In the South, the past is never dead. It’s not even past, William Faulkner once said
Unfortunately for those of us who love good books and stories, we should consider one grand treasure from the South’s past, its literary tradition, dead and truly past.
That’s what writer Terry Kay says. His comments came during a talk at the Canton, Ga., Literary Festival last month. The literary festival is part of the larger Canton Arts Festival each year.
Kay knows what he is talking about. He’s a long-time writer, son of the South and author of several popular novels about the region, including his best-selling “To Dance with the White Dog.”
This rich form of writing is a victim of modern times, Kay told those who came to hear his talk on a hot day in May. Gone with the vanishing rural South and its distinct culture is the chief source for such literature — its people, he said.
As has happened all over America for many decades now, people have flocked to the burgeoning urban areas, such as Atlanta, the mega city of Georgia, where I live. That’s made for large and prosperous metropolitan areas teeming with attractive amenities, like cultural, social and sports outlets and activities.
But in places like South Georgia, farms may remain, but the communities they spawned over the long run of history have in many cases withered. Whole families once tied to the nurturing land have packed up and moved to the asphalt and steel of our modern urban islands.
Traditional Southern families were (and in many cases, still are) often large and largely networked. Those families, their communities and collective memory were inseparable linked. From that mother lode, the author could mine stories drawn from histories, tales, rumors or happenings.
Those stories provided a framework for many great books. “Gone With The Wind” had its genesis from family stories dating back to plantation days. When she was a child, Margaret Mitchell heard her elders tell those tales and filed them away in her memory. And, too, the stories of William Faulkner show that heritage, along with other books by other authors from and of the region.
Being the good Southern writer that he is, Kay acknowledged that his own family provided a rich vein. He would travel to family reunions with his story detectors on high alert.
Males would gather outside the house hosting the gathering and maybe stand and gaze at each other and mutter an occasional, “Looks like rain.” To which the person might, after a long pause, get an answer of, “Yep.” Then there would be more standing around – in silence.
Kay wanted in the house where the women chatted about their families adventures or misadventures, he said. He had several sisters, who provided great stories or story ideas.
Pick up a book by a Southern writer these days, and more often than not you probably can’t tell where the writer is from or detect in particular Southern accent in his or her story thread. Books will likely aim for the mass American or world audience, not just Southern readers.
Remnants of the old Southern literature remain in tales from the Appalachian Hills or from other sources. Maybe those bits and pieces of the past will continue to be published for years to come. If so, they will remind us of a grand literary tradition.
But for those of us who like that genre, we’d better stack up on the classics or find a Wed site that specializes in a literature now sadly part of our past.