The History Book Club. Rising is also the mother of four children, grandmother of six, and the wife of a retired Army officer. She also is now retired.
The manuscript for her first book In the Season of the Wild Rose was huge and was taken by the first publisher to see it–Random House. As she tells it, she had no agent when she ran across a magazine in the UK library in Lexington. It was dark and pouring rain, and she says, “I had picked up a copy of Publisher’s Weekly. Stan (her husband) was scouring around campus in a VW bug waiting to pick me up. I ran out in the rain and to my dismay (I have never stolen anything from a library in my life) the magazine was still in my hand. I opened it to an article with a title question for publishers:“What Are You Looking For?” One of the answers was by an editor from Random House who answered, ‘A writer not afraid of a big story.’ I wrote him and said, “Did you mean it?” Later that fall, I was invited to ride in a fox hunt in New York State. The horse was an Australian thoroughbred mare–absolutely great. I tried her in an open field, but when I put her into the canter she limped. I couldn’t ride her over jumps! But I was in New York. I called Marc Jaffe, the editor . It was October. I knew most of the editors would be in Hamburg, Germany, for the yearly gathering. But when I called, Jaffe was in–and invited me to come down to the city. When I walked into his office, four editors were there. They liked the title. One, a girl named Ann Lafarge, even said, ‘But AMANDA was real, wasn’t she?’ I had to admit that she was the only fictional character in the book.”
According to Clara Rising, there is an interesting story about her Zachary Taylor book, The Taylor File. Bill and Betty Gist, who owned President Taylor’s boyhood home in Louisville, invited her to stay with them when she was there for a meeting of the Round Table. Rising states that she mentions this fact in The Taylor File–the fact that Betty, who was related to Taylor, said the family had never been satisfied by the “gastroenteritis” diagnosis,” and believed that something sinister might have been involved. Says Rising, “This actually started my research. Trivial things so often open doors into vistas never imagined.” Rising’s research advanced the theory that it was more likely poison–possibly arsenic–that killed the president. As a result, her theory actually led to the exhumation of Taylor’s remains in 1991. However, lab findings concluded that at least arsenic was not involved, and so his untimely death remains a mystery.
Clara Rising had moved back to Mississippi, her childhood home, just before Hurricane Katrina struck. She and her husband lost almost everything in the storm. After the storm, they went to live in Keystone Heights, Florida. Clara Rising died peacefully at her home in Florida on January 14, 2010.
MISSISSIPPI RISING: Author Clara Rising’s writings tempt us to consider new insights about history and our cultural inheritance
Clara Rising looked out the window of her hotel room and smiled. “Why write?” she asks in response to my question. “Well,” she begins slowly. “You write to create a different world, a refuge in a way; you want to get away from the world as it is and get in touch with yourself, your feelings. You want to discover the significance of the small things in life that are normally overlooked and then express that to others.”
For nearly more than half a century, Mississippi author Clara Rising has been doing just that. Known principally as an author of historical fiction, she has maintained an unabashed passion for producing works that tease the intellect and challenge the reader to consider new insights about human nature, history, and America’s cultural inheritance. Her six books are historical in content, yet packaged with literary conventions to read like fiction; it is a writing style that was also favored by Civil War author and historian Shelby Foote.
“I write historical works so others may appreciate where we are now and where we have been,” she maintains, pointing out that unless people can connect with their cultural past, they cannot hope to fully understand themselves, their country, nor their place in history. “Knowledge and observation and experience are everything in writing,” she notes. “But it is feeling that puts all of that into motion and makes it come alive.”
While writing was the goal, her books actually came later in life. She had been an academic for years, a PhD who taught Literature at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities. It was only after she retired from academia that her ideas on the importance of cultural inheritance in American society took shape and became the springboard for writing the books.
It was Clara’s mother who can be credited with first influencing and setting into motion that desire to learn, to know, and to write. She was a strong-willed, creative, red-haired Irish girl from New Orleans who dabbled in short stories and literature for years, and who started a small poetry magazine in the 1930’s. By the summer of 1938, Clara’s mother decided she also wanted to try her hand at writing screenplays. “She heard that William Faulkner had been in Hollywood and she had the notion to go talk to him,” says Clara of the times. They drove from Water Valley to Oxford to meet Faulkner at his Rowan Oak home. “He was very kind, very gracious, and very friendly,” Rising remembers of the future Nobel Laureate. “He invited us to come sit on the porch and have some refreshments. Mother and I had lemonade, but he drank something much stronger.” They sat for hours talking freely about each other’s interests, about writing, about current events. It ended all too soon, but Clara never forgot the experience.
As a daughter of the South, the influence of history is inescapable. The other influence that shaped her growing awareness of history came in 1943, when she met and married a handsome, young Army infantry officer named Stan Rising and sent him off to war. She endured it as her husband fought the Nazi’s in the Ardennes and at Bastogne; he was wounded and received the bronze star, but he came back to her after it was over. After the war, she became an Army wife, following Stan from assignment to assignment for another 17 years until his retirement in 1963. Along the way, she went to school where she could, managing to finish a BA in Literature, earn an MA in Creative Writing (from Louisville University), and finally a Ph.D. in English and Philosophy. She taught Literature at Kansas State University and humanities at the University of Florida, where she received her Ph.D., before buying and settling on a piece of rough land in the forested hills east of Lexington, Kentucky.
“The land came with three pre-Civil War cabins dating back to 1787,” she remembers. Living without electricity or running water for nearly two years, she and Stan lived a virtual pioneer existence–rebuilding the cabins, clearing pastures, running fence, building barns, collecting rain water for drinking, fending off wild animals.
Her experiences inspired her to write her first full-length book, In the Season of the Wild Rose (1986), a Civil War novel of love and conflict based upon Kentucky raider John Hunt Morgan. She published her second novel, Greek Fire, about Pericles in 2002, but returned to Kentucky as the setting for her third book, Sing One Song (2003), a memoir chronicling her experiences of the hard, rustic life in rural Kentucky.
Clara Rising’s most controversial work was The Tar Babies (2003). It is a work of Orwellian dimension and depth, written in the simple framework of the old Uncle Remus story about how Brer Fox lured Brer Rabbit with a tar baby so he could do him in. The Tar Babies speaks to the modern socio-cultural obsession with society’s numb acceptance of inherited commands from religion, media, and government. It examines why people tend to ignore the human capacity for independent reason and critical thought, and their inability to ultimately comprehend truth.
Her latest book, The Taylor File (2007), is a skillful recreation of President Zachary Taylor’s life and mysterious death recorded with a historian’s sharp eye for detail and a novelist’s sensitivity to motives and possibility. Taylor is thought to have died suddenly in 1850 from acute gastroenteritis. But Rising’s own research advanced the theory that it was more likely poison–possibly arsenic–that did him in. It was a conclusion that actually led to the exhumation of Taylor’s remains in 1991. However, lab findings concluded that arsenic was not involved, and so his untimely death remains a mystery.
Clara Rising has maintained an unabashed passion for producing works that challenge us to consider new insights about history and the cultural inheritance that defines us as Americans, a perspective considered by many as essential for survival in the global 21st century. Now 84, she still writes and rides her horses in the countryside near her home in Keystone Heights, Florida. Her books are available through most bookstores and may also be purchased online at Amazon.com.
Note: Stephen Enzweiler is a journalist, short story writer, and Contributing Editor to Y’all Magazine. More about him at StephenEnzweiler.com, or contact him at [email protected]
- The Tar Babies: Political Correctness on Media Monitors Network
- Clara Rising’s Chapter from In the Season of the Wild Rose from The Kentucky Anthology
- Clara Rising, Ex-UF Prof who Got Zachary Taylor Exhumed. Orlando Sentinel. 1993
- Exhuming President Taylor by Benjamin T. Arrington, 2015
- Enzweiler, Stephen. MISSISSIPPI RISING: Author Clara Rising’s writings tempt us to consider new insights about history and our cultural inheritance, 2008.
- Rising, Clara. Emails to Nancy Jacobs, March, 2009.