Tom Franklin Thomas Gerald Franklin (1963- ) is the author of three novels and a collection of short stories. Drawing upon his personal experience growing up and working in Alabama, Franklin sets his books in the rural South, which he portrays as rife with conflict and violence. He incorporates themes of poverty, race, and sexual deviance in his writing.
Franklin was born in Dickinson, an unincorporated community in Clarke County, on July 7, 1963, to Gerald, a mechanic, and Betty Franklin, a homemaker. An imaginative child, he drew his own science fiction comic books and wrote stories inspired by Conan the Barbarian and Tarzan. Hunting and the rituals it involved played an important role in Franklin’s childhood. In an introduction to his short-story collection, Poachers, he describes those hunting excursions as unpleasant and frightening but felt compelled to take part in the tradition.
Franklin graduated from Clarke County High School in 1981, and, the same year, his family relocated to Mobile. Beginning in the fall of 1981, he attended the University of South Alabama, but his father stopped paying for his education because of poor grades. Franklin worked nights in various jobs to pay his own tuition and as a result gained a number of diverse experiences that he later used in his stories and novels. He spent time as a heavy equipment operator at a sandblasting grit factory, a construction inspector in a chemical plant, and the clerk at a hospital morgue. He also began taking creative writing classes at the university and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1990.
After college, Franklin spent a year teaching at Selma University, a historically Black Baptist college in Selma, Dallas County. He published several short stories during this time and won third prize in a Playboy magazine college fiction contest in 1991. As a result of his success, he decided to pursue a career in writing. Franklin entered a graduate creative writing program at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and earned an MFA in fiction writing in 1997. During his time there, he met poet Beth Ann Fennelly, a fellow MFA student, and the couple married in 1998.
During the summer of 1998, Franklin won the Writers at Work Library Nonfiction Contest and also received a grant from the Arkansas Arts Council for a short story. He spent the fall of 1999 as the Philip Roth Resident in Creative Writing at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. In the same year, he published his first book, Poachers, a collection of ten short stories set in rural Alabama. The stories revolve around economic hardship and the desperation resulting from it. The title story, “Poachers,” depicts three brothers who, orphaned by their father’s suicide, survive by poaching and eventually commit murder to protect their livelihood. The story draws on Franklin’s experiences with hunting in his youth, and it received an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Mystery Story in 1999.
In 2000, Franklin spent a year as the Writer-in-Residence at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where his wife held a teaching position. The couple relocated to Oxford, Mississippi, in 2000 after Franklin accepted the John and Renee Grisham Chair of Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi. His wife joined the English department as a professor, and they continue to serve on the faculty there. In 2001, Franklin was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Franklin published his first novel, Hell at the Breech, in 2003. Set in Clarke County, the work recounts the events surrounding what is known as the Mitcham War, named for a remote settlement called Mitcham Beat. Franklin’s novel depicts the period of violence and chaos that resulted from conflicts between a gang of men from the community who called themselves the Hell at the Breech gang and the merchants and law enforcement in the nearby town of Coffeeville.
Franklin’s second novel, Smonk, appeared in 2006 and is set in Old Texas, an unincorporated community in Monroe County. In it, residents demand that murderer and rapist E. O. Smonk stand trial. Bloodshed and mysterious deaths follow as lawmen pursue him. In 2010, Franklin published his third novel, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. The title derives from the way southern children learn to spell the word “Mississippi,” where the novel is set. It recounts the story of an eccentric man, Larry Ott, who becomes the primary suspect in the disappearance of a wealthy man’s daughter and is then persecuted by the townspeople.
In addition to these works, Franklin has published stories in a number of periodicals and journals, including Black Warrior Review, Southern Review, and Oxford American and has been included in the anthologies Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, New Stories from the South, 1999, and Stories from the Blue Moon Café. In 2013, he and Fenelly published The Tilted World, set during the 1927 Mississippi River flood; she was named Poet Laureate of Mississippi in 2016. Franklin was inducted into the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame in 2023.
Franklin lives in Oxford, Mississippi, and is currently an associate professor of fiction writing at the University of Mississippi.
Works by Tom Franklin
Hell at the Breech (2003)
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (2010)
The Tilted World (2013)
- “Tom Franklin.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2012. Literature Resource Center.