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Southern Literature

Hearing Lillian Smith

Near the end of her life when she was apparently thinking about doing some autobiographical writing, Lillian Smith told a friend that “to tell the truth I have so many selves that I wonder sometimes how I’d do an autobiography.”

George Garrett’s South

As strange as it might seem, these issues and revelations are not particularly new or unrecognized in the literature of the American South, a regional genre of writing long conversant with the pressures and complexities of national and, increasingly, international discourses and economies. After all, with the notable exceptions of university presses and marvels such as Algonquin Books, it is to the large (inter)national presses and the still-dominant literary region of the Northeast that southern writers continue to turn, and often move into, in the hopes of garnering publication and reputation. This long-standing diasporic intellectual trend—lamented by writers as far apart in chronology and sensibility as William Gilmore Simms and Lee Smith—also manifests itself on the international level, as witnessed by Faulkner conferences in China and the odd phenomenon of Christine Chaufour-Verheyen’s work of criticism William Styron: Le 7e jour appearing in France as a mass-market paperback and outselling hosts of novels.

 

Antietam

The feast-huddle explodes when I approach,
a gray fox remains, whitening to bone.
The risen wait in the limbs above
for me to glance the marker, pass on.

Lucas Beauchamp

He knew Lucas Beauchamp—as well as any white person knew him. Better than any maybe unless it was Carothers Edmonds on whose place Lucas lived seventeen miles from town, because he had eaten a meal in Lucas's house. It was in the early winter four years ago; he had been only twelve then, and it had happened this way: Edmonds was a friend of his uncle; they had been in school at the same time at the State University, where his uncle had gone after he came back from Harvard and Heidelberg to learn enough law to get himself chosen county attorney, and the day before Edmonds had come in to town to see his uncle on some county business and had stayed the night with them and at supper that evening Edmonds had said to him:

Rose-Johnny

Rose-Johnny wore a man's haircut and terrified little children, although I will never believe that was her intention. For her own part she inspired in us only curiosity. It was our mothers who took this fascination and wrung it, through daily admon [...]

The Exchange

Between Wytheville, Virginia
and the North Carolina line,
he meets a wagon headed
where he's been, seated beside
her parents a dark-eyed girl

The Grave

The grandfather, dead for more than thirty years, had been twice disturbed in his long repose by the constancy and possessiveness of his widow. She removed his bones first to Louisiana and then to Texas, as if she had set out to find her own burial place, knowing well she would never return to the places she had left.

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