Olive Ann Burns is known for her best-selling book Cold Sassy Tree, set in a fictional, small southern town called Cold Sassy in the early 1900s. The inspiration and commitment for writing this novel crystallized in the author’s mind in 1975, as she left a doctor’s office with a diagnosis of lymphoma. Burns spent several years shaping and writing this work which is imaginatively based on family stories she had recorded from talks with her parents.
Burns was born on July 17, 1924 in Banks County, Georgia, located in north east Georgia between Atlanta and South Carolina. During the depression her father sold the family farm and moved to the nearby community of Commerce, Georgia, then rural but now along the busy corridor of Interstate 85 between Atlanta, Georgia and Greenville, South Carolina.
After college studies at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, and University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill, Olive Ann Burns graduated with a degree in journalism in 1946, and began a career in journalism with the Atlanta Constitution Magazine. Ten years later she married fellow journalist Andrew Sparks, and within a few years the couple had both a daughter and a son. Her journalism years included several years as an advice columnist under the pen name of Amy Larkin.
Published in 1984, Cold Sassy Tree quickly rose to the ranks of a best seller and remains highly recommended as an absorbing and emotionally satisfying book. Narrated by fourteen-year-old Will Tweedy, this is a coming-of-age story, told with boyish curiosity, cutting-edge intelligence and hilarious observations, plenty of drama, plus a huge measure of compassion, love and understanding of the vagaries of individuals pitted against their own human natures and small-town society.
The southern country dialect in the many conversations is easier to read than it may seem on first glance. Olive Ann Burns began a sequel to Cold Sassy Tree, titled Leaving Cold Sassy Tree, much of it dictated from her sick bed following a relapse of her cancer. Although unpolished and unfinished, many fans of Olive Ann Burns find great value in it.
Olive Ann Burns died on July 4, 1990. Two of her southern women fellow-authors, from the state of Georgia, are Carson McCullers (1917-1967) and Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). Although Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor were both more prolific writers of fictions than was Burns, both McCullers and O’Connor had literary careers cut short by health conditions.
From the first chapter of Cold Sassy Tree:
”Three weeks after Granny Blakeslee died, Grandpa came to our house for his early snort of whiskey, as usual, and said to me, “Will Tweedy? Go find your mama, then run up to your Aunt Loma’s and tell her I said git on down here. I got something to say. And I ain’t a-go’n say it but once’t.”