Southern writer, Louisa Dang, is my guest today on Southern Creatives. I love the title of her post “Permission to be Southern,” so I am getting out of the way so you can get on with reading her article!
Permission to be Southern?
Although I’ve lived in North Carolina for more than 20 years, it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve actually given myself “permission” to call myself a Southern writer.
Because I was born in Scotland and lived there until I was 10. I didn’t feel “Southern” – I didn’t hang out with old-timey relatives who sat on the back porch in rocking chairs and chatted to the neighbors while drinking sweet tea out of Mason jars. None of my
family ever fought in the Civil War. I don’t have a Southern name. I don’t think I have much of a Southern accent.
So, up until about two years ago, I thought of myself more as a Scottish writer than a Southern one.
All that changed when I began focusing more on the work of Southern writers like Ron Rash, Jill McCorkle, Lee Smith, and lesser known authors like Lisa Logan and Wendy Young.
I started my blog, A Southern Writer’s Network, and found out about a whole host of writers who don’t necessarily write in a “Southern” style but who are from
the South – like Tayari Jones (from Atlanta) and Karin Slaughter (also from Georgia). I started to make connections between living in the South, feeling like a Southerner, and how those things have affected my own writing.
For example, many years ago I wrote a short story set in a generic city, loosely based on Raleigh, NC. A single mother and daughter get on a city bus and meet a really oddball guy. It’s based on a true story, something that happened to me and my mom years ago. One of my friends read the story and commented, “This is definitely set in the South. No one rides the bus here if they can help it!”
Okay, no offense to those who like to ride the bus! But her point was that the
South is a car culture, much more so than say New York or Chicago. I hadn’t intentionally set out to write a Southern story, but I’d ended up capturing part of our culture, just by living it.
As I started learning more about Southern literature, I kept thinking back to my friend’s comment and what it means to be a “Southern writer.” It’s taken me years to realize that my experiences living here – hearing how people talk, seeing the problems we face, the
cars we drive, the jokes we tell – shape my writing and make me a Southern writer, whether I’m conscious of it or not.
Last year, I finally gave myself permission to “write Southern.” I released a mini-collection of four short stories, Rock Road, all set in the South.
Well, a fictional South. I didn’t name any places, but the settings are based on real locations in North Carolina. “Rocky Road” is set in a small town that’s facing manufacturing plant closings and has a small train depot (similar to the one in Burlington).
“Candles and Enlightenment for Sale” is about a psychic, new-agey fair, based on
an event I went to at the State Fair Grounds in Raleigh.
“The Birthday Present” is set in the mountains (I used to live in Rutherfordton) at an old-timey Western theme park.
And “Whatever Happened to Dr. Jones” is based on an actual event that happened in
The stories have a tongue-in-cheek “Southern” feel to them, with characters named Darlene and Earl who shop at Walmart and live in trailers. (I was poking fun at the Southern stereotypes you see on TV.)
But the challenges they face are real – poverty, loss of jobs, living in a car culture when you don’t have a car, small mindedness, lack of options – and so is the inner strength the
characters find to cope with these problems.
These themes are not limited to North Carolina, of course, but the stories are a result of people I’ve met and the things I’ve seen living here. I won’t always write in a jokey “Southern” style, but I know now that part of the South will always be in my writing,
just as part of Scotland will be there, too.
Today, I feel proud to call myself a Southern writer!
If you would like to connect with Louisa, you can find her here:
Website: Louisa J. Dang
Blog: Southern Writers Network
And, on Twitter: @LouisaDang