Ellen Douglas, a Mississippi-born writer whose novels explored the uneasy, sometimes surprisingly tender alliances between black and white women in the American South, died Wednesday at her home in Jackson, Miss. She was 91.
Her son Brooks Haxton confirmed her death.
Ellen Douglas was the pen name of Josephine Ayres Haxton, whose first novel, “A Family’s Affairs," drew praise from critics on its publication in 1962.
That book, as many of Douglas’ later novels would, explored the epochal divide between the Old South and the New, examining vast, difficult subjects — race relations, tensions between the sexes, the conflict between the needs of the individual and those of the community — through the small, clear prism of domestic life.
The domestic life in question was usually enacted by women, often middle-class white women and their black maids, joined in wary comradeship through shared household rituals. The word “domestic," both as adjective and noun, was an almost audible subtext in Douglas’ work.
Throughout her career, Douglas was praised for her unflinching yet sympathetic characterizations, and for her ear for the nuances of Southern speech as it varied across the races and the sexes.
Her novel “Apostles of Light," about the fate of an elderly Southern woman, was a finalist for a National Book Award in 1974.
Josephine Chamberlain Ayres was born on July 12, 1921, in Natchez, Miss., and reared in Hope, Ark., and Alexandria, La. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Mississippi, at which she later taught writing for many years.