I am a poor excuse for an aspiring Southern writer. I was just looking through the list of people and places on the Southern Literary Trail, http://www.southernliterarytrail.org/, and realized of all the authors on the page, I have only read two. Not much of a literary connoisseur I know.
I think I am in love with the idea of Southern writers. I came to this conclusion years ago while proofreading the master’s level papers for a friend when she would have to write compare/contrast papers on William Faulkner’s characters. I attempted to read “The Sound and the Fury” once when I was a teenager but simply could not get my head wrapped around it. I concluded 25 years ago that William Faulkner was a bit of a nutcase.
According to the organizers of the Southern Literary Trail, the only states to produce worthwhile southern literature are Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Depending on what your definition of the South is, there’s a few states missing-which coincidentally hold the authors that I have read and reread.
North Carolina would be the adopted home of one Horace Kephart who was instrumental in establishing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with his friend George Masa. Kephart should be included amongst the southern literary legends as his book “Our Southern Highlanders” provided insight into the southern Appalachian life and the people. This was long before “Deliverance” showed the world we were all deaf mute, porch dwelling banjo pickers, a stereotype that prevails forty years later. Let us not forget Charles Frazier who wrote “Cold Mountain”, which gave us a great account of the hardships of those in Appalachia that stayed home during the Civil War. “Thirteen Moons” details the life of an indentured servant sent to the boundaries of the wilderness and becomes an adopted Cherokee, sent to Washington to fight for their land ownership. South Carolina is the home of Pat Conroy, the first author I read that started me down the road of reading for pleasure. Although I must admit, some of his recent work seems to spend more time whining about the ills of life, maybe it’s just me. Florida has an abundance of legendary writers that wrote of the land and its people, such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. While I did not slog through “The Yearling” while in middle and high school, I did read it within the last five years and found it fascinating along with “Cross Creek”. Another author, Patrick D. Smith gave us the story of central Florida and its Cracker inhabitants. Could it possibly be that I have more of an affinity for an author that has written stories of places I frequent? Do I relate to the characters of “Cold Mountain” because I am only five generations removed from a family that had to endure that hardship? Do I like Alice Walker and “The Color Purple” because I relate to what it was like to struggle through life as a black woman in Depression Era Georgia? I’m thinking no. Who the hell knows why I am attracted to the authors and their stories.
It would be easier to name the classic authors I haven’t read. So for your reading pleasure, I bare my soul and expose my literary ignorance to the world-here we go. I have not read for pleasure books by the following authors-Shakespeare, Hemmingway, Harper Lee, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Conner, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Truman Capote. There-I said it. I am a literary rube.
For some writers I suppose it is necessary to be familiar with Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty and Harper Lee but I just can’t bring myself to it. For the love of God man I’ve only read one of William Shakespeare’s works, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Bill Mason, my high school English teacher, is looking down on me wondering how I ever made it this far in life I’m sure. Betty Sellers, my college English teacher, will sit and wonder how I could possibly call myself a writer without ever having swooned over the poetry of Byron Herbert Reece. But alas, I read what keeps me interested. I guess this is the part of the story where I commit myself to “working on the classics”. I’ll give Faulkner another try I suppose, maybe even throw in a Hemmingway for good measure. The mere thought of this daunting task is so terribly unappealing. The only redeeming thought is “Harry Potter and the….”, sits right on my bedside table for purposes of decompressing from Faulkner’s madness.