John Berendt

Easton Press John Berendt books

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - signed modern classic - 1998

John Berendt biography

Born on December 5, 1939, in Syracuse, New York, John Berendt has crafted a literary career that combines a journalist's keen eye for detail with a storyteller's flair for the dramatic. Best known for his immersive narratives set in the American South, Berendt has become a respected figure in the realm of narrative nonfiction. Berendt's early career unfolded in the world of journalism. He worked for various publications, including Esquire and New York magazine, where he served as editor from 1977 to 1979. His background in journalism laid the foundation for his distinctive narrative style, characterized by meticulous research and a knack for bringing real-life characters to vivid life on the page.

In 1994, Berendt achieved widespread acclaim with the publication of his first book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The nonfiction work, set in the enchanting city of Savannah, Georgia, masterfully blends elements of true crime, social commentary, and Southern Gothic atmosphere. At the heart of the narrative is the murder trial of Jim Williams, a wealthy Savannah antiques dealer. Berendt's storytelling prowess and his ability to capture the idiosyncrasies of the city's characters turned the book into a literary phenomenon. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil spent a record-breaking 216 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and secured Berendt a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize. The success of the book was not solely attributed to its exploration of a murder trial but also to Berendt's skillful depiction of the eccentric personalities and the rich cultural tapestry of Savannah.

In his follow-up work, The City of Falling Angels (2005), Berendt shifted the focus to Venice, Italy. Here, he delved into the aftermath of a devastating fire at the historic Fenice opera house. As with his first book, Berendt intertwined real-life events, local characters, and cultural exploration to create a compelling narrative. Throughout his career, John Berendt has demonstrated a talent for immersing himself in the worlds he explores and capturing the essence of the places and people he encounters. His books transcend traditional genres, incorporating elements of true crime, travel writing, and cultural observation. Berendt's unique approach to storytelling has earned him a dedicated readership and critical acclaim.

Beyond his literary endeavors, Berendt has been involved in cultural organizations and served on the boards of institutions such as the New York Public Library and the Authors Guild. His impact on the literary world extends beyond his own works, as he continues to be recognized for his contributions to the art of narrative nonfiction. John Berendt's legacy is that of a storyteller who skillfully merges the art of journalism with the allure of fiction. His ability to uncover the mysteries of a place and its inhabitants, combined with his evocative prose, cements his status as a chronicler of Southern life and a master of narrative exploration.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Shots rang out in Savannah's grandest mansion in the misty, early morning hours of May 2, 1981. Was it murder or self-defense? For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares. John Berendt's narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction. Berendt interweaves a first-person account of life in this isolated remnant of the Old South with the unpredictable twists and turns of a landmark murder case.

The story is peopled by a gallery of remarkable characters: the well-bred society ladies of the Married Woman's Card Club; the turbulent young redneck gigolo; the hapless recluse who owns a bottle of poison so powerful it could kill every man, woman, and child in Savannah; the aging and profane Southern belle who is the "soul of pampered self-absorption"; the uproarious black drag queen; the acerbic and arrogant antiques dealer; the sweet-talking, piano-playing con artist; young blacks dancing the minuet at the black debutante ball; and Minerva, the voodoo priestess who works her magic in the graveyard at midnight. These and other Savannahians act as a Greek chorus, with Berendt revealing the alliances, hostilities, and intrigues that thrive in a town where everyone knows everyone else.

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