Yeah I was a south bound child
Yeah I had a small town life
But I turned out alright in the north
Livin’ that southern kind of life
-Kasey Chambers, Southern Kind of Life
There have been times when I’ve described myself as having “Southern Sensibilities”, especially when it comes to my writing. Having lived now in two states that are South, but not–strictly speaking–Old South, and having ancestral roots in the Bluegrass State, I’ve had some time to ponder some of my Southern Predilections. It is something deeper than just an ancestral tug, but what, exactly, caused me to self-identify as a southern kind of writer?
Last January, while at Queens for the January residency, a fellow student nodded when I expressed my affinity for the Southern Gothic writers. “That makes sense,” she said. “You’ve sort of got that vibe.”
Now, I’m no expert on the Southern Gothic writers, nor will I pretend to be in this post. But, I have known for a while, mostly instinctively, that I resonate with O’Connor, Welty, Capote, and Percy far more than I do with some of the other literary greats.
The question is: Why?
I’m reading the book, The Life You Save May Be Your Own, which is a non-fiction account of four inter-connected, Catholic writers: Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. The sections on O’Connor and Percy, of course, stick out to me, and as I’m reading, I’m developing a list of qualities that inform my literary Southern Sensibilities. Not a complete list, or even refined at this point, but more of an “initial thoughts” kind of effort:
- Southern literature is haunted by great loss;
- Southern writers wrangle the ghosts of something once noble, and flawed;
- Southern writers are sensitive to the characteristics of a faded (or fading) civilization, an undermined dominance, a devolved or devolving order of things;
- Southern literature glimpses lingering shadows of grandeur;
- Southern literature’s grotesque and darkly comical characters acknowledge a historical wrong that can’t ever quite be righted;
- Southern writers are predisposed to the tragic, the cringe-inducing, the slightly supernatural;
- Southern writing seems poised and ready for the “next bad thing”.
Looking at the paths my writing is leading me down, I see a lot of accurate description reflected in those statements.
Just something to think about.