Southern literature is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a genre that covers literature written about the American South, and covers works written by authors who are from the South. These novels focus on a variety of subjects concerning a whole branch of southern issues ranging from politics and racism to religion. Like any genre, it has evolved over time—beginning with the discovery of the great Americas to dealing with current issues such as social class.
The next time you come across the Southern Literature section of your local bookstore, take a closer look! You’ll find a rich literary tradition full of renowned authors and iconic works.
Origins of Southern Literature
The earliest works of Southern literature are from the 1400s and 1500s when Europeans first inhabited the land. However, the first works considered true “Southern Literature” are memoirs from the early 1600s, such as those of Captain John Smith discussing the founding of Jamestown.
Southern literature originated in the first areas where we settled, mainly Virginia and Alabama. From there, it expanded as we gained more territory. With new territory came new ideas, and with new ideas came new themes of literature.
Themes of the American South
Themes of literature, as you may already know, change with time. Take the romantic genre—in the romantic period, it was more about nature and social classes. Today it’s more about notions of the supernatural, sexual relationships and so on.
Southern literature began with the origins of America. Indeed, most early works are written about the founding of America and battling British politics. Themes evolved to include religious freedom, racial tension, social classes, the significance of family life, life on the farm, industrialism, and war.
Nowadays, the same themes are found in almost all literature. However, an intense political explosion resonates in the Southern literature of the 2000s, likely due to elections.
Authors to Reference
A wide range of historians have written about Southern living. You can find descriptions of it in many textbooks and scattered throughout the shelves in America’s bookstores.
What might not be as easily defined as Southern Literature are books you probably have seen repeatedly, but never knew were considered “Southern.” Great examples are by Harper Lee, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. More recent Southern literature includes In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and a series of crime novels by James Lee Burke.
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