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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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