Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Gavin Breeden

Southern Literature

Recommended Posts

I've searched high and low for a general thread on Southern Literature and wasn't able to find anything (if I missed it, feel free to ahem away).

I'm planning a fun reading project for 2011, so which writers/novels should I include? I've read a lot in the genre, but there's so much that I haven't gotten to yet. My favorites are William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, but I'm looking explore the work of some other Southern writers.

I'm looking for everything: the essentials, the overlooked, and the contemporary (I know only a little about Southern lit post-1965).

Thanks in advance for your recommendations!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Two of my more recent* favorites are Chris Offutt and Larry Brown. Offut's short story collection Out of the Woods and Brown's Big, Bad Love are probably the best places to start. Non-fiction standouts from these two are Offutt's memoir The Same River Twice and Brown's essay collection On Fire.

I never got into Daniel Woodrell's early detective fiction, but I have really enjoyed his more recent southern novels Give Us A Kiss, The Death of Sweet Mister and Winter's Bone, with Give Us a Kiss as my favorite.

I'm looking forward to reading Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, but haven't gotten to it yet.

*It's been a decade, so maybe they aren't that recent.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Andy, do you have any specific recommendations for Welty, Hannah, Foote, and Wolfe? I haven't read any novels by these authors. I was considering Shiloh, Look Homeward, Angel and Losing Battles for my list. Anyone read those?

Thanks for the recommendations. Keep 'em coming.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

For Thomas Wolfe, definitely Look Homeward, Angel. After that, he was mostly spinning it out.

Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces is the most overrated novel in 20th century literature (IMNSHO)

Instead, read Michael Malone, overlooked comic genius: Handling Sin (1986)

Jill McCorkle, July 7th (1992)

Clyde Edgerton, Raney (1986)

Kaye Gibbons, Ellen Foster (1987)

Lee Smith, Fair and Tender Ladies (1988)

Doris Betts, Souls Raised from the Dead (1994)

Peggy Payne, Revelation (1988)

Robert Morgan, Gap Creek (1999)

The 80s & 90s were a great time for Southern writers. Most of these are still alive & writing, of course.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Walker Percy.

Yes!

Specifically: The Moviegoer.

And hey, what about Zora Neale Hurston?

And short stories by Katherine Anne Porter.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for that list, BethR.

Another Southern writer I think I might like but have not read yet is Harry Crews.

Also, I guess I allowed genre distinctions to have me overlook three of my favorites earlier: James Sallis, Thomas H. Cook and Joe R. Lansdale. Not everything from these three qualifies, but they all have multiple books that do.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Cormac McCarthy - The Road, Blood Meridian

Edward P. Jones - The Known World

Wendell Berry - Jayber Crow

Oddly enough, Flannery O'Connor really hated Carson McCullers' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, although I can't figure out why. I love Flan, and I liked it. So who knows. I obviously second the recommendation of Percy's The Moviegoer as well.

Edited by old wave

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was going to add Cormac McCarthy as well, especially his novel Suttree, but I thought his being born in Rhode Island might disqualify him. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was going to add Cormac McCarthy as well, especially his novel Suttree, but I thought his being born in Rhode Island might disqualify him. :)

Suttree is definitely on my list since it takes place in East Tennessee. And didn't McCarthy grow up around Knoxville? I've always sort of considered him a Southern writer for the first half of his career, at least. The second half of his career has been modern day westerns, I guess.

Instead, read Michael Malone, overlooked comic genius: Handling Sin (1986)

Jill McCorkle, July 7th (1992)

Clyde Edgerton, Raney (1986)

Kaye Gibbons, Ellen Foster (1987)

Lee Smith, Fair and Tender Ladies (1988)

Doris Betts, Souls Raised from the Dead (1994)

Peggy Payne, Revelation (1988)

Robert Morgan, Gap Creek (1999)

The 80s & 90s were a great time for Southern writers. Most of these are still alive & writing, of course.

Wow, this list looks like the jackpot. I've never heard of any of these writers except Doris Betts. I looked up several of these books and they all sound very interesting. Thanks!

Walker Percy.

Yes!

Specifically: The Moviegoer.

I was planning on reading The Moviegoer, but now I think I have to. Lots of Walker Percy fans around here.

Edited by Gavin Breeden

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, McCarthy grew up here in Knoxville. (I'm friends with one of his brothers, in fact.) I can't seem to make it through most of the McCarthy books that I'm supposed to like, but Suttree is a big, hairy beast of a novel and one of the best things I've ever read. It's hilarious and absurd and heartbreaking but the first word that always comes to mind is "epic" -- and I mean that in the classical sense. Suttree makes Knoxville and East Tennessee feel like Ancient Greece or Dicken's London or Joyce's Dublin. Also, Suttree is one of only two books that I've begun rereading immediately after finishing it for the first time. (If you're interested in this region, be sure to read our other great novel, James Agee's A Death in the Family.)

The Moviegoer is, indeed, awesome, as are The Last Gentleman and Love in the Ruins.

For Eudora Welty, I'd recommend beginning with a collection of short stories. My favorite of her novels is probably Delta Wedding.

Ernest Gaines is another guy to check out. And although most of his novels have fallen out of print, I've liked everything I've read by Jack Butler, especially Jujitsu for Christ.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is a bit out of left field, but F. Scott Fitzgerald settled for a while in Montgomery after meeting Zelda. There are a few short stories that came out of this period that rank highly among any other southern short fiction I have read.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I was planning on reading The Moviegoer, but now I think I have to. Lots of Walker Percy fans around here.

THE MOVIEGOER seems to be the general favorite of his works, but I have to confess, it's not the Percy novel that I'd most recommend. My introduction to Percy's novels was a back-to-back reading of LANCELOT and THE SECOND COMING, and those remain my favorite Percy novels.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Based on recommendations that I solicited from here and other places, I've compiled a little Southern Literature project for 2011. Twenty-six books for my twenty-sixth year. I tried to lean heavy on the latter 20th century and I also tried to include a blend of genders, races, and Southern states. But at the end of the day, its mostly a bunch of dead, white guys. Twain is already loaded onto the Nook, so I suppose I'll get started today. Thanks for all the suggestions!

(One strange note: despite a fairly thorough search, I couldn't find any well-known Southern novels in the 1900-1925 range that weren't about the KKK. Anyone know of good Southern lit 1900-1925?)

Here's my list (in chronological-ish order):

1. Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson, 1894

2. Kate Chopin, The Awakening, 1899

3. Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel, 1929

4. Zora Neale Hurston, They’re Eyes Were Watching God, 1937

5. William Faulkner, The Unvanquished, 1938

6. Eudora Welty, A Curtain of Green, 1941

7. Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men, 1946

8. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, 1952

9. Shelby Foote, Shiloh: A Novel, 1952

10. Flannery O’Connor, The Violent Bear It Away, 1960

11. Walker Percy, The Moviegoer, 1961

12. John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces, 1960s/published posthumously in 1980

13. Barry Hannah, Geronimo Rex, 1972

14. Cormac McCarthy, Suttree, 1979

15. Breece D’J Pancake, The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, 1970s/published posthumously in 1983

16. Alice Walker, The Color Purple, 1982

17. Peter Taylor, A Summons to Memphis, 1986

18. Michael Malone, Handling Sin, 1986

19. Toni Morrison, Beloved, 1987

20. Fannie Flag, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-stop Café, 1987

21. Peggy Payne, Revelation, 1988

22. Doris Betts, Souls Raised from the Dead, 1994

23. Pat Conroy, Beach Music, 1995

24. William Gay, The Long Home, 1999

25. Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow, 2001

26. Tom Franklin, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, 2010

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just thought of another Southern author who ought to be better known: Tim McLaurin. He died in 2002 at 48 (esophageal cancer, after surviving multiple myeloma a few years earlier). His memoir Keeper of the Moon: A Southern Boyhood is beautifully written, and his novels are quite good too.

I'm sorry, I can't help with 1900-1925.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Harry Crews

Barry Hannah

John Kennedy Toole

Lewis Nordan

Carson McCullers

Zora Neal Hurston

Ellen Gilchrist

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just finished Lillian Smith's Strange Fruit (1944). I had never heard of it before I started working toward the dissertation, but apparently it's quite famous (it was banned in Boston). Some notes:

1. Smith was a white Southerner (with ties to China) and writes with a kind of controlled fury about the systemic racism that permeated (still permeates?) the South during the period. The novel is, on one level, a kind of tragic love-affair between a white man and an African American woman, but that aspect is, in the end, less important to Smith than the way that this affair leads ultimately to violence (not really a spoiler--if you're writing a novel about race in the South, violence is a given). Chapter Twenty-Nine, which gives the reactions of townsfolk both white and black to the violence in the preceding chapters is devastating: the "good" white citizens are shown to be as complicit as the mob--and, indeed, communal guilt is a major theme of the novel.

2. Smith plays with two structures that Leslie Fiedler locates at the heart of American literature: the light-dark woman and homosocial (almost homosexual) relationships between men of different races. And in each case she seriously interrogates the violence that she perceives at the core of these relationships: the victim in the contest between the Pure White Woman and the Earthy Dark Woman is always the latter; and the homosocial bond between men of different races is always in the white man's favor and leads ultimately to suffering for the darker member of the duo. Violence is inevitable.

3. This book was pretty controversial in its time for its sexual explicitness (and, in the South, for seeming to make interracial relationships desirable, which is ironic considering how the interracial relationships in this novel end up). I'm not so sure it was controversial for its lesbian content, which is (barely) subtle but definitely present. 

4. Particularly of interest on this board might be Smith's handling of religion. Smith herself was not particularly religious, and she casts a jaded eye over Southern revivalism (manifested in the form of an obvious Billy Sunday expy). Interestingly, religion is seen as primarily the domain of white people--an outlet and a tool for social conformity. In the end, it fails to stop the violence just as the forces of law fail. It could even be argued that it's religion that starts the whole mess to begin with. 

Stylistically, I think it fits comfortably into a kind of middlebrow modernism; not so obscure as Faulkner or Joyce, but definitely engaging in similar sorts of stylistic play. 

I liked this one a lot. It's a tough read at times and tilts just a little toward sermonizing at the end, but it's a very good book.

Edited by NBooth

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×