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Southern Literature

Since Appomattox

April 9, 2015

“It was after sunrise of a bright morning when from the Manchester high grounds we turned to take our last look at the old city for which we had fought so long & so hard... The whole river front seemed to be in flames, amid which occasional h [...]

The original first manuscript page of Faulkner's Sanctuary, 1931. © 2014, Faulkner Literary Rights, LLC. All rights reserved. Used with permission, Lee Caplin, Executor. Courtesy of William Faulkner Foundation Collection, 1918-1959, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA.

A Cheap Idea

Is there such a thing as an easy situation with William Faulkner? His name is synonymous with complexity. It pervades his style, his storylines, and the format of his novels. Interacting with the public, the man obfuscated, exaggerated, and misled.

By the Wind Grieved

In the spring of 1976, William Maxwell left his job as fiction editor of the New Yorker, where he had worked for four decades, in order to concentrate on his own writing. This came as unhappy news to any number of writers, for he had nursed along many of the best, giving them sympathy, patience, understanding, and a light but firm editorial hand. None was more distressed than Eudora Welty, with whom he had worked for nearly a quarter-century and who was especially dependent on his counsel, not to mention on a friendship that had long since deepened into platonic love.

Not Local Color

A warlike, various, and a tragical age is best to write of, but worst to write in, said Abraham Cowley. When a people looks back on such an age in its own history, another question is raised as it evokes in memory those wars, the turbulent variety, and the tragedy. From such reflection they will ask: what have these tumults wrought?

Thomas Wolfe’s “Old Catawba” in VQR

July 8, 2009

[caption id="attachment_2524" align="alignright" width="192" caption="Thomas Wolfe, 1937 (photo by Carl Van Vechten)."]Thomas Wolfe, 1937 (photo by Carl Van Vechten).[/caption]

In 1929, Thomas Wolfe—whom William Faulkner described as the greatest writer of his generation—published his novel Look Homeward, Angel to rave reviews. The Virginia Quarterly Review took notice of this young writer from North Carolina and began a tumultuous courtship to bring Wolfe’s prose to the pages of the journal. This courtship spanned three editors and numerous entreaties, though neither side ever evinced the least bit of reluctance. The delay appears to lie with Wolfe, who was a furious, tinkering sort of writer, a fact evident not only in the staggering volume of work he left behind at the end of his abbreviated life, but also in his correspondence with VQR. Plagued by the pressure of pleasing others, saddled with financial woes despite his success, and never far from his next deadline, Wolfe’s brief relationship with VQR reveals a writer who was constantly struggling to balance his life with his craft, though he remained exuberantly committed through it all.

James Southall Wilson was the first VQR editor to query Wolfe, about appearing in Charlottesville at the Southern Writers Conference in the fall of 1931, an event that brought Sherwood Anderson, Allen Tate, and William Faulkner, among others, to the city. In his reply, Wolfe confided that he did not feel worthy of being included in such an august group: “I have published only one book and am sweating and agonizing over another.” He was sagging under the weight of his novel-in-progress and feared losing traction:

I’ve worked [on] my new book over a year—I had all the material for it a long time ago, but it’s been hell getting it in sequence—arranging, revising, shaping—a few months ago I got it straight in my head for the first time, and now I’m plugging away as hard as I can every day . . . It’s very hard for me to get started, and when I’m started I hate to stop until I’ve finished. Also, meeting new people has a very deep and powerful effect on me—particularly interesting and talented people: nothing excites and absorbs me more, and for this reason I go nowhere at present while I’m at work.


The Virginia Quarterly Review, 1925–1935

June 11, 2009

The Virginia Quarterly Review was first published by the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in the spring of 1925. Conceived as a “national journal of discussion,” the journal was created by liberal Southern educators who sought to cultivate a “fellowship of uncongenial minds” among editors, writers and readers in the South, in an era when the region was publicly derided for its lack of intellectual leadership and debate.

Katherine Anne Porter in VQR

Toward the end of 1934, VQR editor Lambert Davis began assembling a roster of prominent Southern writers to contribute essays, short stories, and poems to the tenth anniversary issue of the journal focused exclusively on “Southern letters.” Among [...]


We hung our heads out of the window every time the train stopped, raising false hopes in the hearts of the Indian women, who ran along beside us even after the train was moving away. "Fresh pulque!" they urged mournfully, holding up jars of thick grey-white liquor, and "Fresh maguey worms!" they called after us, waving lumpy viscous leaf bags.