Bailey White first achieved popularity reading her local color essays on National Public Radio. Her distinctive, gravelly voice and her gift for portraying eccentric people and unusual situations with a gently self-deprecating wit won her a national following. White has published two essay collections (Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Sleeping at the Starlite Hotel) and one novel (Quite a Year for Plums), and her work has appeared as well in numerous periodicals. Her oral and written stories evoke a vivid picture of life in south Georgia.
White was born in 1950 in Thomasville. Both of her parents influenced her writing. Her father, Robb White, a writer of children’s stories and film scripts, left the family to live and work in California while she was still a child. She shared his love of words, however, and began writing as a young teen. Reared by her mother, Rosalie, on a farm in Thomasville, White developed an admiration for the natural environment and for the people who depend on it for their well-being. Both play a central role in her writing.
After graduating from Florida State University, White returned to Thomasville. She taught elementary school for more than twenty years, devoting herself to the children in her classroom during her hours on the job and to her writing in her leisure time. She developed a folksy persona who observed the local townspeople and reported on their activities, opinions, and conversations in her essays, many of which she read on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. As a narrator White sounded like anything but the shy elementary-school teacher who actually wrote the pieces.
The oral essays—based on truth and colored with the dialect and dialogue of the area—drew an enthusiastic listening public. As a result, publisher Addison-Wesley collected the essays under the title Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living and published the volume in 1993. In 1995 a second collection, Sleeping at the Starlite Motel and Other Adventures on the Way Back Home, followed. With these books White attracted an appreciative reading audience.
In her next book—Quite a Year for Plums, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1998—White turned to fiction. She explained her reason for the change in genres: “I liked the idea of starting with just anything… and being free to just let the story roll out from there.” The novel has a loose plot held together by the character Roger, a plant pathologist who draws the affection and attentions of the women in town. His romance with Della, a bird artist, provides an exciting conversational topic for the community. The episodic novel, which has the same vivid characters and dialogue of the writer’s essays, furnishes readers with another look at south Georgia life.
In 1999 White took a break from her teaching position to devote herself to her writing career full time from her family home in Thomasville. She retains close ties with her south Georgia heritage and shares her southern wit and wisdom in oral presentations as well as in her writings.
White was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2008.