Cold Sassy Tree: Biography: Olive Ann Burns

Olive Ann Burns was born on July 17, 1924, to Ruby Celestia Hight and William Arnold Burns. She grew up in Commerce, Georgia, in the 1930s with three older siblings. Her father had been a farmer who went broke during the Great Depression. Olive Ann went to high school in Macon and to Mercer University in Macon, then transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she graduated with a degree in journalism in 1946. She became a staff writer for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine for ten years, meeting another writer, Andrew Sparks, whom she married in 1956. They had a daughter and a son. As a freelance writer she became columnist “Amy Larkin” for the Atlanta Journal Magazine and the Atlanta Constitution until 1967.
Burns had never had the intention to write fiction until she was diagnosed with cancer in 1975. Fiction became her therapy as she collected stories from her family, friends, and newspaper research about the area in Georgia where she grew up. Her father supplied her with a lot of his own recollections. Grandpa Blakeslee was based on Grandpa Power, who had hastily remarried because he needed a housekeeper. Will Tweedy was based on her father. Cold Sassy is a portrait of Commerce, Georgia.
Burns worked on the novel for eight and a half years, and it was published in 1984 when she was 60 years old. It was an instant hit and continues to be taught in schools as a young adult novel about the post-Civil War South. The book was made into a TV film in 1989 with Faye Dunaway as Love Simpson. An opera called Cold Sassy Tree composed by Carlisle Floyd premiered on April 14, 2000, at the Houston Grand Opera.
Fans begged Burns for a sequel, and she began to write a second novel, Time, Dirt, and Money. She was bedridden and had a neighbor transcribe the words. She finished only the first 14 chapters of the story about the marriage of the adult Will Tweedy. She died suddenly on July 4, 1990, of cancer and congestive heart failure, without finishing the book. Her editor, Katrina Kenison, published the unfinished second novel as Leaving Cold Sassy, along with her notes and Reminiscence, Burns’s biography, in 1992