Author of stories of mountain life, Mildred E. Haun was born in Hamblen County, on January 6, 1911, to James Enzor and Margaret Ellen Haun, but was raised in Haun Hollow in the Hoot Owl District of Cocke County in a large family of strong, independent mountain farmers whose roots could be traced back to 1779. Planning to become a granny woman/midwife and needing more education, sixteen-year-old Haun traveled to Franklin County to live with relatives and attend high school. After graduation in 1931 she attended Vanderbilt University, became interested in literature, and enrolled in John Crowe Ransom’s writing course. In this class she used the songs and stories handed down through oral tradition in tales of her home and people. Haun’s narrator was Mary Dorthula White, a granny woman born, coincidentally, on January 6, 1847 (Old Christmas), a date that mountaineers believed ensured eternal life. Encouraged by Ransom, Haun continued to write stories after graduation while teaching high school in Franklin. In 1937 she completed an M.A. in English at Vanderbilt, studying under Ransom and Donald Davidson, both of whom signed her unpublished thesis, “Cocke County Ballads and Songs.”
The only collection of fiction published by Haun, The Hawk’s Done Gone (1940), includes several of the stories she had written in college. This work consists of a group of stories linked by the narrator Mary Dorthula White and members of several families. It combines modern realism with ancient beliefs and superstitions, creating a disturbing, yet intriguing look at mountain life in the period from the Civil War to 1940. The themes of witchcraft, infanticide, incest, and miscegenation reveal a dark side of the author. But amid the talk of spirits and age-old prejudices is Haun’s use of dialect, mountain beliefs, and songs. The collection is not quite a novel, but more than a series of stories. Herschel Gower edited and published posthumously ten additional stories by Haun in 1968 (The Hawk’s Done Gone and Other Stories).
From 1942 to 1943 Haun served as book editor for the Nashville Tennessean and later as an editorial assistant to Allen Tate on the Sewanee Review, 1944-46, occasionally returning to Cocke County to care for her aging mother while her brothers were in military service during World War II. From 1950 to 1963 Haun worked as an editor and information specialist for the Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tullahoma, writing speeches, news releases, correspondence courses in engineering and technical subjects for military personnel, training manuals, and featured articles of the Department of Agriculture. She was sent to Europe and the Near East in 1965 to report on agricultural projects under American foreign aid. At the end of 1965, a serious illness forced her to return to Nashville for hospitalization and treatment. Haun died on December 20, 1966, in Washington, D.C., after months of hospitalization, and is buried in Morristown, next to her mother in the Haun family plot.
The Hawk’s Done Gone (fiction), 1940
Haun’s entry in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture:
Facebook page for the Mildred Haun Conference: