Walter Sullivan entered Vanderbilt University in 1941 as an 18-year-old freshman. Two years later, he left during World War II to join the Marine Corps. He returned in 1946 to finish his degree in English and left again in 1947 to pursue an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he studied with Robie Macauley and Paul Engle; became reacquainted with Andrew Lytle, John Crowe Ransom, and Robert Lowell; and first met the star of the fiction program—a brilliant young girl from Georgia named Flannery O’Connor. In 1949, Sullivan again returned to Vanderbilt, where he taught until his retirement in 2001.
Recalling the “hot June day” when he moved his last belongings out of his office, Sullivan writes:
Most of what I knew I had learned here. Here, I had made most of my friendships that had endured through the years. If I had been leaving the same university, the same English department I had joined when I left Iowa, the separation would have weighed heavily on my heart. Now I felt as if I was leaving a strange and unfriendly land where every value I cherished was under assault.
In a way, Sullivan was lucky to have spent most of his career in a vocation that still maintained some semblance of cultural integrity. As a critic and fiction writer, he came at the end of the Southern Renascence, living on its accumulated capital and...