Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sense of place in Southern literature

There are many Southern writers whose works are unmistakably set in this part of the country. This week brought a chance to hear one of them speak about the influence that growing up in small-town North Carolina had on his writing.

Michael Parker, the author of four novels and a short fiction collection, is a professor in the M.F.A. writing program at UNC Greensboro. Most of his works, including his latest, “If you Want me To Stay,” are set in the fictional town of Trent. It bears more than a passing resemblance to his actual hometown of Clinton, home to about 8,700 near Fayetteville.

“There is a lot of Clinton that seeps in,” he told a group at a Levine Museum of the New South brown-bag lunch meeting Wednesday. Trent also has bits and pieces of other places he’s been, and some made-up details. But the landscape and the names of many people, streets and creeks come from his youth, he said.

“To a writer, names are words and words are music,” he said.

The new story of the South, he said, is found in the changes brought about by an influx of Latino immigrants. He expects more fiction writers to address that theme in coming years, and he’s at work on one of his own.

“This is no longer a biracial culture, and I think that’s a really good thing for the South, but you also have some problems associated with it,” he said.

Wednesday kicked off a two-year thematic literary luncheon series at the museum. For details on future (free) events, keep an eye on

And for a list of suggested books to read about the South, check this article compiled by Observer Reading Life Editor Jeri Krentz from our new edition of the Living Here magazine: Click here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally off subject, but Leigh! New pic? Nice!

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is very interesting to me because as a native Charlottean working on the state and copy desks of Raleigh's News & Observer in the "back-to-the-country" 1970s, I had the opportunity to learn the county-by-county location of Clinton and scores of other inviting and often fascinating towns in Eastern North Carolina.

Just as I already had learned about Western North Carolina's towns from Sparta to McAdenville, I was able to discover in travels through the eastern part of the state that each town and each county have a distinct "personality," whether it is the Texas-like plains of Clinton's Sampson County or the English or New England coloration and character of the counties of "The Albemarle" in the norhteastern corner of North Carolina. Gov. J.C.B. Ehringhaus of Elizabeth City (1933-1937) once likened the "Albemarle" region--not to be confused with the friendly hometown of Carolina and Duke broadcasters Woody Durham and Bob Harris in Stanly County--to what the English countryside of the "Camelot" era must have been like centuries ago. Don't let the political science professors in Harvard Yard find out about this, but Gov. Ehringhaus's observations on a "North Carolina Camelot" were made three decades before the famous Kennedy kin with their illustrious Harvard advisors took up residence in the White House!

But then there are "Highlander"-type towns in and around Cumberland County (county seat, Fayetteville), just as the Blue Ridge valleys between Hendersonville and Brevard in Western North Carolina remind one of passageways through Austria, Switzerland and Germany.

So thanks for posting this note on the influence of Clinton, the town, that is. Perhaps Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York will make a visit there too to see if she can strike up a pleasant conversation with Clinton native son and former Sen. Lauch Faircloth, who was not overly effusive in praise in his periodic assessments of the presidential administration of Bill Clinton.

The reason why some of the Raleigh news media give Mecklenburg County's State Rep. and House Speaker Jim Black such a hard time is that they are jealous of the sparkling character of Matthews and the other splendid towns of dear ol' Mecklenburg. They think that only Wake County and Eastern North Carolina have interesting "hamlets!"

4:15 PM  
Blogger Cato said...

In addition to the provided reading list, I was going to suggest W.J. Cash's The Mind of the South, but I remembered that I never bothered to finish it myself.

If someone more industrious than I wants to read it and fill me in, that'd be fine.

6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JS Reed should also be added to the list. Funny and insightful.

9:47 AM  

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