Southern Girl Academy: Books

The South’s greatest export is not cotton. It’s great literature. Stories practically drip from our trees like so much Spanish moss. Sure, those who weren’t raised right might make jokes about Southern illiteracy, but anyone who’s been here knows Southerners are storytellers. We can’t tell you what happened yesterday without weaving in an epic narrative of good and evil, joy and pain, heroes and villains. You may be waiting for us to just get to the point already, but we’re engaging in what just might be our national pastime. And who can blame us? We’re surrounded by a cast of rather colorful characters!

Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor

One of the South’s best writers, Flannery O’Connor, was once asked why Southern literature is so full of freaks. (Obviously, she was the right person to ask, as her work features stolen wooden legs, serial killers, street corner prophets, hermaphrodites, and a guy in a gorilla suit.) Miss O’Connor responded: “Whenever I am asked why Southern writers particularly have this penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.” One of the great benefits of a region in which there is still some concept of being “raised right” is that the freaks stand right out. And freaks make for excellent reading.

More than anything, even its freakish characters, Southern literature is deeply rooted in the South as a place. The South may as well be an unconscious character in most Southern fiction. As Flannery O’Connor wrote, “If you’re a writer and the South is what you know, then it’s what you’ll write about and how you judge it will depend on how you judge yourself. It’s perhaps good and necessary to get away from it physically for a while, but this is by no means to escape it.”

Some writers, like William Faulkner, seem haunted by the ghosts of slavery and the Civil War, which float through his stream of consciousness prose like specters. Others, like O’Connor, are concerned with the religion of the South, which, as anyone asked where they go to church on a first meeting can attest, is pervasive here. And others, like Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird explore particularly Southern issues of race and prejudice (though this is not to say that racism and prejudice are not problems elsewhere).  None of these works would even be possible written by non-Southerners.

To be a true Southern Girl is to be proud of our region’s rich literary heritage. You can’t grow up here and not be steeped in story. You can’t be from here and not be proud to call folks like Kate Chopin, Margaret Mitchell, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, Cormac McCarthy, Maya Angelou, Walker Percy, Alice Walker, and Tennessee Williams fellow Southerners. All Southern girls must do their reading, and for extra Southern Girl Academy credit, field trips can be arranged to such holy places as Oxford, Mississippi, where William Faulkner lived and wrote; Piggot, Arkansas, where Ernest Hemingway wrote portions of A Farewell to Arms; and Andalusia Farm, where Flannery O’Connor lived for most of her life.

Sarah Orsborn is a real life debutante, born and raised in the South. She blogs at The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo, and is studying to be an English professor, to pass on her love of Southern literature to future generations.

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3 Responses

  1. If you haven’t visited THAT BOOKSTORE IN BLYTHEVILLE, go. 🙂

  2. I suddenly now feel the need to make a pilgrimage to Rowan Oak. It’s been far too long since I have visited Oxford, MS. Great post, Sarah! 🙂

  3. […] hurricane-force winds. Folks from further north will probably regard that with skepticism, but the South is composed of “freaks.” The hurricane-party point is not to be wild or dangerous, it’s to pass the time […]

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