What Is a Southern Writer, Anyway?

From time to time, a debate resurfaces in Southern literary circles about whether there can still be a recognizable literature of the South in an age of mass media and Walmart. The 21st-century South would be unrecognizable to the Agrarian poets, whose 1930 manifesto, “I’ll Take My Stand,” set out many of the principles that still cling like ticks to the term “Southern writer.” Far more urban, far more ethnically and culturally and politically diverse, the South is no longer a place defined by sweet tea and slamming screen doors, and its literature is changing, too. “It is damn hard to put a pipe-smoking granny or a pet possum into a novel these days and get away with it,” the novelist Lee Smith once said.

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