This region is particularly identified with its great writers, especially Thomas Wolfe (1900-38) of Asheville, North Carolina, and (Mary) Flannery O'Connor (1925-64) of Savannah, Georgia. William Faulkner, the Nobel Prize-winning Mississippi novelist, once said about Wolfe, "He tried the hardest to say the most." Wolfe's four long, hauntingly beautiful novels bespeak his realism, lyricism, and brutal views of family life in the Deep South: Look Homeward, Angel (1929), Of Time and the River (1935), The Web and the Rock (1939), and You Can't Go Home Again (1940). O'Connor explored such themes as evil, sin, and the religious outlook of the Old South in A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955), Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965), and The Habit of Being (1979).
No mention of Southern writers is complete without reference to Georgia's own Carson McCullers, whose The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter was cited in 1998 by Modern Library as being one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century. Her Member of the Wedding became a Broadway play, and Elizabeth Taylor portrayed the heroine in the film version of Reflections in a Golden Eye. McCullers wrote a strange, powerful kind of fiction -- tender and grotesque at the same time, and peopled by characters who always bore some mark of psychic or environmental deformity.
The late Charles Kuralt, another famous North Carolinian, was an Emmy Award-winning journalist known for his insightful yet folksy On the Road books and TV reports about America's heritage, and for his nationally broadcast CBS News show Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt. He made the bestseller list in 1996 with Charles Kuralt's America.
It goes without saying that there's no better introduction to the story of the antebellum South, the Civil War, and the early years of Reconstruction than Margaret Mitchell's classic Gone With the Wind.
Other Fiction -- Set in Greenville County, South Carolina, Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina (1993) is the tale of an illegitimate girl growing up in the wrong era. It evokes memories of Southern Gothic writing: hard hitting, effective, and written in tough, terse prose in the style of Carson McCullers and Truman Capote. Allison's later work, Cavedweller (1998) details the life of a woman determined to give her children the good life in spite of their deadbeat father. The book is set in Cairo, Georgia.
One of the major breakthroughs in African-American literature was the publication of Ugly Ways (1994) by St. Simons Island writer Tina McElroy Ansa. The novel challenged the stereotypical image of the African-American mother as a superwoman of unlimited compassion and wisdom. It was named Best Fiction of 1994 by the African-American Blackboard List.
Susan Dodd's The Mourner's Bench (1998) takes place on the Albemarle Sound and is very much in the genre of North Carolina's Reynolds Price. The story of a long-lost love, the book brings together the memories of two women who have different voices, the sharp New England Yankee accent contrasting with the molasses-thick Southern drawl.
Hailed as the best Civil War novel since Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, Cold Mountain (1997) by Charles Frazier is spare and eloquent. It evokes a portrait of Inman, a soldier returning home from war across a devastated landscape. Based on local history and family stories passed down by the author's great-great grandfather, it is also an evocative love story. Frazier received the National Book Award in 1997.
In The Promise of Rest (1995), Reynolds Price tells the story of a young man with AIDS who has come home to his parents' house to die. The book concludes a trilogy about the Kendal-Mayfield clan that began 15 years ago. Price himself was diagnosed with spinal cancer in 1984 (confining him to a wheelchair), and this remarkable book is testament to his determined spirit.
Nicholas Sparks's The Notebook (1996) evokes the coastal Carolinas in a Great Gatsby-like tale of post-World War II love set in New Bern, just inland from the southern Outer Banks.
Biography -- Citizen Turner: The Wild Rise of An American Tycoon (1995) is a controversial book written by a father-and-son team, Robert Goldberg and Jay Gerald. The title is a takeoff on the Orson Welles movie Citizen Kane. In it, we learn that launching the Cable News Network almost ruined Ted Turner financially and that he cheated on his first two wives. The book explodes some of Turner's favorite myths about himself -- for example, that he was a poor underdog, when in fact he grew up rich.
The press hailed Al Stump's 1994 work, Cobb, as the story of a "psychotic at the bat." According to this insider's biography, Ty Cobb viewed both his life and baseball as being a "blood sport." Cobb's 24-year major-league career began in 1905. The good ol' Georgia boy died of cancer in 1961, at the age of 74.
At 85, "Miss Effie" Leland Wilder published her first novel, Out to Pasture (But Not Over the Hill) in 1995, a lighthearted but poignant story of growing old in a Southern retirement home.
Cookbooks -- In Paula Deen & Friends: Living It Up, Southern Style (2005), the popular Food Network personality and owner of a Savannah restaurant shares 24 party menus in this cookbook, featuring recipes culled from her own family and friends.
As much a social historian as a celebrated cook, the late Bill Neal elevated such standards as shrimp and grits and fish muddle to culinary heights in Southern Cooking (1985) and Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie (1990).
General -- Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994) by John Berendt is the book that put Savannah on the map -- with a little help from the movie Forrest Gump. Characters such as the Lady Chablis (a wickedly funny black drag queen) and Danny Hansford (a hustler) are introduced in this brilliantly conceived and seductive story of murder (or was it self-defense?) in the steamy Old South.
Bailey White's best-yet depiction of life in a small Georgia town, Mama Makes Up Her Mind (1994) made the New York Times bestseller list.
History -- A tale of the region's rascals, Lindley Butler's saga paints eight compelling sketches of the rogues and Confederate ship captains who operated in North Carolina's coastal waters in Pirates, Privateers, and Rebel Raiders of the North Carolina Coast (2000). Even Blackbeard springs to life along with 1812 commerce raiders and Confederate commerce raiders operating out of the port of Wilmington.
Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman pledged "to make a trail that would be visible for 50 years" -- 250 miles long and 60 miles wide, from Atlanta to Savannah. Lee Kennett's Marching Through Georgia (1995) is the carefully researched story of how he did it.
In 3 decades, the state has become the 10th most populous in America, and Milton Ready's tome titled The Tar Heel State: A History of North Carolina (2005) traces its storied past, a tale of pioneers, soldiers, tobacco tycoons, and farmers, including contributions of African Americans and women.
Jeff Shaara penned Gods and Generals (1998) as the sequel to the 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning work The Killer Angels, written by his late father, Michael. The younger Shaara's book complements his father's work on the Battle of Gettysburg by turning back the clock and portraying the days leading up to the epic battle.
Many critically acclaimed movies have used the South as a cultural backdrop, especially the tri-state area of the Carolinas and Georgia. The second-largest studio complex in America, EUE Screen Gems, is located in Wilmington, North Carolina, and Spoleto Festival USA, a world-class event for film and the arts, is held annually in Charleston.
No film to come out of the South is as famous around the world as Gone With the Wind (1939), adapted from Margaret Mitchell's sprawling 1936 epic that introduced Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) and Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) to the world. The film, which tells the story of the Civil War from a white Southern point of view, was awarded 10 Oscars. The story opens in rural Georgia in 1861 and goes through Atlanta's Reconstruction era.
A feature produced by Walt Disney, Song of the South (1946) is based on the Uncle Remis cycle of stories by Joel Chandler Harris. It was Disney's first live-action film but it has never been released on home video in the U.S. because of a fear that it is racially insensitive to African Americans (though hundreds of copies have been smuggled into the U.S. from the U.K.). The film's hit song, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," won the 1947 Oscar for Best Song.
Other than Gone With the Wind, one of the most famous films to come out of the South is To Kill a Mockingbird, directed by Robert Mulligan and based on the novel by Harper Lee. The 1962 film stars Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, who has been hailed as a great hero in American cinema. Peck won an Oscar for Best Actor for the role.
A landmark drama, Deliverance (1972), set in rural backwoods Georgia, stars Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds. It's the story of four suburban professional men from Atlanta who set out on a highly disturbing weekend canoe and camping trip.
One of the highest-grossing films of the 1970s, Smokey and the Bandit stars Sally Field and Burt Reynolds. It's an action comedy that in its own silly way is a celebration of redneck culture, with Jackie Gleason cast as the potbellied Southern sheriff. This movie is a favorite of any fan who loves a good car chase.
The Big Chill (1983) is set in a posh South Carolina winter house. It tells the story of eight old friends searching for something they lost. They find that all they need is each other. Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, and William Hurt are among the stars.
A 1985 drama directed by Steven Spielberg, The Color Purple, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, tells the story of a young African-American girl named Celie (Whoopi Goldberg). Oprah Winfrey also appears in the movie as Sofia, who delivers the line, "A girl child ain't safe in a family of men." Set in the Deep South in the early 20th century, the film follows Celie -- pregnant at 14 by her father -- through 30 years of a tough life.
Filmed on location in North Carolina, Bull Durham (1988) stars Kevin Costner. This is one of the most famous baseball pictures to come out of the 1980s, and its costars, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, met on the set for the first time and later became a real-life couple.
Filmed in Atlanta, Driving Miss Daisy (1989) stars Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy. It dramatically tells the heartwarming story of an elderly Southern Jewish lady and her African-American chauffeur. Tandy won an Oscar for her role. At the age of 80, she was the oldest winner and the oldest nominee in history to win in the Best Actress category. The film also won the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year.
Set in Savannah, Forrest Gump (1994) was a huge worldwide commercial success, winning six Oscars, including Best Actor for Tom Hanks. The movie tells the story of a man with an IQ of 75 and his epic journey through life. The film received rave reviews, except for a dissent here and there -- Entertainment Weekly called it "a baby boomer version of Disney's America."
Director Clint Eastwood's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) is based on John Berendt's spectacular bestseller. The Southern Gothic film depicts fabulously eccentric personalities of Savannah, including drag queen Lady Chablis. The book is based on the actual killing of Danny Hansford, a local hustler, by art dealer Jim Williams, an event that resulted in four murder trials before a final acquittal.
With Savannah as a setting, The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000) was directed by Robert Redford. It stars Will Smith as Bagger Vance and Matt Damon as Rannulph Junuh, the best golfer in the city. Bagger teaches Rannulph the secret of an authentic golf stroke, which turns out to also be the secret to mastering any challenge and finding meaning in life.
Ray (2004) is a biopic that focuses on 30 years of the life of legendary rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles. Born in a small town in Georgia, he went blind at the age of eight. As Ray, Jamie Foxx delivers a tour de force performance, winning the Oscar for Best Actor.
The music of the Deep South enjoys one of the richest heritages in the United States. Even before the Civil War, traditional folk music brought from Ireland and Britain rivaled the songs of African slaves. African Americans developed the blues at the beginning of the 20th century.
All three states have added richly to the repertoire of country music, soul music, gospel, spirituals, rock 'n' roll, blue grass, jazz, and beach music. With origins stretching back to colonial days, Appalachian folk music is still played and sung today.
Not only Elvis, but many Carolina and Georgia artists were pioneers of rock 'n' roll, including Little Richard, Otis Redding, Carl Perkins, and James Brown.
Arguably, the only major American music not started in the South is rap. However, the tri-state area, especially Atlanta, has given rise to a subgenre of rap called "dirty south." Atlanta has long been a center of hip-hop culture.
The first musical society in North America, St. Cecilia Society, was founded in 1766 in Charleston. In the centuries that followed, the state would produce a number of artists who would enjoy world renown, including sultry Eartha Kitt, Dizzy Gillespie, and even Chubby Checker, who after all these years is still "twisting again like we did last summer."
The best-known rock band to hail from South Carolina is Hootie and the Blowfish, and James Brown also has roots in the state as well as ties to Georgia.
South Carolina "birthed" beach music, an offshoot of early R&B. Its shuffling beat spawned the dance called the Shag, which is still popular along the coast today, especially in the Myrtle Beach area. The state also produced two other celebrated dances, the Charleston and the Big Apple.
South Carolina is also known for groups singing spirituals, those sacred Christian songs originally developed by 19th-century African Americans. A country-based variety show, Carolina Opry, launched in 1986, has turned Myrtle Beach into the major showcase for East Coast country music, luring such artists as Dolly Parton and Alabama. Myrtle Beach is also the base for the South Carolina State Bluegrass Festival.
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