Howell Vines (1899-1981) is best characterized as a local-color author who drew his inspiration from the Warrior River area of northern Alabama. It was of the people of this area that he wrote—accurately describing their folkways, employing their idiom, and detailing their relationships and indiscretions.
Howell Hubert Vines Born in Short Creek, Jefferson County, on November 22, 1899, Vines was the son of Laurence and Fanny Vines. He received an bachelor of arts degree from the University of Alabama and a master’s degree from Harvard University. He married Alma Huey on June 22, 1927, and they had one daughter, Carolyn. He taught creative writing at Rice University (1925-27), the University of Richmond (1928-29), and Shorter College (1931-32), but for the nearly 50 remaining years of his life, he lived in Hueytown, a suburb of Birmingham in Jefferson County. His wife held a state government position as supervisor of women’s social services, and he worked at home.
Vines published two novels and two short stories and left at his death a completed manuscript for a third novel. Three qualities of Vines’s writing stand out: nature, folkways, and idiomatic speech. His fiction reveals a closeness to nature that has been described as Wordsworthian and pantheistic. The poet William Wordsworth believed that there was a spirit in nature that could be experienced directly and thus allow one to “touch” God, and pantheists also saw God directly in and through nature.
The setting of A River Goes with Heaven (1930) is the Warrior River country of northern Alabama and is an account of an idyllic summer experience of a boy’s education in love and wisdom at the hands of an old man, a girl, and two rivers. A notable aspect of A River Goes With Heaven is the idiomatic language employed. This Green Thicket World (1934) also is set in the same region. Both of these novels emphasize the beauty of the landscape and dwell in detail on the folkways of the area. This Green Thicket World is particularly detailed in its descriptions of songs, dances, games, food, and methods of hunting and fishing. As local color, it has been compared with Erskine Caldwell, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and Elizabeth Maddox Roberts. The carnality of the characters also has drawn comparisons to Erskine Caldwell. Critical opinion on Vines was mixed. Some praised him for the poetic quality of his work and for his distinctive prose style, his use of southern idiom and folkways, and for his portrayal of nature. He was criticized, however, for his lack of plot development and narrative drive and for being too wordy and too sentimental.
As a writer of fiction, Howell Vines presented his audience a specific time and place (the 1930s in small-town and rural northern Alabama) with love, understanding, and realistic detail. He died on May 30, 1981, and is buried in Pleasant Ridge Cemetery in Hueytown.
Works by Howell Hubert Vines
A River Goes with Heaven (1930)
This Green Thicket World (1934)
“The Mustydines Was Ripe” (1935)
“The Ginseng Gatherers” (1936)