Erin Z. Bass is the Editor of Deep South Magazine, an online magazine that covers life in the Southern states of the USA. She has worked as a staff writer for The Times of Acadiana and Independent Weekly in Lafayette, Macy’s West communications department in San Francisco and been published in Coastal Living magazine and The Times Picayune. Bass founded Deep South Magazine/deepsouthmag.com in late 2009 and, subsequently, found an excuse to immerse herself in Southern literature.
Deep South Magazine’s Literary Friday segment has fast become the go-to hub for all things Southern Literature, celebrating the vast talents of the region both past and present. As well as delving into the rich history of the South’s many literary lions – Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, to name but a few, the magazine regularly holds Twitter chats with Southern authors currently topping the best-sellers lists. The publication of its annual Summer Reading List is a date circled in the calendars of readers and authors alike. Here Erin Z. Bass introduces the new Southern lit crowd.
I think I first fell in love with Southern literature while reading Kentucky writer Bobbie Ann Mason’s short story ‘Shiloh’. In the story, Leroy and Norma Jean Moffitt’s marriage is falling apart. When Leroy injures himself in a truck driving accident and can no longer work, they begin to reverse roles in the relationship. Norma Jean lifts weights in the living room and goes to night school, while Leroy takes up needlepoint in his easy chair. The story is at times funny, sad, tragic and — most of all — relatable.
That’s what good Southern literature does. It plops you down in a house, town or setting with people you feel like you know. These days, Bobbie Ann Mason is writing cover blurbs for debut authors like Lisa Howorth, founder of Square Books in Oxford. Howorth’s first novel Flying Shoes was released earlier this summer and takes us to a fictional version of Mississippi’s literary Mecca, complete with a cast of quirky characters and a murder mystery based on the real-life disappearance of the author’s own stepbrother.
Expertly writing about a place she knows, Howorth is a name to watch for among a new crop of Southern writers putting their own stamp on the genre. While these writers are redefining what it means to be a Southern writer in general and what Southern literature will become to the next generation, they haven’t forgotten the greats like William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor who came before them.
One writer I would go as far as to describe as the next O’Connor is Atlanta’s Joshilyn Jackson. A New York Times best-selling novelist whose first book Gods in Alabama won the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance’s Novel of the Year Award in 2005, Jackson has gone on to write five further novels in a voice that can only be coined as Southern Gothic at its best. Themes of family dysfunction, ghosts, secrets and coming home run throughout her novels, and in a 2010 interview with me, Jackson said her goal was to catalogue the South and its people in ‘all our glory and grace and all our awfulness intact before it’s gone.’ I think she’s doing a tremendous job.
Jackson’s books are usually released in the fall and winter, so we didn’t have one on the Deep South Summer Reading List, but we have some authors who are making waves in the romance and mystery genres. Erika Marks continues to grow as a writer who knows how to capture the intricacies of relationships in her fourth book It Comes in Waves, while newcomer Amy Conner tackles friendship, race and coming of age in Mississippi in her debut The Right Thing. Suzanne Palmieri also dazzled us with her magical Witch of Belladonna Bay and represents a Northern writer rediscovering her Southern roots and getting them down on paper.
Also making the list is Ellen Gilchrist’s Acts of God, a collection of stories from a Southern favourite who is still writing at the age of 79. We’re lucky to have writers like Gilchrist, Pat Conroy, Ernest Gaines, Dorothy Allison and Bobbie Ann Mason still around to learn from, and it’s a pleasure to see them supporting new Southern voices who they no doubt inspired.
Deep South Magazine’s 2014 Summer Reading List can be found here.
original illustration by Dean Lewis