The South in Perspective: An Anthology of Southern Literature

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9780130114907: The South in Perspective: An Anthology of Southern Literature

For courses in Southern Literature, Southern History, Southern Women Writers, American Literature, The South in Literature and Film, and Appalachian Literature. Unique in both content and approach, this anthology of Southern literature gives voice to numerous southern writers and places them in historical, cultural, and geographical contexts, and demonstrates the on-going richness, diversity, and distinctiveness of Southern literature. Focusing on six historically significant chronological periods-ranging from 1585 to the present-it makes a distinction between the literature of the Upper and Lower South, offers a special section on the literature of Appalachia, and features selections from a broad diversity of genres and writers, including many works anthologized here for the first time, especially literature from early periods. Comprehensive section introductions and headnotes place the selections in historical and cultural context.

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From the Inside Flap:

Preface

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the American South remains one of the most anomalous places on earth. Few regions showcase with such unabashed enthusiasm what Pat Conroy once described as those "delightful ambiguities" characteristic of the South and of Southerners. In the most extreme cases, these celebrated features metamorphose into schizophrenic polarities, showing the South to be a place wreathed in ironies, a cultural "island" where the best and worst often sit side by side. A mile in any direction may find the astute observer encountering near-Gothic extremes: antebellum mansions and mobile home parks; family values and families ranking lowest in the U.S. in caring for their children; numerous churches dotting the landscape and abiding racial intolerance; politeness and a proliferation of firearms.

Despite worries in some quarters that a new generation of Southerners will forget or cease to care about all the best qualities the South has managed to offer, few serious students of the region's history are ready to sound the death knell for Southern identity, recalling instead George Tindall's observation that "the Vanishing South has staged one of the most prolonged disappearing acts since the decline of the Roman Empire." Neither Internet globalism nor classes designed to eradicate Southern speech can extinguish Morris Dees's claim that the South is still a "separate country," one with a history for displaying innumerable paradoxes.

One of the greatest of these paradoxes is that the region most educationally disadvantaged has produced one of the most vital and sustained literary traditions in the world's history. If, in his vitriolic essay "The Sahara of the Bozart," H. L. Mencken had maintained that the South had produced no first-class physicists, he would have received little opposition to his claim. It was when he argued that the South was devoid of storytellers and of stories worth telling that Southerners rose up to defend the accomplishments of numerous literary sons and daughters devoted to the task of depicting the region in all its irreducible complexity.

People have long speculated on the reasons for the South's rich and diverse literary heritage, citing influences as disparate as the Civil War and the front porch rocking chair as factors contributing to significant literary production. However, few scholars will deny the debt Southern literature owes to the inextricable trinity of race, class, and gender—themes originating as early as 1585 and continuing to the present. Of course, these preoccupations fan out into an ever-widening web of concerns, including such features of Southern experience as family, geography, climate, settlement patterns and history, economics, regional and national politics, industry and commerce, education, religion, music, food, recreation, and language varieties.

Although comprising an intricate constellation of concerns for more than four hundred years, these themes have undergone significant transformations in most cases. Often literature has provided the impetus for such changes. Thus, history for Southerners has always been a dynamic occurrence reflecting many of the tensions, conflicts, and contradictions mirrored in Southern literature. This inseparable relationship between the South's history and its literature was a major reason for our dividing The South in Perspective into six chronologically inspired sections: Colonial South (15851815), Rise of the Confederacy and the Civil War (1815-1865), Reconstruction and the New South (1865-1925), Renaissance (1925-1960), Tradition and Identity Reevaluated (1960-1980), and Postmodern South (1980-present). As we saw it, these divisions reflected a phenomenological relationship in which significant historical events informed the sort of literature produced in each period, just as the literature of each period distilled a complex and variegated treatment of recurring historical themes. Given this approach, we were able to discover genuinely diverse voices without imposing an agenda of "diversity" that would, in actuality, minimize the richness and complexity of Southern literary expression.

As a result, the reader will have an opportunity to examine "voices" not usually found in close proximity. For example, the passionate logic of African American slave Harriet Jacobs fords its shadowy antithesis in the pro-slavery rhetoric of George Fitzhugh. Mary Chesnut's Civil War diaries questioning the justness of the Southern war effort stand in stark contrast to the defense of the Lost Cause offered by Asia Booth Clarke in her memoirs detailing the life of her infamous brother, John Wilkes Booth. These are two of the numerous selections showing the South to be anything but monolithic in its approach to "traditional" subjects.

Even a cursory examination of the Table of Contents will reveal inclusions rarely found in previous anthologies of Southern literature. Among these novel or underrepresented selections are Robert Munford's political farce entitled The Candidates from the Colonial section; entries from battlefield nurse Kate Cumming's A Journal of Hospital Life in the Confederate Army of Tennessee from the Rise of the Confederacy and Civil War section; portions of anti-Romantic author Corra Harris's The Recording Angel from the section on Reconstruction and Rise of the New South; excerpts from the disarmingly witty and dramatic Scopes Trial Transcripts from the Renaissance section; Robert Penn Warren's interview with Malcolm X in Who Speaks for the Negro? from the section on Tradition and Identity Reevaluated; and portions of Maya Angelou's inaugural poem "On the Pulse of the Morning" from the Postmodern section. These and other strategically positioned works reawaken our awareness of the many-voiced and multi-layered literature produced by a region often serving as a showcase of traits defining the American character.

Although we have been careful not to weave a "metanarrative" out of the people and events influencing Southern literature, we know the advantages students receive from a "story" comprised of more than discrete units of information. We have thus attempted to suggest meaningful, engaging connections where they exist. At the same time, we have avoided generalizations that reduce the tensions and paradoxes that Southern literature has always had a gift for displaying. The introductions to the various chronological sections are our efforts at offering both original insights and the time-tested observations of other scholars and critics.

Consonant with our desire to celebrate the complexity of the region's literature, we have further divided each chronological section into works written by writers from both the Upper South and Lower South. A unique feature of The South in Perspective, this organization offers the broadest possible view of diversity, emphasizing the need to acknowledge the existence of many Souths rather than a single South. Readers will notice at once a pattern of differences exhibited by Upper South and Lower South writers in their treatment of similar themes. Commenting on our particular geographical arrangement of selections, Southern dialectologist Guy H. Bailey notes that "the organization of literature by Upper and Lower South recognizes a division that emerged with initial settlement patterns, was sustained by economic and social developments, and is evident of a wide variety of material and non-material cultural patterns."

Realizing that no clear agreement exists concerning the precise boundary between the Upper and Lower South, we relied on the socio-historical research of Edward L. Ayers and John Shelton Reed to help settle the issue. For our purposes, then, the literature of the Upper South includes selections by writers from Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The literature of the Lower South includes work by writers from South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Some geographical purists may quibble with our particular form of literary gerrymandering; however, such disagreements simply underscore the complex nuances of cultural and historical expression found throughout the South. Similarly, literature, as we define it, does not refer exclusively to the belles lettres. We have made room for as many genres as possible when situations permitted.

It is with pride that we also include in this anthology a section entitled Appalachia Recognized. For too long now, the literature of Southern Appalachia has been regarded as a subspecies of regional folk expression-neither fish nor fowl in the taxonomic classifications of Southern letters. Consequently, we base focused on the distinctiveness of the fourteen Appalachian writers represented here while, at the same time, suggesting the contributions they have made both to our Southern and national literature. On the doorstep of the new millennium, we owe an inestimable debt to writers willing to show us how to balance the difficult demands of tradition and change often reflected in Appalachian culture.

Indebtedness has been a frequent theme in our conversations as editors, and we gratefully acknowledge all of those scholars and critics on whose works we have relied in editing this anthology. In particular, we note the following sources that benefited our approach and that we offer as indispensable aids to Southern literary studies: Richard Beale Davis's Intellectual Life in the Colonial South, Samuel Eliot Morison's The Oxford History of the American People, Lewis P. Simpson's Mind and the American Civil War, Eugene D. Genovese's The Slaveholders' Dilemma, John Hope Franklin's Reconstruction After the Civil War, Erik Foner's Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1867, Edward L. Ayers's The Promise of the New South, B. C. Hall and C. T. Wood's The South: A Two-Step Odyssey on the Backroads of the Enchanted Land, Carol S. Manning's The Female Tradition in Southern Literature, The History of Southern, Literature edited by Louis D. Rubin et. al., and The Literature of the South edited by R. C. Beatty, Floyd C. Watkins, and Thomas Daniel Young.

No work of this scope could have survived the initial stages of planning without the recommendations of a core group of supporters. Each of the following individuals contributed to this anthology in singularly beneficial ways. Shirley A. Lumpkin, Professor of English at Marshall University and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Ethnicity in Appalachia, enriched our selections by her considerable knowledge of both African American and Appalachian literature. Guy H. Bailey, Professor of English and Dean of the Graduate School at The University of Texas at San Antonio, offered keen insights about music, dialects, and the Southern film genre. Edward W. Bratton, Professor Emeritus of The University of Tennessee, shaped our approach to the section on Tradition and Identity Reevaluated (1960-1980), in particular. Homer Kemp, Professor of English at Tennessee Technological University and Director of the Upper Cumberland Institute, reinforced our principle of organization by reminding us of the innumerable subregions that have long existed in the South. The late Richard Marius, Director of Expository Writing and Senior Lecturer in English at Harvard University, gave his moral support to our project and helped us envision all the ways we could offer a genuinely diverse collection of literature. Richard's death in November of 1999 was an occasion of great sadness for the many people who knew him and who appreciated his tireless contributions to the cultural life of the South. A special note of thanks goes to friend and colleague Michael R Smith whose acute critical sense and good judgment we consulted on numerous occasions.

Finally, to Prentice Hall Publishers we owe unqualified gratitude for the opportunity to produce this book. In particular, Brandy Dawson nudged us to accept this project more than three and half years ago. Fran Russello smoothed out inevitable wrinkles in production. And Carrie Brandon, our editor, shepherded us through the process of bringing this text to completion. Despite her geographical origins, Carrie is a Southerner at heart. We thank her for all her support and generosity of spirit.

To you, the students and teachers of Southern literature for whom this text was intended, we now offer The South in Perspective.

The Editors

From the Back Cover:

Divided into six chronological periods representing Southern literature from both the upper and lower south, and including a section on the literature of Appalachia, this text includes works not previously anthologized in such a collection. Selections such as the Scopes' Trial Transcripts, John Wilkes' and Asia Booth's correspondence, and early Southern drama give students a unique and often overlooked understanding of Southern literature.

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