For the past two decades, millions of readers the world over have sought out the heart and humor of Sullivan’s Island novelist Dorothea Benton Frank. The best-selling author died Monday, leaving a legacy of 20 novels that helped shape the contemporary women’s fiction genre, captivating a legion of followers who eagerly anticipated her beach-bound releases set mainly on South Carolina’s barrier islands.
According to her friends, connecting Frank with hurricanes is more than fitting, given both her deep connection with the Lowcountry landscape, as well as her own larger-than-life nature. After all, over the course of her self-powered and prolific literary career, Frank gave such resonant voice to the region that she took the world by storm.
In her life and literature, Frank championed and celebrated tenacity, resilience, joy and community. As Charleston residents slog through the aftermath of Dorian, and steel themselves for the possibility of swirling storms yet to come, here are some thoughts on her ethos to help weather life’s challenges. They come from those who knew her — as well as from her own characters, culled from her hurricane-themed novel, “The Hurricane Sisters.”
Be a force of nature
I hail from a very theatrical climate. Coming to terms with Mother Nature is essential when you call the Lowcountry of South Carolina home. — Lisa, “The Hurricane Sisters”
“She will be missed. But it’s no coincidence that Dottie went out with a hurricane,” said Mary Alice Monroe, Frank’s friend of several years and a fellow author. Monroe recently wrote “The Summer Guests,” a novel that centers on a group of hurricane evacuees who together take shelter from the storm.
Though the two friends spent more time talking about their lives than their writings on the flora and fauna of the area, Monroe was struck by Frank’s savvy as a writer. “She was very smart about the publishing business.”
“Dottie was a force of nature,” said Marjory Wentworth, poet laureate of South Carolina. In fact, that very description is used by many who crossed Frank’s path, and it is often accompanied by a knowing chuckle.
Wentworth and Frank formed a friendship around 20 years ago, when Frank knocked on her door, holding the poet’s own chapbook in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. It turned out Frank was intent on using one of Wentworth’s poems, “River,” in a book she was writing. Though Wentworth was initially skeptical about making it happen, Frank forged ahead. The poem appears in her second novel, “Plantation,” followed by poems then appearing in Frank's subsequent works.
Frank herself was certainly no stranger to Lowcountry hurricanes. According to Wentworth, the author’s beloved family home on Sullivan’s Island was destroyed by Hugo in 1989, a fact she weaves into “The Hurricane Sisters.”
“I’m not impressed. Looks more of a wind maker than a rainmaker.”
“You’re not impressed?” she said.
“Heck no. I grew up with hurricanes always threatening to blow us to kingdom come. This is going to be messy but it’s not really dangerous. Unless it gets here on a high tide and a full moon. The moon’s not full, is it?” — Ashley, “The Hurricane Sisters”
I had myself a case of the blues and I hated myself for giving into them. It felt like weakness to succumb. — Liz, “The Hurricane Sisters”
“She had a real toughness,” said Wentworth. “She worked hard her whole life.”
Kieran Kramer, a USA Today bestselling author of Regency-era romance novels, first met Frank in the fall of 2016 when she was a student at the College of Charleston’s Master's of Fine Arts in creative writing program. A patron of the program, Frank welcomed Kramer and her fellow students to a fabulous feast at her Sullivan’s Island home to kick off their first semester.
“I got the feeling that night that no matter what challenging spot Ms. Frank ever found herself in as a writer and a person, her big heart would give her the inspiration and courage to see her through,” said Kramer, noting Frank’s support of the program as a patron.
When asked what Frank might say in the face of a hurricane, Monroe conjectured, “She would say, ‘Everything is going to be all right.’”
“Just be careful, okay? And watch the weather. It’s hurricane season.”
“Oh, please. It’s hurricane season every year.” — Ashley, “The Hurricane Sisters”
Mackie Krawcheck Moore first met Frank through her husband, Charlie. Their relationship deepened when the author was researching “The Hurricane Sisters,” which features a young female character involved in a physically abusive relationship.
Frank reached out to Moore, who is founder and CEO at Thrive SC (Transitional Housing and Holistic Resources for Survivors of Domestic Violence). From there, Frank became very involved with the organization.
"She was a great champion of Thrive SC's mission to empower female and child survivors of abuse and enthusiastically served on Thrive SC's Advisory Board of Directors," said Moore in a social media post.
Hold onto that sense of humor
“Vodka’s fine,” Maisie said. We all stared at her. None of us had ever seen her drink a drop of anything except gin. “Hell, there’s a hurricane raging out there. We have to make do, don’t we?”
And, to my complete surprise, we actually laughed. — Ashley, "The Hurricane Sisters"
“She was so naturally funny,” said Wentworth. “She could have been a comedian.”
Monroe recalls that you could hear her laugh in the other room, and how she wasn’t afraid to fully partake in life. She also notes that as a writer, Frank excelled at humor, somehow managing to never fall flat with comic dialogue.
“It was very refreshing for people to read it,” she said.
Cookbook author and chef Nathalie Dupree observed that there was an ebullience to her longtime friend, as well as a love of cooking. Dupree featured Frank's pound cake recipe in a book, and encouraged her to write her own cookbook, to no avail.
“There was a certain joyousness to Dottie, as well as an indomitability,” she said.
Embrace your community
The world had not heard the last of this Hurricane Sister or of the others as well. We all still have a lot of noise to make. You can count on it. — Liz, “The Hurricane Sisters”
Wentworth said that her friend’s sense of community and caring was always full-measure. “Nothing was halfway.”
Once, when Wentworth’s family was stricken with pneumonia, Frank prepared and sent an entire meal with all the fixings to her home.
“That food,” said Wentworth, "that was Dottie.”
Kramer’s takeaway was this: “We can get through the scary times here by being generous and brave like Dottie.”
She added: “Post-hurricane potluck, anyone?”
Like Kramer, those who take a page from Frank's book may well find they can weather any storm, natural or otherwise, while also ensuring that Frank continues to make her joyful noise.