cover image W.J. Cash, a Life

W.J. Cash, a Life

Bruce Clayton, Author Louisiana State University Press $29.95 (236p) ISBN 978-0-8071-1647-0

This vivid portrait of the author of the influential The Mind of the South reveals both the making of a historian and the self-destruction of an artist. Recreating Cash's (1900-1941) coming-of-age in the Jim Crow South, Clayton ( Forgotten Prophet: The Life of Randolph Bourne ) suggests the influences that fed Cash's compulsion to write about his heritage and helped to develop his central theses, such as his belief that ``southern whites . . . sprang from a common, humble source.'' Cash as a troubled free spirit is also brought to life, characterized here as a brilliant but despondent former Menckenite who drank too much, had difficulty holding a job, drove his publisher to distraction with missed deadlines, and finally hanged himself. A concluding chapter, `` The Mind of the South in History,'' provides useful textual analysis and an overview of the ``staying power'' of Cash's magnum opus. Yet it is the image of Cash himself--a balding, anxious man who viewed his book as ``written in blood''--that best spells out the force of this study of its author and of the American South. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Feb.)