Borden Deal

Borden Deal (1922-1985) was a popular author who wrote 21 novels and more than one hundred short stories. One of many writers who learned their craft at least partially in Hudson Strode’s creative writing class at the University of Alabama, he later lived in the state for a number of years, for short stints in Birmingham and Mobile and for more extended periods in Tuscaloosa and Scottsboro. His work appeared in numerous popular magazines. His books and stories, which have been translated into 20 different languages, reflect the southerner’s sense of place and attachment to land, a theme that has been explored by other southern writers such as Erskine Caldwell and William Faulkner. During his career, he wrote under a variety of pseudonyms, including Lee Borden, Loyse Deal, and Michael Sunga.

Deal was born Loyse Youth Deal on October 12, 1922, in Pontotoc, Mississippi; his parents, Borden Lee and Jimmie Annie (Smith) Deal, owned a farm near New Albany. Deal’s father lost his farm during the Great Depression, and he moved his family to a government-sponsored farming project in Enterprise, Mississippi. Deal, who loved books growing up, began writing when he was six years old. When Deal was 16, his father was killed in a truck accident. After graduating from Macedonia Consolidated High School, Deal was hired by the Civilian Conservation Corps to fight forest fires in the Pacific Northwest. He hauled sawdust for a lumber mill, worked on a showboat, and harvested wheat for the U.S. Department of Labor. He also worked in New York as a copywriter, telephone solicitor, and skip tracer—a private investigator who finds people who have attempted to disappear to avoid legal problems. During World War II, Deal served in the U.S. Navy between 1942 and 1945 as an anti-aircraft fire control instructor in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He wrote a novel while in the service, but the manuscript was lost.

In 1946, he enrolled at the University of Alabama. His creative writing instructor, Hudson Strode, nurtured Borden’s burgeoning interest in fiction. Deal published his first short story, “Exodus,” in 1948 while studying with Strode. Soon after the publication of “Exodus,” he began writing under the name Borden Deal. He graduated in 1949 with a B.A. in English and entered graduate school at Mexico City College in Mexico.

While there, Deal married Lillian Slobtotosky. The marriage, which produced one child, soon ended in divorce. In 1952, he married an aspiring writer from Scottsboro, Jackson County, named Babs Hodges, with whom he had three children. After living for a time in Alabama, they moved to Florida.

By 1955, Deal had become a professional writer. In 1956, Deal published his first novel, Walk Through the Valley, which became a best-seller. His second novel, Dunbar’s Cove (1957), was about the Tennsessee Valley Authority and drew upon the history of Alabama’s Guntersville Dam and Lake Guntersville. It was one of two novels that served as the basis for the film Wild River (1960), starring Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick. The Broadway musical A Joyful Noise is based on his novel The Insolent Breed (1959). A number of his short stories were adapted for television. In 1965, Deal published the short story “A Long Way to Go,” in which Alabama figures prominently as three children undertake an adventurous journey from coastal Florida to north Alabama after their parents are killed in a car wreck.

Inspired, no doubt, by his father’s loss of his farm in the 1930s, Deal often focused on the southerner’s connection with and desire for land, as in The Least One (1967) and The Other Room (1974). Deal thought of his works as being set in the “real South,” where the good and bad elements of ordinary men and women, working and living in rural communities, are intertwined in an epic regional tapestry.

Particulary ambitious was Deal’s southern political trilogy—The Loser (1964), The Advocate (1968), and The Winner (1973)—which was marketed by Doubleday as “The Bookman Saga,” based on the name of the novel’s main character, John Bookman. Thought no actual state is named, the trilogy is clearly modeled on the geography and political history of Alabama. Deal’s research for the work included attending gubernatorial campaign appearances by Big Jim” Folsom.

Deal’s reputation as a writer of merit has been established over his three decades of publishing. His short story “Exodus” was reprinted in Best American Short Stories of 1949. A short story entitled “Antaeus” has been published in numerous high school anthologies. Walk Through the Valley (1956) earned Deal the American Library Association and Justice Awards and the Alabama Liberty Association Literary Award in 1963. During the University of Alabama’s 150th Anniversary in 1981, Deal was designated “Sesquicentennial Scholar.”

Deal and Babs were divorced in 1975. He died of a heart attack in Sarasota, Florida, on January 22, 1985; few people remembered him as a writer. Today, he is known primarily for works such as The Insolent Breed and Dunbar’s Cove, which have been adapted to stage and screen and therefore have exposed him to a larger audience. Interest in Deal was revived in Vanishing Florida: A Personal Guide to Sights Rarely Seen, a 2001 book by Deal’s friend David T. Warner that included an homage to Deal.

Selected Works by Borden Deal

“Exodus” (1948)

Walk through the Valley (1956)

Dunbar’s Cove (1957)

The Insolent Breed (1959)

Dragon’s Wine (1960)

The Loser (1964)

The Tobacco Men (1965)

The Least One (1967)

Bluegrass (1976)

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