Her father was a physician, of whom she was the youngest of four children. Her mother died soon after her birth. In 1896, at age 16, Julia graduated from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, from which she received a master's degree a year later. She taught at the Forte Motte, South Carolina, school for a few years before she married William George Peterkin in 1903. He was a planter who owned Lang Syne, a 2,000-acre (8.1 km2) cotton plantation near Fort Motte.
Julia began writing short stories, inspired by the everyday life and management of the plantation.
She was audacious as well as gracious, an ambiguity attested to by Robeson (1995). Peterkin sent highly assertive letters to people she did not know and had never met, such as Carl Sandburg and H.L. Mencken, and included samples of her writing about the Gullah culture of coastal South Carolina. Essentially sequestered on the plantation, she invited Sandburg, Mencken and other prominent people to the plantation. Sandburg, who lived nearby in Flat Rock, North Carolina, made a visit. While Mencken did not visit, he nevertheless became Peterkin's literary agent in her early career, a possible testament to her persuasive letters. Eventually, Mencken led her to Alfred Knopf, who published her first book, Green Thursday, in 1924.
In addition to a number of subsequent novels, her short stories were published in magazines and newspaper throughout her career. She was one of very few white authors to specialize in the Negro experience and character. But her work was not always praised, and Pulitzer Prize–winning Scarlet Sister Mary was called obscene and banned at the public library in Gaffney, South Carolina. The Gaffney Ledger newspaper, however, serially published the complete book.
In addition to the controversy over the obscenity claim, there was another problem with Scarlet Sister Mary. Dr. Richard S. Burton, the chairperson of Pulitzer's fiction-literature jury, recommended that the first prize go to the novel Victim and Victor by Dr. John B. Oliver. His nomination was superseded by the School of Journalism's choice of Peterkin's book. Evidently in protest, Burton resigned from the jury.
As an actress and possible dilettante, she played the main character to some acclaim in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler at the Town Theatre in Columbia, South Carolina, from February 1932.
1998, the Department of English and Creative Writing at her alma mater, Converse College, established The Julia Peterkin Award for poetry, open to everyone.
Famous quotes containing the word julia:
“The great, the fundamental need of any nation, any race, is for heroism, devotion, sacrifice; and there cannot be heroism, devotion, or sacrifice in a primarily skeptical spirit.”
—Anna Julia Cooper (18591964)