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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - October/November 2005
The American South

in books and memory

by J. H. Segars

Readers from throughout the nation—and world—continue to demonstrate a strong interest in the American South and her homegrown writers. Southerners such as Alice Walker, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and John Gresham are renown for their literary achievements and published works. Also, journalists like Mississippi’s Willie Morris and Atlanta’s Celestine Sibley are being rediscovered by passionate fans who want to learn more about “the authentic Southern experience.”

New and reprint editions of books about the South are being released each year by a variety of publishing houses, both large and small. Most of the authors have a sincere purpose: to expose their audience to the culture, history, and lifestyles of southerners. And while these projects represent a worthy undertaking, there does exist one fly in the ointment: some of these well-meaning authors are careless in their portrayals of the region and in their understanding of those who call themselves “Southerners.” 

And this is where this little column comes into play—we will make an honest effort to provide informative “down-home” commentary on publications that are about the South and her diverse peoples. This will include notes on new releases and, as importantly, reading suggestions about older, lesser- known publications and long-forgotten reprints. In addition, we hope to offer insight from our readers about their literary experiences.

This modest endeavor, of course, is not meant to be a book review column similar to those found in a Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York newspaper (Heavens Forbid!). To the contrary, this little column will be more akin to something that might be found in a weekly newspaper like the Mayberry Bugle. Now, think about this: Wouldn’t the good folk in Mayberry (in real life, Mt. Airy, North Carolina) come much closer to recommending a good read about the South than, say, the learned academicians in the aforementioned big cities?

At any rate, in upcoming weeks we will take a look at books that focus on iconic regional topics to include the following: Carolina beach music, Johnny Cash, college football, Gettysburg, shag dancing, southern women, soul food, backcountry road trips, the Hunley, and Otis Redding. Also, we will learn about the Oxford American, talk about Civil War conferences (in particular, one recently held at the University of Mississippi), and meet a Faulknerian scholar (Noel Polk). And along the way, we will mention some provocative books that don’t have nice things to say about our region. (for example, Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic). Stay tuned—this might be a hoot.

J. H. (Hank) Segars is the author and editor of books about the South to include “The Bell Irvin Wiley Reader” (LSU Press). Please email for comments and book recommendations.

See works from J H Segars here!

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