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The South

ENGL 263.601
instructor(s):
fulfills requirements:
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

In 1917, H. L. Mencken wrote of the state of Southern literary achievement, “The South is an awe-inspiring blank…a vast plain of mediocrity, stupidity, lethargy, almost of dead silence.” This class examines the writing that emerged in the wake of Mencken’s influential and controversial claim, a claim against which Southern writers arguably still labor today. We will analyze two streams of twentieth-century literature about the South (and the intersections between them): 1) writing that often portrays Southerners as a troubling domestic population living in a neo-feudal state well into the twentieth century; and 2) writing that works to create complex, new versions of the South in the face of an often resistant larger American culture, a Southern literature conscious of the past in the present without being mired in it. How did the South end up being portrayed as a hotbed of outlandish religion, sexuality, and violence, a place of carnival freaks and cornpone humor? What is the lineage, if any, from William Faulkner to Jeff Foxworthy and True Blood? What makes “Southern literature” a particular object of study, and how are recent writers crafting a “New South”? We’ll read works by the Fugitive and Agrarian poets, Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, Zora Neale Hurston, James Agee, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Ernest Gaines, Barry Hannah, and Frederick Barthelme, among others. We’ll examine fiction, poetry, essays, photography, film, and critical readings. This class will help students to sharpen their critical approaches to complex material. Assignments will include two papers, several short online postings, and a short presentation.