A Devil and a Good Woman, Too

The Lives of Julia Peterkin

Title Details

Pages: 392

Illustrations: 41 b&w photos

Trim size: 6.120in x 9.250in



Pub Date: 10/15/2008

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3250-5

List Price: $32.95

A Devil and a Good Woman, Too

The Lives of Julia Peterkin

Skip to

  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Awards

Julia Peterkin revolutionized American literature by writing seriously about the lives of plain black farming people. In five bold, lyrical books she pushed the bounds of realism to earn the startled praise of such intellectuals and literary artists as W. E. B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes. A plantation mistress who vowed to "write what is, even if it is unpleasant," she took up writing at age forty, produced two best-selling novels, and won a Pulitzer Prize before mysteriously abandoning writing twelve years later.

Peterkin's fiction chronicles the collapse of plantation agriculture on the Gullah coast of South Carolina. At the same time her writings are a thinly veiled autobiography of a southern white woman struggling to create something new out of the beauty and sorrow around her. Writing to her mentor H. L. Mencken in 1922, Peterkin declared, "These black friends of mine live more in one Saturday night than I do in five years. I envy them, and I guess as I cannot be them, I seek satisfaction in trying to record them."

The first full account of Peterkin's life, A Devil and a Good Woman, Too is an exemplary biography of a brilliant, enigmatic woman who defied convention, lived as she pleased, and wrote what she knew.

Williams makes a convincing argument for [Peterkin's] singularity as a woman and, more important, for the resurrection of her work.

Publishers Weekly

An outstanding book which makes a genuine contribution to the study of women writers, South Carolina, the South, and the wellsprings of literary creativity. . . . An exceptional piece of work.

—Louis D. Rubin Jr.

A well-researched account of Peterkin's life, almost as readable as a good novel.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The documentation of this life is absolutely fascinating.

Southern Seen

[An] excellent study . . . Williams depicts Peterkin as a woman with talent, confidence, vision, and courage—attributes all carefully supported by data from archival and published sources. She coherently weaves Peterkin's life and writings into the contexts of people, place, and time. Peterkin's biography is a work to be read and remembered. Highly recommended.


In this subtle, complex, often brilliant study Williams delves into the life of Julia Peterkin with that same passionate thoroughness, critical wisdom, appetite for irony and subversion, and the sleuth's love for the search with which Peterkin herself explored the human condition in the South.

—Charles Joyner, author of Remember Me: Slave Life in Coastal Georgia

Truly remarkable. I am bowled over both by Peterkin's life and by Williams' knowledge and skill in presenting it. This is a beautiful piece of work, as moving and tragic and as brimming with life and psychological insight as Peterkin's works themselves.

—Harlan Grene, author of What the Dead Remember

Superb . . . Fills a critical gap in southern studies . . . Williams opens a very valuable door onto this pivotal era.

Southern Quarterly


Julia Cherry Spruill Prize, Southern Association for Women Historians


Best Book on South Carolina History, South Carolina Historical Society

About the Author/Editor

SUSAN MILLAR WILLIAMS teaches American literature and creative writing at Trident Technical College in Charleston, South Carolina. Her writing has been published in the Nation and the Southern Review.