The Bitterweed Path

A Rediscovered Novel

By Thomas Hal Phillips

New introduction by John Howard

336 pp., 5.25 x 8

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4595-0
    Published: June 1996
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-2413-6
    Published: January 2015
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8477-0
    Published: January 2015

Chapel Hill Books

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This long out-of-print and newly rediscovered novel tells the story of two boys growing up in the cotton country of Mississippi a generation after the Civil War. Originally published in 1950, the novel's unique contribution lies in its subtle engagement of homosexuality and cross-class love. In The Bitterweed Path, Thomas Hal Phillips vividly recreates rural Mississippi at the turn of the century. In elegant prose, he draws on the Old Testament story of David and Jonathan and writes of the friendship and love between two boys--one a sharecropper's son and the other the son of the landlord--and the complications that arise when the father of one of the boys falls in love with his son's friend. Part of a very small body of gay literature of the period, The Bitterweed Path does not sensationalize homosexual love but instead portrays sexuality as a continuum of human behavior. The result is a book that challenges many assumptions about gay representation in the first half of the twentieth century.

About the Author

Thomas Hal Phillips, a former Hollywood screenwriter and consultant whose film work includes Nashville, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Ode to Billy Joe, and Walking Tall II, now lives in his native Mississippi. He is author of the novels The Golden Lie, Search for a Hero, Kangaroo Hollow, and The Loved and the Unloved.
For more information about Thomas Hal Phillips, visit the Author Page.


"[This book] is a delicate, sensitive work, written in a warm, quiet rhythm which creates and maintains a mood and an atmosphere proper to the story's locale and period. . . . Phillips has made the action of his story flow as effortlessly as time itself; he has brought [Southern rural] life during the early years of the century into the sort of believable reality which other Southern writers carefully avoid."--Thomas Sugrue, New York Times Book Review, September 10, 1950

"[Phillips's] readable style and his ability to create a feeling of ever-growing tension will hold the reader from beginning to end."--Library Journal, June 15, 1950

"The Bitterweed Path is an extraordinary find. It will force many critics to reexamine the nature of pre-Stonewall gay fiction and the range of how homosexuality was constructed in postwar America. It is an important, overlooked book."--David Bergman, author of Gaiety Transfigured: Gay Self-Representation in American Literature

"Thomas Hal Phillips's 1950 novel, The Bitterweed Path, is a remarkable rediscovery. It is in itself a moving, subtle, skillful work of fiction. And its rare depiction of homoerotic relationships in an era in which the subject was largely tabooed, redoubles the novel's importance and impact. John Howard's excellent introduction to the book, placing it in historical context, further adds to the importance of this publishing event."--Martin Duberman, author of Black Mountain, Paul Robeson, Cures, and Stonewall

"The Bitterweed Path is lyrical, sexy, and fascinating--a haunting work of art from a time and psychological place that is illuminating to revisit in light of where the world is today."--Howard Cruse, author of Stuck Rubber Baby

"A small gem of a homoerotic novel, written about a time and a place when gay didn't exist, but male love did. We owe our thanks to John Howard for rediscovering it, and to Thomas Hal Phillips for writing it."--John D'Emilio, author of Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970