Alabama native Robert Faucett Gibbons (1915-1995) did the majority of his most notable writing in the mid-twentieth century. All of his novels and short stories are set in the South, and several have been compared favorably with more renowned authors. His characters possess common characteristics and encounter common problems, giving them a universal appeal that extends well beyond the South.
Gibbons and his twin brother Michael were born in Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, on May 1, 1915, the oldest of nine children. His mother, Anne Walshe, was born in County Louth, Ireland, and his father, James Booth Gibbons, was born in Autauga County. The Gibbons family relocated frequently, and the siblings would live in 12 different Alabama towns. Robert Gibbons was educated in the public schools of Vernon, Jasper, Sulligent, Decatur, Moulton, and Ashford. After graduating from Ashford High School in 1933, Gibbons entered Alabama Polytechnic Institute (present-day Auburn University), where he earned a B.S. degree in 1993. He then earned an M.A. degree from the University of Alabama.
Gibbons first gained notice in 1942, when two of his short stories–"A Loaf of Bread" and "Time's End"–were accepted by the Atlantic Monthly and The New Republic on the same day. Both of these stories also appeared in the Best American Short Stories, an annual collection published by Dodd, Mead and Company. That same year, Gibbons was honored with a fellowship for young writers from publishing house Alfred A. Knopf for his first novel, Bright Is the Morning, which was published in 1943. The story centers on the two Gael brothers, sons of a landowning Alabama farm family, and their jealousy over a girl, a resentful matriarch, and family secrets. It received high praise from critics across the United States and was compared favorably with Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel.
Gibbons taught English at the University of Alabama in 1943 and received funds through the Rosenwald Fellowship for Fiction (a program offering financial assistance to African Americans and occasionally southern whites like Gibbons) to begin work on a second novel. His literary career was temporarily put on hold in December, however, when he accepted a commission in the U.S. Navy and later served as a staff communicator aboard a landing ship in the Pacific during World War II.
After the war, Gibbons held a variety of jobs. He farmed and dug ditches for the Reconstruction Financial Corporation, a holdover project from the Depression era. He also conducted field work and analyzed data as an agricultural conservation assistant in Brewton and Montgomery before accepting a teaching position at Tulane University in New Orleans and entering the Ph.D. program. In 1948, he published his second novel, The Patchwork Time, which examines the sexual behavior of several citizens of Pineboro, a fictional Deep South small town that was a composite of the many towns in which Gibbons lived. Its focus is on history teacher, Johnny Somers, who becomes involved with Blackie Boone, the philandering wife of an ex-football star. The work was known for the use of inner monologues, which had been employed by William Faulkner, James Joyce, and Thomas Wolfe. Although The Patchwork Time was not as commercially successful as his first novel, William Fidler in an Alabama Review article compared his explicit portrayal of the lives and speech of "miserables and degenerates" to the works of Faulkner and Erskine Caldwell. The Patchwork Time proved to be his last novel.
While working on his Ph.D., which he completed in 1957, Gibbons also taught English at Newcomb College, a women's institution affiliated with Tulane. In 1958, he accepted a position with Louisiana State University in New Orleans (present-day University of New Orleans), where he was employed until his retirement in 1979. After moving to Lanett, Chambers County, he continued writing but published very little. Gibbons accepted an invitation in 1991 to serve on the advisory board of Eureka Literary Magazine at Eureka College in Illinois.
Gibbons was married four times. He had two children from the first marriage and one from the fourth. Gibbons passed away in
Lanett on July 25, 1995. Despite the fact that Gibbons produced only a small body of work, he gained a national audience for
his work, because like Faulkner and Wolfe, he created characters that embody real people, not simply regional "types."
Selected Works by Robert Gibbons
"A Loaf of Bread" (1942)
"Time's End" (1942)
"The Poor Rich Uncle" (1942)
Bright is the Morning (1943)
"War's a Man's Work" (1943)
The Patchwork Time (1945)
"The Serpent" (1945)
"The Brothers" (1947)
"Remembrance for a Trinity" (1962)
"Slaves' Auction" (1976)
"Beauregard: An Equestrian Statue" (1980)
"Cricket Questioned" (1981)
"Pennington's Birds" (1983)
"Sestina of the Singing Wind" (1984)
"On Payment in Copies" (1986)
"The Cormorant Gone from Alabama" (1986)
"At Jo's Funeral" (1990)
"Evening and May" (1990)
Fidler, William. "Gibbons, The Patchwork Time." Alabama Review 1 (April 1948): 145-146
Gibbons, Robert. "Robert Faucett Gibbons." The Alabama Librarian, January 1953 4-5.
Strode, Hudson. Spring Harvest: A Collection of Stories from Alabama. New York: Alfred A. Knopf: xiii-xiv.
Warfel, Harry. American Novelists of Today. Atlanta: American Book Company, 1951: 173.
University of West Alabama
Published August 2, 2011
Last updated September 19, 2012