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Southern Hospitality: A Spring Road Trip through the Literary South

April 5, 2012 in American literature, Classic Literature, Southern Writers, Travel, Travel Writers

Painting by David BatesWith winter winding to a close, there is no better time to hop in the car, roll down the windows, and enjoy the warm breezes of spring as you venture off to places unknown.  From John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley to Jack Kerouac’s iconic On the Road, literature is ripe with tales of road trips, penned by authors sharing their experiences traveling the country.  With summer fast approaching, isn’t it time to imagine your own cross country adventure?

Over the years I’ve often planned hypothetical road trips for myself, drawing zigzagging lines with a Sharpie across maps of the United States, hopeful to take my own journey one day. But of all the lines I have drawn, my favorite always takes me a southern route from the North East down through Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana. I believe one reason it’s my favorite route is because the South has been so vividly portrayed in literature. From the grandiose to the grotesque, Southern writers from Flannery O’Connor to Margaret Mitchell have painted brilliant portraits of the South in their works.

While I long to witness the natural beauty the South has to offer, see the Mississippi River and experience the splendor of the Louisiana bayou, I am sure even these urges have their root in my experience of Southern literature.  So it only makes sense that on any road trip through the Southern U.S., literary travelers pay homage to the literary greats that lived and wrote there. While New Orleans is well known for its associations with literature, from Tennessee Williams to Truman Capote, the South is brimming with less well-known but equally fascinating ways to connect with literary history.

In Atlanta, Georgia, let the wind take you in the direction of the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum on Peachtree Street.  While it took Mitchell almost a decade to finish the epic Gone with the Wind, you can tour the museum in a couple of hours, viewing her living space and a selection of her letters.  Travel to Atlanta this April 20-22nd, and receive free admission to the house during the Atlanta Dogwood Festival, an event that draws artists from around the world.

If you take your adventure to Savannah, visit the one-time residence of writer Flannery O’Connor.  While A Good Man is Hard to Find, the author’s childhood home, located on East Charlton Street, is not!  The house where the author resided from 1925-1938 contains some of the original furnishings.  For more O’Connor memorabilia continue on to Georgia College and State University, where there is a room dedicated to the famous alumnus that houses her writing desk and typewriter, among other artifacts including the author’s own personal library of more than 700 titles.

In Mississippi, honor William Faulkner with a visit to his Rowan Oak estate located in Oxford.  Originally built in 1844, the property is now owned by the University of Mississippi and visitors are admitted to view the space where Faulkner lived and worked for over thirty years.  The Oxford, MS Convention & Visitors Bureau offers a more extensive map of “Faulkner Country.” So download one here, and meander at your own pace through the stomping ground of this twentieth century great.

Like John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” The next stop is up to us.

 

The Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival

February 16, 2012 in American literature, Literary Festivals, New Orleans, Southern Writers, Tennessee Williams

Self-Portrait by Tennessee Williams

While many are drawn to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, there’s another late Winter festival worth its weight in gold. After all the beads have been tossed and the confetti has been swept away, it’s time for literary travelers from around the world to take over the resplendent city.  March 21st marks the start of the five day Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival.  The Festival started in 1987 to celebrate the city’s immense literary culture.

According to the press release, “The five-day fête honors the legendary Tennessee Williams, his works, and literary life in the adopted city he called his ‘spiritual home’ and features two days of master classes; a roster of lively discussions among distinguished panelists; celebrity interviews; theater, food and music events; a scholars’ conference; a poetry slam, writing marathon and breakfast book club; French Quarter literary walking tours; a book fair; short fiction, poetry and one-act play competitions; and special evening events and parties.”  With so many events to choose from, five days doesn’t seem like nearly enough time to experience the festival as well as get a taste of all the city has to offer.  In order to squeeze the most into your experience there are a few easy ways to multi-task.

Since no literary trip to New Orleans would be complete without a walking tour of the multitude of literary landmarks that cover the city, make sure to get your fill with Heritage Literary Tours.  Led throughout the year by retired University of New Orleans Literature professor Dr. Kenneth Holditch, as part of the Festival he will be offering a tour that focuses on landmarks relating to Tennessee Williams in particular.

As for accommodations, there is no shortage of literary culture at the historic Hotel Monteleone, which is offering a limited number of rooms at a discounted rate for attendees of the festival. The 125 year old hotel is a literary landmark in and of itself, as it was once frequented by Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Williams himself, as well as being featured in the writing of Ernest Hemingway in “The Night Before Battle.”  Suites at the hotel now bear the names of Welty, Williams, Faulkner and Hemingway.  The Hotel Monteleone also offers a Literary History Walking Tour, which spotlights the hotel’s place as a literary landmark.  Led by local historian Glenn De Villier, the tour begins and ends in the hotel’s Carousel Bar, which was a favorite of Williams’ and immortalized in the works of Williams, Hemingway and Welty.

In lieu of souvenirs, do a little shopping while experiencing further literary heritage by visiting Faulkner House Books, located at the site of Faulkner’s 1925 residence, where he wrote his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay.  This new and used book store specializes in Faulkner, Williams, and Southern Literature with an emphasis on New Orleans and Louisiana. Faulkner House is a national literary landmark, and for book lovers and history aficionados, not to be missed.

Williams once said, “if I can be said to have a home, it is New Orleans, which has provided me with more material than any other part of the country.” So, take a page from the literary sentinel and find inspiration in the sites and sounds of the city of New Orleans.  Whether traveling to New Orleans for the Festival, or just to experience the city’s rich culture, there is no time like the present to book your trip. 

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Kathryn Stockett's The Help: Building Bridges and Breaking Down Barriers

July 11, 2011 in Contemporary Literature, Literary Movies 2011, Literary Traveler Book Reviews, Southern Writers

Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel, The Help, was recommended to me by a friend.  She described it as a book she just couldn’t put down, a book that allowed to her to immerse herself in a different world. I was eager for a page-turner, but hesitated when I discovered The Help was advertised as a “bestseller,” a label that prompts both curiosity and fear.

As I began, I was immediately struck by the accuracy of my friend’s description. After a single paragraph, I felt as if I were thinking from the perspective of an African-American maid, responsible for “taking care of white babies…along with all the cooking and the cleaning” in Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. As I read on, however, I discovered the story is narrated by three different women: two black domestic workers and one white, upper-class daughter of plantation owner. These characters present radically different perspectives, and this is clearly reflected in Stockett’s style and strict attention to character details.

Stockett also employs a controversial method to distinguish her characters: eye dialect, a literary technique in which words are spelled as they are pronounced in a particular vernacular.When the character Aibileen exclaims “Lord!”, for example, the word is written, “Law!”, because that’s how the word sounds when it comes from Aibileen’s mouth.

At first I was a bit startled by this technique, as it is frequently attributed to older works like Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and is sometimes discouraged in contemporary literature. Eye dialect has been criticized as a form of racism, depicting minorities as uneducated or “incorrect.” Mark Twain often replaced the word “civilize” with “sivilize.” Critics argue this kind of substitution is unnecessary because it does not further the understanding of the pronunciation of the word, but is used merely to stress an African-American character’s lack of education.

In my opinion, Stockett’s use of eye-dialect is different than prior use, so it doesn’t seem out-dated. Authors like Twain misspelled and made up new words, intending to depict the pronunciation of a dialect. Stockett doesn’t do this; instead, she only substitutes one word (lord) for another, existing word (law), subtly expressing a dialect’s variance in pronunciation. This variation on eye-dialect does not insinuate that the African-American characters are unintelligent or ignorant; rather, it is incredibly effective in developing character voice, and accurately illustrating the time, place and culture each character embodies. The Help is a riveting novel that discusses a truly difficult time in our nation’s history. Stockett’s inspiring characters and unforgettable use of perspective act as a bridge between races and societies rather than a barrier.

Be sure to check out the motion picture interpretation of The Help, which will be coming to theaters August 12, 2011. The film, directed by Tate Taylor, will star Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and, Octavia Spencer.

 

Eudora Welty Legend of the South

April 13, 2011 in American literature, LIterary Traveler Birthdays, Southern Writers

Photo by Paul / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve been struggling with a scene in my novel.  It’s a pivotal scene and needs memorable description.  I didn’t know where to turn for inspiration until I found an old book of literary short stories on my bookshelf.  The book hadn’t been read in a while–I could smell its age.  I opened to the table of contents and flipped through the names of writing legends: William Faulkner, Joyce Carol Oates, John Steinbeck.  For some inexplicable reason out of all these great writers, I was drawn to Eudora Welty and her classic short A Worn Path.

Let me share with you the paragraph that inspired me:

The woods were deep and still.  The sun made the pine needles almost too bright too look at, up where the wind rocked.  The cones dropped as light as feathers.  Down in the hollow was the mourning dove–it was not too late for him.

I was amazed (and still am) at how a writer can be so in scene, so in the moment.  Welty describes nature as if she’s looking right at what she’s describing.  These words are so carefully scripted and thought-out, I realized what a wordsmith she really was.  It’s not just the beauty of her descriptions, but how original they are and how Welty views nature as a sacred topic.  That’s what makes her one of the greats.

We applaud all of Eudora Welty’s literary contributions today, on her birthday April 13th.  Please continue reading our archived article entitled Eudora Welty: A Woman of Southern Charm & Dark Solitude.

 

Flannery O'Connor's 3 (Posthumous) Writing Tips

March 25, 2011 in American literature, Short Stories, Southern Writers

Photo by Idea Go

by Katie Davis

We all know Flannery O’Connor: the mastermind behind “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a devout Roman Catholic from Georgia, and of course, one of the greatest American writers of the 20th Century. As I read “A Good Man is Hard to Find” for the first time in a beginner’s fiction workshop, I was completely gripped by O’Connor’s prose and after the complex, haunting finale I couldn’t help but wonder: “How did she do that?” Though O’Connor is no longer alive to give us writing tips in person, it isn’t hard to glean advice from her biography, letters, and fiction. So if you find yourself wondering, “What would Flannery O’Connor do?” here are a few suggestions:

1.    Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite
O’Connor believed that writing was hard work. Famously she remarked, “Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair falls out and the teeth decay.” In her letters, compiled in Habit of Being, she reveals that she was often frustrated by how long it took her to finish a piece because of her constant rewriting. However, her hard work clearly paid off since her stories seem to have flown seamlessly from her mind to the page. So, when in doubt, rewrite! You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

2.    Don’t be afraid of the dark.
It seems beginning writers (myself included) are often tentative to describe controversial events or issues in their work for fear of a negative response. O’Connor took the opposite tack. “I am not afraid that the book will be controversial, I’m afraid it will not be controversial,” she remarks in one of her letters. The ending of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” certainly does not fit the cookie cutter “happily ever after,” but this is what makes the story so powerful and memorable. So, don’t be afraid to face the sinister or perverse in your writing, but keep in mind O’Connor’s final word of advice…

3.    Seek truth.
This suggestion may appear the most obvious, but it can also be the most difficult to follow. O’Connor states “The basis of art is truth, both in matter and in mode,” but what exactly does “truth” mean in this context? For me, writing truthfully means pursuing your artistic purposes with conviction while tuning out (to some extent) the mutterings of critics.  It is evident that O’Connor believed in the truth of her writing, as she defended her “not conventional” novel, Wise Blood, to an editor, stating that if he didn’t like it she would take it elsewhere. Though it may be difficult to write truthfully at times, O’Connor shows us that this search for truth can be one of the most essential and beautiful things about creating art.

To learn more about Flannery O’Connor and her places of origin/inspiration watch the Flannery O’Connor Literary Tour Video from LiteraryTraveler.tv.

Kick off Black History Month w/ Zora Neale Hurston

February 3, 2011 in African American Literature, American literature, Classic Writers, Southern Writers

Photo by Carl Van Vechten. Silver geletin print, 1938Black History Month is finally here.  And we’re celebrating it by highlighting all of our articles about African American writers.  We’ll also be throwing in a couple Caribbean writers and an article on Ghana, so stay tuned!

We’d like to start off Black History Month 2011 with a powerful, black writer by the name of Zora Neale Hurston.  Hurston was not only a staple in the Harlem Renaissance, but she can also be classified as a Southern writer as she spent much of her life in Eatonville, Florida.  The town honors her legacy each year by hosting the Zora Neale Hurston Festival in January.  Festival-goers celebrate her work and life as well as focus on a specific theme that varies from year to year.

Hurston is the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, a classic in American literature.  We honor Hurston with our two articles entitled Zora Neale Hurston, A Literary Life and Zora’s Immortal South.

So kick off Black History Month with these two engaging articles on Hurston.  We promise you, there will be more to come …

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