A problem facing writers like myself is establishing an identity. It helps if one’s homeland conveys gravitas (which sounds cool even if it’s a buzzword) and by default plants you in the same ballpark with giants like William Faulkner and Eudora Welty. So by virtue of the fact that I’ve lived way down below the Mason-Dixon for a while, and have absolutely no shame about self-promotion, I hereby do proclaim my humble self a Southern Writer.
(Please don’t be put off by this topic. I know that writers who write about writing are sometimes way past running on fumes and in desperate need of a Literary Inspiration Tow Truck. But this post is a voyage of longing, self-discovery, and angst about my place on this earth, all of which are SOUTHERN to the core. Don’t click away!)
Lest y’all think it was easy, I will have you know I’ve struggled to adapt since I came down from Up Nawth. I no longer get weepy and misty-eyed from watching blizzards on the Weather Channel, and I’ve learned that a “Meat and three” is not a rock band. However, I still don’t know or care what a “restrictor plate” is, except that it’s not what they serve your meat and three* on at the meat and three. I sure haven’t morphed into one of those noxious noodniks who still haven’t figured out they lost the Civil War.
Lots of real-life stories have a Southern tinge, like the one in which a cat caused a lady to lose control of her pickup, which “traveled across the west bound lanes of Lafayette Street, onto the side walk and into a utility police.” And nowhere but the South would you hear about the amorous couple who used a fish farm as their lovers’ lane and ended up, uh, sleeping with the fishes.
Unfortunately, the phrase “Southern writer” still calls up an image of a man (why always a man?) in a Panama hat, white shirt, and suspenders, sitting on the veranda under a ceiling fan with a typewriter, a glass of hooch, and a cigar. This guy probably wrote Southern Gothic stuff, hilariously satirized by James Thurber in “Bateman Comes Home,” in which old Nate Birge sits “watching the moon come up lazily out of the old cemetery in which nine of his daughters were lying, only two of whom were dead.”
The New York Times recently posed the question, “What Is a Southern Writer, Anyway?”, pointing out that the genre is changing along with the region. As novelist Lee Smith put it, “It is damn hard to put a pipe-smoking granny or a pet possum into a novel these days and get away with it.”
Oh yeah? Well, one of my relations once had a cat named Possum and I’ve heard of another Southern gent who kept an alligator named Kittycat in the bathtub of his mobile home. So here’s the first sentence of my next book: “Grandma got drunk on Cousin Junior’s moonshine and threw her pipe at Possum but instead hit Kittycat, who jumped out of the tub and chased Grandma, who was nekkid, plumb out the door of her doublewide and all the way down Dead Confederate Mountain.” Am I Southern or what?
*Vegetables. Including fried okra, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes, field peas, butter beans, cabbage, corn on the cob, creamed corn, green beans, turnip greens, fried green tomatoes, baked beans, Brunswick stew, potato salad, and onion rings.