Mark Winchell, literary scholar, biographer, essayist, and occasional contributor to Chronicles, passed from this realm in May after a brave two-year battle with cancer.  With four books out in just the last two years and at barely 60 years of age, Mark was just coming into the prime of his productive career.  His official title, professor of literature and European civilization at Clemson University, does not begin to cover his accomplishments: a half-dozen literary biographies, including studies of Cleanth Brooks, Donald Davidson (completing a project begun by M.E. Bradford), and one just published on Robert Penn Warren; dozens of articles in scholarly and popular journals on just about every significant American writer of the 20th and 19th centuries and many other subjects; coauthorship of the memoirs of Sen. Herman Tallmadge; the founding of the South Carolina Review; serving as director of The League of the South Institute for the Study of Southern History and Culture.

A native of Ohio, Dr. Winchell came to Vanderbilt to study with the second (and last) generation of Southern Agrarians in its English department.  His primary interest was in Southern literature, though he wrote with liveliness and insight on a wide variety of other subjects.  George Garrett described Winchell’s recent book of literary essays, Reinventing the South, as “high intelligence joining wit, good humor, and common sense,” and “free of contemporary critical jargon and easily accessible to the good and serious reader.”  Besides that book and the just-published one on Robert Penn Warren, Mark published two others in recent months: God, Man, and Hollywood: Politically Incorrect Cinema From The Birth of a Nation to The Passion of the Christ, and an admirably old-fashioned and solid freshman composition reader, Ideas in Conflict: Writing About the Great Ideas of Civilization, edited with his wife, Prof. Donna H. Winchell.

Mark’s combat with cancer and its grueling treatments was the bravest I have ever witnessed, a model of Christian courage and spirit which I hope I can imitate if I am ever in the position to need to.  He remained upbeat, dedicated to his wife and two still-young sons, and highly productive through the two years of illness and doubt.   Beyond that, Mark Winchell had another rare kind of courage: intellectual courage.  He was fearless in standing by his convictions, which nearly always ran against academic fashion.  One has to have spent some time inside the academy in recent years to understand the courage that Mark always displayed.  A few years ago, there were, among all the professors at our two major South Carolina universities, just three who were willing to sign a reasoned scholarly statement defending the flying of a Confederate flag at the state capitol.  They were—besides Yours Truly—Prof. Marie (Mrs. Donald) Livingston (a native of Massachusetts), and Mark Winchell.

I remember once mentioning to him the latest outrage perpetrated by the Southern Poverty Law Center (a Stalinist group that specializes in “reporting” to the police and the media that everyone to its right is a hater and fascist).  The SPLC had put out a major “expose’” of what it calls the “Neo-Confederates,” including several persons well known to Chronicles readers.  I told Mark that he was one among our friends who had not been included in the slander.  “I’ll just have to try harder,” he said.