Wednesday, October 11, 2017

From Whence You Came

My father recently asked me a question that I have sometimes mulled over privately, but which I never expected to have to answer for realsies, given my level of absolute non-fame: do you consider yourself a Southern writer?

First, some background. Some of you know that while I was born in North Carolina, I was raised in Michigan, yet I have also spent the bulk of my adult life living and working primarily in the South (specifically, North Carolina and Louisiana). As a result, I've often--sometimes inadvertently--been immersed in the world of Southern literature or Southern writers. However, I've also spent a great deal of time around New England (particularly Boston) writers because of my grad school experiences.

Also, there is some debate about what constitutes Southern literature, because there is much debate about what actually constitutes the South. The Line isn't always the most effective way of answering this, because there are many out there who will swear to you that Kentucky, Virginia, and even North Carolina aren't really Southern states. Then there is the issue of Maryland, which is tricky because it is now Northern in character but historically was considered Southern.

So how do we categorize someone like Edgar Allan Poe? Personally, I don't consider him to be a Southern writer, but I suspect that he would categorize himself that way, given the opportunity. Meanwhile, I absolutely consider Mark Twain to be a Southern writer, although he spent most of his life in Missouri, Connecticut, and various Northern cities (with stops in California).

As far as that goes, who do we consider to be American writers? Sylvia Plath provides a good example for this question: undeniably American (born, raised, and partly educated in Massachusetts) and influenced in part by other Boston Writers (such as Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton), yet entrenched in British life (studying and living out the most prolific part of her career in England) and surrounded by English and Irish writers (Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney) while still communing with other expatriates (like WS Merwin). Most people would probably categorize her as American, although there is also a case to be made for her as an English writer.

A similar debate can be had about Gertrude Stein, another famous expat. She was American by birth but dwelled in France for much of her life. If anything, I would think the best designation for her is international, as she spent her time moving in artistic circles populated by people from many countries, including America (Ernest Hemingway), France (Henri Matisse), and Spain (Pablo Picasso), among others.

My basic response about my own situation was, "I don't think anyone has ever accused me of being a Southern writer, and I hope they never do." This has nothing to do with my opinion of Southern literature, which I appreciate and sometimes even love (here's looking at you, Faulkner). Rather, it has to do with my perception of myself as well as my priorities and my style. I would categorize myself as a Michigan writer, and a proud one.

What other people call me is, ultimately, their business, I suppose, but I feel like I would be vocal about this one thing, were I in a position to do so, because I do have strong feelings about it. But on the other hand, it's nice just to be called a writer at all, even if I sometimes have trouble giving myself that designation (in spite of my enormous ego and repeated declarations on this blog). 


No comments:

Post a Comment