A southern writer who has received much recognition for her gripping, insightful fiction, Pam Durban was professor of creative writing at Georgia State University from 1986 until 2001, when she moved to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Some of her earliest fiction bears the imprint of the time she spent as a textile worker in Atlanta in the early 1970s and of her interviews with residents of the community.
Durban has written several highly acclaimed short-story collections and novels, including All Set About with Fever Trees and Other Stories (1985), The Laughing Place (1993), and So Far Back (2000), which won the Lillian Smith Book Award in 2001. (The award is named for Georgia writer Lillian Smith and administered by the Southern Regional Council, the University of Georgia Libraries, the DeKalb County Public Library / Georgia Center for the Book, and Piedmont College.) A collection of stories, Soon, appeared in 2015 as a part of Pat Conroy’s Story River Books imprint, published by the University of South Carolina Press.
During the course of her career she has won numerous literary awards and honors, including the Townsend Prize for Fiction (1994), the Whiting Writer Award (1988), the Rinehart Award for Fiction (1984). Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals such as Tri-Quarterly, Crazyhorse, and the Georgia Review.
Early Life and Career
Rosa Pam Durban was born March 4, 1947, in Aiken, South Carolina, to Frampton Durban, a real estate appraiser, and his wife, Maria. Her educational background includes a B.A. degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (1969) and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa (1979).
From 1974 to 1975 Durban was affiliated with the Atlanta Gazette as an editor and writer. She later began an academic career, teaching creative writing at the State University of New York at Geneseo, Murray State University, Ohio University, and Georgia State University. Durban was also founding coeditor (along with David Bottoms) of the prize-winning literary journal Five Points. In 2001 she joined the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as Doris Betts Professor of Creative Writing.
Of her experience as a textile worker in Atlanta, Durban says, “One of my first published stories, 'This Heat,’ came out of this experience, and I believe that the time I spent in that place helped me see that I was most interested in who people are and how they got to be that way, and what makes them or allows them to go on living in the face of everything that happens to them.”
Much of Durban’s fiction has a southern setting, and her writing is infused with an understanding of the customs and traditions unique to southern culture. Her first short-story collection, All Set About with Fever Trees and Other Stories (1985), consists of seven stories that deal with family relationships and the struggles for love, understanding, and rebirth in the face of hardships and tragedies. The characters in this collection come from a wide spectrum of southern society, including a country singer seeking elusive stardom, a mill worker dealing with the sudden death of her teenage son, a young boy caught in the throes of first love, and a father psychologically distanced from his family because of war trauma.
The Laughing Place (1993), for which Durban received the Townsend Prize, deals with the struggle of Annie Vess, a young woman who must come to terms with the deaths of her husband and father, redefine her relationship with a domineering mother, and map out a new life for herself. So Far Back (2000), chronicles the inner growth of Louisa Hillard, a Charleston society woman who, through the discovery of an antebellum journal written by a slaveholding ancestor, comes to a greater understanding of her family history and race relations in the South.