Modern Southern Literature Today
Literature of the American South is a genre that has lasted hundreds of years. This genre has provided a written commentary on life in the South and shown us common issues and cultural nuances such as family, community, religion and social class. As time has progressed, Southern literature has changed. The ideas this genre was built on have now led to the emergence of modern Southern literature. We look at how the genre has changed and who is taking it forward into the 21st century.
Contemporary Southern Literature: A Changing Definition
If you compare an 18th-century Southern novel to a modern title such as Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, the difference is stark. The American South has changed drastically as it has experienced industrialization, economic growth and an increased influx of immigrants.
Topics that were once a main part of Southern literature such as social class, racial tension and war are now less discussed. We are seeing different subjects written about that reflect the “new” South, such as globalization, migration and a change in the demographics of the people.
Although the main subjects may have changed, the underlying goal remains the same—to depict what life is like in the Southern states.
Modern Southern Authors Who Have Helped Redefine the Genre
Modern Southern literature continues to evolve thanks to a wave of contemporary authors. With students using such services as PaperLeaf and exploring further afield, we hope to see this genre continue into the future.
The following are four notable authors who have contributed to modern Southern literature:
Jesmyn Ward hails from Mississippi and writes Southern-inspired novels by taking a contemporary look at surrounding families and communities facing real hardship. Her first novel, Salvage the Bones, won the National Book Award and follows the plight of a family who is embroiled in Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
Ron Rash was born in South Carolina and is both a novelist and a poet. His writing usually takes us to the Appalachian South and fills our mind with mystery and brilliance. The Cove, for example, takes us into 1918 and follows a small family in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina.
Padgett Powel has written five novels and is known for putting a dark twist on the Southern literary genre. In his works, you can find all the usual Southern stereotypes, such as beer, racing and trucks, but they are usually distorted and infused with dark aspects. Edisto, published in 1984, is possibly his most far-reaching novel.
South Carolina author Dorothy Allison has had a variety of well-received novels starting with Cavedweller, which was published in 1998. Her best-known Southern-inspired piece of literature, however, is the touching Bastard Out of Carolina, an autobiographical novel that has received national acclaim.
Authors such as the ones listed above help keep the Southern literary genre alive and thriving. As time progresses and the landscape of America changes, we can expect this genre to evolve even further than it has since the 17th century.