9 Traits of Southern Writing: A Reading List

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Elizabeth Hudson (@elizahudson) is editor in chief of Our State magazine, an 81-year-old regional magazine all about the people, places, and things that make living in North Carolina great.

A few weeks ago, I found a box in my attic labeled “Old College Papers.” After cringing through the first notebook on top — Lord, that was enough — I did what any self-respecting editor 20 years out of school would do. I pitched that entire box straight into the recycling barrel before anything else Pandora-like flew out of it.

I did, however, salvage one piece of paper. It was titled “Nine Traits that Exist in Southern Writing,” evidently from a course in Southern literature, one I’d long since forgotten. But I was happily surprised to note just how timeless these themes are, whether in fiction or nonfiction. I see them carried out in the stories we publish in the magazine every month, and in great pieces produced nationally every day.

Here are my picks for a few great (Southern) #longreads that reinforce the following nine traits:

1. Deep Involvement in Place: ‘Saints the Soul of America’s City’ (Wright Thompson, ESPN, 2009)

 

2. Strong Family Bonds: ‘The Ghost’ (Elizabeth Gilbert, GQ)

 

3. Celebration of Eccentricity: ‘Love and Death in the Cape Fear Serpentarium’ (Wendy Brenner, Oxford American)

 

4. Strong Narrative Voice: ‘The Girl in the Window’ (Lane DeGregory, Tampa Bay Times)

 

5. Themes of Human Endurance: ‘Elegy of a Race Car Driver’ (Jeremy Markovich, SB Nation)

 

6. Embracing Local Tradition: ‘An Ode to Waffle House’ (Tom Junod, Esquire)

 

7. Sense of Impending Loss: ‘Just One More’ (Gary Hawkins, Oxford American)

 

8. Persuasive Sense of Humor in Face of Tragedy: ‘Now We Are Five’ (David Sedaris, The New Yorker)

 

9. An Inability to Leave the Past Behind: ‘Linville Caverns’ (Matt Crossman, Our State)

 

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Photo: dhilowitz, Flickr

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  • Amanda Whitfield Perry

    Even though my current writing is a cookbook, I find almost all of these themes in it. (It isn’t written like a traditional cookbook. More of a “mom looking over your shoulder while you learn to cook” commentary.) And I know that I am very aware of all of these things in my daily life. Maybe this is one of those things that sets Southerners apart.