On this day in 1924, novelist and journalist Olive Ann Burns was born in Banks County, Georgia. She was the youngest of four children, was a part of a large extended family, and her father lost his farm during the Great Depression – all of which inspired her fiction later in life. Burns grew up in Commerce, Georgia, and later went to high school in Macon, where she also attended Mercer University for a few years. She transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated with a journalism degree in 1946. She wrote for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine as a staff writer and an advice columnist known to the public as Ann Larkin. Burns began collecting family stories in the 1970s, a task she immersed herself in after she was diagnosed with cancer in 1975. From these anecdotes, she wrote what became Cold Sassy Tree, published in 1984.
The book, a treasured coming-of-age story, follows 14-year-old Will Tweedy’s adventures in 1906 Cold Sassy, a fictional small and rural Georgia town. It lovingly and irreverently portrayed Southern life and culture. The novel became a book-of-the-month bestseller and put Cold Sassy on the literary map. It also spoke to a broader and more familiar, if controversial, Southern history. When Will Tweedy begins his story, remembering the day his Granny Blakeslee died, and looking for historic signposts, he says, “Besides that, I remember it was right after our July the Fourth celebration – the first one held in Cold Sassy, Georgia, since the War Between the States.” Though Burns drafted a sequel, Leaving Cold Sassy, complications from her cancer treatments led to congestive heart failure, and she was forced to dictate the rest of the novel to her friend and neighbor, Norma Duncan. She never saw her second novel published. She died two years before it hit bookstands.
Today, we remember Olive Ann Burns’ life and work.