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Arkansas author Donald Slaven “Skip” Hays has published novels and short stories as well as edited an anthology of Southern short stories. He served as director of the Programs in Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) from 1998 to 2013. Hays is most noted for his novel The Dixie Association, written in 1984 and reprinted as part of the Louisiana State University Press’s series Voices of the South (1997).
Skip Hays was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on June 14, 1947. His father, Donald E. Hays, a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II, returned to Arkansas with his family to farm and work in a furniture factory. His mother, Mary Slaven Hays, taught school. Hays and his brother, Philip, grew up in Van Buren (Crawford County) in the midst of a huge family of grandparents, aunts, and uncles who loved to tell a good story.
As a young boy attending school in rural Arkansas, Hays read voraciously. His mother encouraged his reading, often borrowing books for him at the library at Fort Chaffee (Sebastian County). Hays earned a BA in English from Southern State College (now Southern Arkansas University) in Magnolia (Columbia County) in 1969.
Soon after graduation, Hays faced being drafted by the military to serve in Vietnam. He believed that “people should never be asked to fight and die for a cause as vague” as the one in Vietnam. He was granted status as a conscientious objector and served two years in alternative service as a psychiatric aide at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Medical Center. The painful choices his generation made regarding Vietnam became a recurring theme in his writing.
Hays married Patricia Chambers on September 28, 1968, and the couple has one son. The young family lived near Mountainburg (Crawford County), where Hays wrote a novel about Cabeza de Vaca, a sixteenth-century century Spanish nobleman who led survivors of a failed expedition through Florida and the southwest. Although the 900-page manuscript written over three or four years was never published, the experience taught Hays much about storytelling and perseverance. For eight years, he played semiprofessional baseball on Cape Cod and in eastern Oklahoma while holding other jobs, such as the two years he worked in Van Buren as a social worker with foster children and with abused or neglected children and juveniles.
Hays received an MFA in creative writing at UA in 1983. His first published novel, The Dixie Association (1984), about an Arkansas minor league baseball team, loosely based upon the Arkansas Travelers, was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 1984. The Dixie Association centers upon ex-convict Hog Durham and his ragtag teammates who play minor league baseball for the Arkansas Reds. Critics have called this witty, satirical, Southern baseball novel sacrilegious, exquisitely funny, and occasionally poetic. The 1997 reprinting of the novel in the Voices of the South series recognizes The Dixie Association’s established position in the history of Southern fiction.
Hays’s other works include the novel The Hangman’s Children (1989) and Stories: Contemporary Southern Fiction (1989), edited by Hays. His short story “Dying Light” was reprinted in New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best (2003). His most recent work, Dying Light and Other Stories (2005), is a collection of Hays’s short stories. In 2006, he was awarded the Porter Prize, Arkansas’s premier literary award. He retired from UA in 2013.
For additional information:Chappell, Charles, and Ashby Bland Crowder. “Donald Hays: A New Political Novelist.” Mississippi Quarterly 43 (Winter 1990): 59–68.
Guilds, John Caldwell, ed. Arkansas, Arkansas: Writers and Writing from the Delta to the Ozarks: The Contemporary Scene, 1970–Present. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999.
Ravenel, Shannon, ed. New Stories from the South; the Year’s Best, 2003. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2003.
Razer, Bob. “Arkansas Books and Authors.” Arkansas Libraries 41 (September 1984): 16–17.
Trosky, Susan M., ed. Contemporary Authors: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide to Current Writers in Fiction, General Nonfiction, Poetry, Journalism, Drama, Motion Pictures, Television, and Other Fields. Vol. 132. Detroit: Gale Research, 1991.
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