This is #SouthernGothic

photo by luke kurtis

We discovered early on that the Southern Gothic genre means many things to many people. It’s one of those genres that has so many interpretations. That’s fine with us, though, because we don’t like to pinpoint things as black and white around here. Life–and literature–is so much more interesting in those grey areas!

“Like the American South itself, Southern Gothic’s roots run deep,” says NLSP Publisher Brian Centrone. “There is a long standing history of literary tradition that makes both the location and the genre rich with local flavor. One cannot help but be drawn into the dark, curious world of Southern Gothic fiction.”

The authors featured in Southern Gothic: New Tales of the South certainly did pull us in. So much so that we wanted to get a little bit more insight into their thought process and asked the contributors to tell us about their own interpretation of the genre. Their responses confirm what we already knew: It’s really hard to get everybody on the same page (which actually works out–the print edition of the book tops out at over 150 pages).

Heather Bell Adams describes Southern Gothic as “a story with a dark undercurrent, something a bit moody that hints at evil or at something that isn’t quite right.” The “isn’t quite right” hints at a certain magical realism, a quality that, from the get-go, NLSP Creative Director Jordan M. Scoggins emphasized.

“For me, magical realism is a defining aspect of the Southern Gothic. And I think that permeates a lot of southern culture in general even beyond literature. Tim Burton’s Big Fish and the Coen Brother’s O Brother Where Art Thou? are excellent pop culture examples of Southern Gothic’s magical realism.”

Rose Yndigoyen, whose story “Long Gone Girls” is her first published fiction, describes the genre as “a combination of sweat and magical realism … exist[ing] at the intersection of the grossly visceral and the beautiful imaginary, linger[ing] on the spots where categories meet, bleed and blur.”

Other authors took a different approach. A.A. Garrison interprets the genre as one of “gritty, unvarnished realism” and his story aims to “provid[e] an impartial, objective look into a man’s fateful decision.”

Shane K. Bernard hones in on the idea that SG is not just about literary but visual art too. Some of the “Old South” visual cues include, “ruined plantation homes, snarled live oaks draped with Spanish moss, murky swamps and desolate marshes, slow-moving muddy bayous.” He cites the plantation home photography of Clarence John Laughlin’s Ghosts along the Mississippi as a particularly interesting visual interpretation of the genre.

And then there’s religion. Boy oh boy. But you just can’t talk about the south without some ole time religion, now can you? Some of the stories that deal with religion include Mark Pritchard‘s “The Instrument” and “Visitin’ Cormierville” by Hardy Jones. Two of our contributors even mentioned Flannery O’Connor’s famous quote:

“I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted” (from Flannery O’Connor’s 1960 lecture, “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction“).

O’Connor pretty much hit the nail on the head with that statement. And rightfully so as she’s one of the greats of the genre. I think it’s fair for us to say, Ms. O’Connor, that all of the authors in this collection–consciously or not–owe you a debt of gratitude.

No matter what your view of the genre, one thing we can all agree on is that Southern Gothic: New Tales of the South is an impressive collection. Be sure to purchase your copy on October 15th and become familiar with what is sure to be the next classic of a uniquely American genre.