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Southern Writers on Gambling

The Southern literary tradition is long and complex. One of the topics that has repeatedly been directly or indirectly addressed is gambling. Gambling has always been a topic of interest just like it is today; it just used to be done on riverboats and at people’s kitchen tables.

The culture of gambling has been associated with many different scenes, atmospheres and social classes. There’s the type of gambling that takes place in the backroom of an old bar or the form that takes place in a fancy VIP lounge with cameras running. Many writers in the old days had a love for gambling. The divide when it comes to gambling today is nothing new, but the amount of possibilities within gambling is a somewhat newer addition.

Today, there are more gamblers than probably ever before. You don’t have to sit in a backroom or put yourself on the casino floor. You can play online with just a few clicks on your phone. It’s easier than ever before to find fun games and get exclusive deals. This makes gambling attractive to people from all corners of society. The way we gamble today is quite far from the gambling description of the old Southern writers—but then again, many of the games like poker are classic and just the same as they once were.

Gambling Men Mark Twain and William Faulkner

Are you a Southern writer just because you’re from the South? Or do you need to portray the Southern experience in order to be included in the category of Southern writers? This debate is present when it comes to two of the most famous Southern writers of all time: Mark Twain and William Faulkner.

These two writers described gambling situations and addressed gambling issues in multiple works—Mark Twain in his book Life on the Mississippi and William Faulkner in Knight’s Gambit (six stories of violence in Mississippi’s Yoknapatawpha County). If interested in reading more about these Southern writers and others, one can read the book Blacklegs, Card Sharps, and Confidence Men: Nineteenth-Century Mississippi River Gambling Stories by Professor of American Literature and Culture Thomas Ruys Smith. He collects 19th-century stories, sketches and book excerpts by a gallery of authors to create a comprehensive collection of writings about the riverboat gambler in this volume of literary criticism.

Lesser-Known Writers: Edward Willett and Daniel R. Hundley

Ernest Hemingway

In his book, Ruys describes all kinds of Southern writers that wrote about gambling. He includes plenty of lesser-known writers, including Edward Willet and his novel Flush Fred’s Full Hand. Another one is the brilliant but now more or less forgotten writer Daniel R. Hundley. His book Social Relations in Our Southern States will give you a great level of insight into the Southern literary tradition regarding the trope of gambling in all its shapes and sizes.

It can be debated whether Ernest Hemingway was a Southern writer or not, but Papa sure had a love of gambling. He considered himself to be a great poker player and wrote about the bullfights in Spain and horse racing. Hemingway left behind this advice for the poker player: “Never call. Either raise or put it down.”

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