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Southern Literature Archive

Andrei Codrescu’s New Orleans

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For old-school southern writers, it seems, having roots in the South—being born there—is a key reason they’re classified as “southern writers.” Thinking of contemporary writers like Codrescu as “southern” is more complex. Though often intensely regional, movement is a central concern of his essays and poems.

Big Picture, Small Picture: Context for William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning”

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In June of 1939, William Faulkner’s short story “Barn Burning” is published in Harper's Magazine, marking the first appearance of the fictional Snopes family of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. Eleven years later, Faulkner accepts the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Need and Greed in Fields and Mansions

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Driving through southern fields makes visible one of the persistent paradoxes of American production: the coexistence of excess and need. Jean Toomer, writing in 1923, illustrates the disconnect between agricultural abundance and personal lack in his poem “Harvest Song.”

Ghosts on Cloudless Days

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Whereas spring further north leaps cleanly from receding snow and bare branches, southern spring is brief and muddled with the semi-cold winter that precedes it and the too-hot summer that follows. Springtime is a liminal space where the past seeps into the present.

Sinister Trees and Fragrant Flowers

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For a brief period in childhood, I was afraid of trees. It was after Hurricane Fran swept through North Carolina, and when the winds subsided trees had fallen on roads, houses, sidewalks. Maybe they would fall on me. And maybe trees in the South are scarier than trees elsewhere.

Homesickness for Divided Places and Unknown Lands

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When does a home become so hostile that you should consider leaving? Southern writers complicate clearly defined ideas of homesickness. In states where discrimination was legislated, hate crimes not prosecuted, and outsiders viewed with suspicion, nostalgia mixes with escapist impulses, love of landscape with horror at racial violence.

Reading Erika Meitner and Katherine Anne Porter

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Growing up in North Carolina, I was surrounded by languages half-understood. At synagogue, there was the Hebrew I read and chanted but couldn’t understand.

Rehabbing the Southern Way of Life: On “The World’s Largest Man”

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At a cultural moment when it seems the Southern Way of Life needs some image rehab, the timing of Harrison Scott Key’s memoir of his Mississippi childhood is impeccable. The World’s Largest Man takes on the Southern masculine ideal, violence, race and more, all under the guise of amiable

Artistry is a Kind of Citizenship – Ploughshares Interviews Allan Gurganus

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I’ve been aware of Allan Gurganus since I was a few years old; we hail from the same small town, Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and his books lined the shelves of homes I visited, and the local library. Turns out his name was also in the New Yorker, and