Southern United States literature

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16 states and Washington, D.C. are defined as the Southern region of the United States by the Census Bureau. The 11 states in solid red are usually considered part of the South. The inclusion of some of the 6 states in stripes is sometimes disputed. The Census Bureau does not include Missouri as belonging to the Southern region, but parts of that state are culturally more Southern than Delaware, another striped state which the Census Bureau includes in the Southern region. Southern literary studies calls the geographic boundaries into question.

Southern literature (sometimes called the literature of the American South) is defined as American literature about the Southern United States or by writers from this region. Traditionally, the study of southern literature has emphasized a common Southern history, the significance of family, a sense of community and one’s role within it, a sense of justice, the region's dominant religion (Christianity — see Protestantism), and the burdens/rewards religion often brings, issues of racial tension, land and the promise it brings, a sense of social class and place, and the use of the Southern dialect.[1][2][3] However, since circa 2000, the scholarship of the New Southern Studies has decentralized these conventional tropes in favor of a more geographically, politically, and ideologically expansive "South" or "Souths."[4]

Overview of Southern literature[edit]

In its simplest form, Southern literature consists of writing about the American South. Often, "the South" is defined, for historical as well as geographical reasons, as the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia and Arkansas.[5] Pre-Civil War definitions of the South often included Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware as well. However, "the South" is also a social, political, economic, and cultural construct that transcends these geographical boundaries.[6]

Southern literature occupies a liminal space within American culture.[4] On the one hand, the South has been marginalized within U.S. since the 18th century, because its reliance on plantation agriculture and African slavery made it seem too British in the post-Revolutionary war era.[6] On the other hand, the white South has historically thrown its support behind American capitalist endeavors and imperial ambitions (for instance, through the enthusiastic participation of many white southerners in the Mexican-American war).[4] At the same time, southern racial history has come to be seen as emblematic of, rather than exceptional to, U.S. racism.[7] Southern literature has long reflected this ambivalence.

In addition to the geographical component of Southern literature, certain themes have appeared because of the similar histories of the Southern states in regard to slavery, the American Civil War, and Reconstruction. The conservative culture in the South has also produced a strong focus within Southern literature on the significance of family, religion, community in one's personal and social life, the use of the Southern dialect,[1] and a strong sense of "place."[8] The South's troubled history with racial issues also continually appears in its literature.[9]

Despite these common themes, there is debate as to what makes a literary work "Southern." For example, Mark Twain, a Missourian, defined the characteristics that many people associate with Southern writing in his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Truman Capote, born and raised in the Deep South, is best known for his novel In Cold Blood, a piece with none of the characteristics associated with "southern writing." Other Southern writers, such as popular authors Anne Rice and John Grisham, rarely write about traditional Southern literary issues. John Berendt, who wrote the popular Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, is not a Southerner. In addition, some famous Southern writers moved to the Northern U.S. So while geography is a factor, the geographical location of the author is not the defining factor in Southern writing.

History of Southern literature[edit]

Early and antebellum literature[edit]

During the 17th and 18th centuries, English colonists in the Southern part of the American colonies produced a number of notable works. Two of the most famous were early memoirs of Virginia: Captain John Smith's account of the founding of Jamestown in the 1610s and 1620s, and William Byrd II's secret plantation diary, kept in the early 18th century. Both sets of recollections are critical documents in early Southern history.

After American independence, in the early 19th century, the expansion of cotton planting and slavery began to distinguish Southern society and culture more clearly from the rest of the young republic. During this antebellum period, South Carolina, and particularly the city of Charleston, rivaled and perhaps surpassed Virginia as a literary community. Writing in Charleston, the lawyer and essayist Hugh Swinton Legare, the poets Paul Hamilton Hayne and Henry Timrod, and the novelist William Gilmore Simms composed some of the most important works in antebellum Southern literature.

Simms was a particularly significant figure, perhaps the most prominent Southern author before the American Civil War. His novels of frontier life and the American revolution celebrated the history of South Carolina. Like James Fenimore Cooper, Simms was strongly influenced by Walter Scott, and his works bore the imprint of Scott's heroic romanticism. In The Yemassee, The Kinsmen, and the anti-Uncle Tom's Cabin novel The Sword and the Distaff, Simms presented idealized portraits of slavery and Southern life. While popular and well regarded in South Carolina—and highly praised by such critics as Edgar Allan Poe—Simms never gained a large national audience.

In Virginia, George Tucker produced in 1824 the first fiction of Virginia colonial life with The Valley of Shenandoah. He followed in 1827 with one of the country's first science fictions, A Voyage to the Moon: With Some Account of the Manners and Customs, Science and Philosophy, of the People of Morosofia, and Other Lunarians. Tucker was the first Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Virginia. In 1836 Tucker published the first comprehensive biography of Thomas Jefferson - The Life of Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States.[10] Some critics also regard Poe as a Southern author—he was raised in Richmond, attended the University of Virginia, and edited the Southern Literary Messenger from 1835 to 1837. Yet in his poetry and fiction Poe rarely took up distinctively Southern themes or subjects; his status as a "Southern" writer remains ambiguous.

In the Chesapeake region, meanwhile, antebellum authors of enduring interest include John Pendleton Kennedy, whose novel Swallow Barn offered a colorful sketch of Virginia plantation life; and Nathaniel Beverley Tucker, whose 1836 work The Partisan Leader foretold the secession of the Southern states, and imagined a guerrilla war in Virginia between federal and secessionist armies.

Not all noteworthy Southern authors during this period were white. Frederick Douglass's Narrative is perhaps the most famous first-person account of black slavery in the antebellum South. Harriet Jacobs, meanwhile, recounted her experiences in bondage in North Carolina in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. And another Southern-born ex-slave, William Wells Brown, wrote Clotel; or, The President's Daughter—widely believed to be the first novel ever published by an African-American. The book depicts the life of its title character, a daughter of Thomas Jefferson and his black mistress, and her struggles under slavery.

The "Lost Cause" years[edit]

In the second half of the 19th century, the South lost the Civil War and suffered through what many white Southerners considered a harsh occupation (called Reconstruction). In place of the anti-Tom literature came poetry and novels about the "Lost Cause of the Confederacy." This nostalgic literature began to appear almost immediately after the war ended; The Conquered Banner was published on June 24, 1865. These writers idealized the defeated South and its lost culture. Prominent writers with this point of view included poets Henry Timrod, Daniel B. Lucas, and Abram Joseph Ryan and fiction writer Thomas Nelson Page. Others, like African-American writer Charles W. Chesnutt, dismissed this nostalgia by pointing out the racism and exploitation of blacks that happened during this time period in the South.

in 1856 George Tucker completed his final multivolume work in his History of the United States, From Their Colonization to the End of the 26th Congress, in 1841.

In 1884, Mark Twain published what is arguably the most influential southern novel of the 19th century, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Ernest Hemingway said of the novel, "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn." This statement applies even more to Southern literature because of the novel's frank dealings with issues such as race and violence.

Kate Chopin was another central figure in post-Civil War Southern literature. Focusing her writing largely on the Acadian/Cajun communities of Louisiana, Chopin established her literary reputation with the short story collections Bayou Folk (1894) and A Night in Acadie (1897). These stories offered not only a sociological portrait of a specific Southern culture but also furthered the legacy of the American short story as a uniquely vital and complex narrative genre. But it was with the publication of her second and final novel The Awakening (1899) that she gained notoriety of a different sort. The novel not only shocked audiences with its frank and unsentimental portrayal of female sexuality and psychology. It paved the way for the Southern novel as both a serious genre (based in the realism that had dominated the western novel since Balzac) and one that tackled the complex and untidy emotional lives of its characters. Today she is widely regarded as not only one of the most important female writers in American literature, but one of the most important chroniclers of the post-Civil War South and one of the first writers to treat the female experience with complexity and without condescension.

During the first half of the 20th century, the lawyer, politician, minister, orator, actor, and author Thomas Dixon, Jr. wrote a number of novels, plays, sermons, and non-fiction pieces which were quite popular with the general public all over the USA. Today Dixon is perhaps best known for writing a trilogy of novels about Reconstruction, one of which was entitled The Clansman (1905), a book which would eventually become the inspiration for D. W. Griffith's infamous 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. Overall Dixon wrote 22 novels, numerous plays and film scripts,[11] Christian sermons, and some non-fiction works during his lifetime.

The Southern Renaissance[edit]

In the 1920s and 1930s, a renaissance in Southern literature began with the appearance of writers such as William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, Caroline Gordon, Allen Tate, Thomas Wolfe, Robert Penn Warren, and Tennessee Williams, among others. Because of the distance the Southern Renaissance authors had from the American Civil War and slavery, they were more objective in their writings about the South. During the 1920s, Southern poetry thrived under the Vanderbilt "Fugitives". In nonfiction, H.L. Mencken's popularity increased nationwide as he shocked and astounded readers with his satiric writing highlighting the inability of the South to produce anything of cultural value. In reaction to Mencken's essay, "The Sahara of the Bozart," the Southern Agrarians (also based mostly around Vanderbilt) called for a return to the South's agrarian past and bemoaned the rise of Southern industrialism and urbanization. They noted that creativity and industrialism were not compatible and desired the return to a lifestyle that would afford the Southerner leisure (a quality the Agrarians most felt conducive to creativity). Writers like Faulkner, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949, also brought new techniques such as stream of consciousness and complex narrative techniques to their writings. For instance, his novel As I Lay Dying is told by changing narrators ranging from the deceased Addie to her young son.

The late 1930s also saw the publication of one of the best-known Southern novels, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. The novel, published in 1936, quickly became a bestseller. It won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize, and in 1939 an equally famous movie of the novel premiered. Mitchell's novel consolidated white supremacist Lost Cause ideologies (see Lost Cause of the Confederacy) to construct a bucolic plantation South in which slavery was a benign, or even benevolent, institution. She presents white southerners as victims of a rapacious Northern industrial capitalism and depicts black southerners as either lazy, stupid, and over sexualized, or as docile, childlike, and resolutely loyal to their white masters. Southern literature has always drawn audiences outside the South and outside the United States, and Gone with the Wind has continued to popularize harmful stereotypes of southern history and culture for audiences around the world[12]

Post World War II Southern literature[edit]

Southern literature following the Second World War grew thematically as it embraced the social and cultural changes in the South resulting from the Civil Rights Movement. In addition, more female and African-American writers began to be accepted as part of Southern literature, including African Americans such as Zora Neale Hurston and Sterling Allen Brown, along with women such as Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Ellen Glasgow, Carson McCullers, Katherine Anne Porter, and Shirley Ann Grau, among many others. Other well-known Southern writers of this period include Reynolds Price, James Dickey, William Price Fox, Davis Grubb, Walker Percy, and William Styron. One of the most highly praised Southern novels of the 20th century, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, won the Pulitzer Prize when it was published in 1960. New Orleans native and Harper Lee's friend, Truman Capote also found great success in the middle 20th century with Breakfast at Tiffany's and later In Cold Blood. Another famous novel of the 1960s is A Confederacy of Dunces, written by New Orleans native John Kennedy Toole in the 1960s but not published until 1980. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981 and has since become a cult classic.

Southern poetry bloomed in the decades following the Second World War in large part thanks to the writing and efforts of Robert Penn Warren and James Dickey. Where earlier work primarily championed a white, agrarian past, the efforts of such poets as Dave Smith, Charles Wright, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Yusef Komunyakaa, Jim Seay, Frank Stanford, Kate Daniels, James Applewhite, Betty Adcock and Rodney Jones have opened up the subject matter and form of Southern poetry.[13]

Contemporary Southern literature[edit]

Today, in the early twenty-first century, the American South is undergoing a number of cultural and social changes, including rapid industrialization/deindustrialization, climate change, and an influx of immigrants. As a result, the exact definition of what constitutes Southern literature is changing. While some critics specify that the previous definitions of Southern literature still hold, with some of them suggesting, only somewhat in jest, that all Southern literature must still contain a dead mule within its pages, most scholars of the twenty-first century South highlight the proliferation of depictions of "Souths": urban, undead, queer, activist, televisual, cinematic, and particularly multiethnic (particularly Latinx, Native American, and African American)[14][15][16][17][18] Not only do these critics argue that the very fabric of the South has changed so much that the old assumptions about southern literature no longer hold, but they argue that the U.S. South has always been a construct.[19]

Selected journals[edit]

Notable works[edit]

Around 2000 "the 'James Agee Film Project' conducted a poll of book editors, publishers, scholars and reviewers, asking which of the thousands of Southern prose works published during the past century should be considered 'the most remarkable works of modern Southern Literature." Results of the poll yielded the following titles:[20]

Title Author Year
Invisible Man Ralph Ellison 1952
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men James Agee 1941
The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner 1929
Mind of the South Wilbur Cash 1929
Look Homeward, Angel Thomas Wolfe 1929
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee 1960
The Color Purple Alice Walker 1982
Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston 1937
Absalom, Absalom! William Faulkner 1936
Lanterns on the Levee William Alexander Percy 1941
All the King's Men Robert Penn Warren 1946
Collected Stories Eudora Welty 1980
Civil War: A Narrative Shelby Foote 1958–1974
Moviegoer Walker Percy 1961
Tobacco Road Erskine Caldwell 1932
Black Boy Richard Wright 1945
Cane Jean Toomer 1923
Native Son Richard Wright 1940
As I Lay Dying William Faulkner 1930
Gone With the Wind Margaret Mitchell 1936
Up from Slavery Booker T. Washington 1921
Last Gentleman Walker Percy 1966
Complete Stories Flannery O'Connor 1971
Collected Stories Katherine Anne Porter 1965
Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman Ernest Gaines 1971

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Patricia Evans."Southern Literature: Women Writers" Archived 2000-03-03 at Archive.is. Accessed Feb. 4, 2007.
  2. ^ Template:Url=http://www.unc.edu/news/archives/jun99/reed16.htm
  3. ^ http://www.pfly.net/misc/GeographicMorphology.jpg. Retrieved 2007-03-18. Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  4. ^ a b c name=Jon Smith and Deborah Cohn "Look Away! The U.S. South in New World Studies"
  5. ^ Joseph M. Flora & Lucinda H. MacKethan (eds.) The Companion to Southern Literature: Themes, Genres, Places, People, Movements, and Motifs, Louisiana State University Press, 2001. These are the states as listed in this study.
  6. ^ a b Greeson, Jennifer. Our South: Geographic Fantasy and the Rise of National Literature. Harvard University Press.
  7. ^ 1971-, Wells, Jeremy, (2011). Romances of the white man's burden : race, empire, and the plantation in American literature 1880-1936. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press. ISBN 9780826517562. OCLC 709606332.
  8. ^ Kate Cochran. Review of Robert Brinkmeyer, Jr., Remapping Southern Literature: Contemporary Southern Writers and the West, University of Georgia Press, 2000.
  9. ^ Hobson 1999.
  10. ^ McLean, Robert C., George Tucker, Moral Philosopher and Man of Letters, University of North Carolina Press, 1961
  11. ^ https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0228746/#writer
  12. ^ New approaches to Gone with the wind. Crank, James A.,. Baton Rouge. ISBN 9780807161586. OCLC 908373767.
  13. ^ Suarez 1999.
  14. ^ Mills 2000.
  15. ^ 1971-, Bibler, Michael P., (2009). Cotton's queer relations : same-sex intimacy and the literature of the southern plantation, 1936-1968. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. ISBN 9780813927923. OCLC 753978357.
  16. ^ Undead souths : the gothic and beyond in southern literature and culture. Anderson, Eric Gary, 1960-, Hagood, Taylor, 1975-, Turner, Daniel Cross,. Baton Rouge. ISBN 9780807161074. OCLC 922529577.
  17. ^ Small-screen Souths Region, Identity, and the Cultural Politics of Television. Hinrichsen, Lisa, Caison, Gina, Rountree, Stephanie. Louisiana State Univ Pr. 2017. ISBN 9780807167144. OCLC 974698560.
  18. ^ American cinema and the southern imaginary. Barker, Deborah, 1956-, McKee, Kathryn B.,. Athens: University of Georgia Press. 2011. ISBN 9780820337104. OCLC 706078532.
  19. ^ Scott., Romine,. The real South : southern narrative in the age of cultural reproduction (Louisiana paperback ed.). Baton Rouge. ISBN 9780807156384. OCLC 907252927.
  20. ^ "125 Great Southern Books". Riverdale, MD: Agee Films. Retrieved March 12, 2017.

Bibliography[edit]

published in 20th c.[edit]

published in 21st c.[edit]

External links[edit]