Chapter 6 - The Same Sweet Girls
I started reading Southern writers many years ago even before we moved to South Carolina. I always picked up the latest Dorothea Benton Frank, Mary Kay Andrews or Wendy Wax and their books always took me to the South, a place I've held in my heart for many years. When I first bought into a book store I really knew very little about Southern female writers. I had always read my share of the Southern male writers starting with William Faulkner, moving into Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, then migrating to the more contemporary stories of Pat Conroy, Wiley Cash, John Hart, and Charles Martin.
In Bookends there was a whole section dedicated to these wonderful writers, both male and female. So to keep up with customers looking for good Southern writers and because I naturally read almost every genre, I started to pick up books by authors I was really not familiar with. Here are some lesser known Southern authors you might want to consider the next time you are looking for a book to take you someplace warm. Most of these authors write about relationships with family and friends.
Cassandra King - Cassandra King is the widow of Pat Conroy but her fame as a writer is all on her. She is the author of five novels, one nonfiction book, and short stories and magazine articles too numerous to count. My favorite novel of hers is The Same Sweet Girls although I wouldn't turn away any of her other books. It is a story of college friends who get together every two years to encourage, quarrel, reveal, and love one another. Her nonfiction memoir Tell Me A Story about her life with Pat Conroy is bittersweet, both funny and heartfelt.
Donna Everhart - Donna is one of those authors who I always have to read her latest book. She has written 6 novels and each one is better than the next. The first of hers I read was The Education of Dixie Dupree and I loved it. The Saints of Swallow Hill was also a favorite of mine but as with Cassandra King, I would not refuse any of her books. Her latest, When the Jessamine Grows, is a novel of the Civil War and I finished it last week. In it Donna addresses the dilemma of whether it is possible to stay neutral during war. Donna says she writes "gritty Southern fiction" and indeed she does.
Susan Zurenda - I first became aware of Susan a few years back with her novel Bells for Eli. That was a coming of age story about two cousins who are friends, and maybe more. When Eli accidentally drinks lye as a child it has repercussions all through his life. His cousin Delia defends, protects, and loves Eli in spite of his disability. Susan's second novel The Girl From The Red Rose Motel is another coming of age story (she does these so well!) about Hazel, a girl from an impoverished family and Sterling a privileged child of wealth. Susan has a wonderful way of bringing difficult topics to light.
Augusta Trobaugh - Augusta Trobaugh is the author of Sophie And The Rising Sun and six other novels. She lives in Athens, Georgia and her books explore the difficult relationships people have with others who are not like them. In Praise Jerusalem, Amelia, an aging Georgia matron, is forced to take up residence with two other women, one of them black. Sophie And The Rising Sun is the story of a spinster and her lawn boy, a Japanese man, and takes place during World War II. Trobaugh's books explore themes of loss, family, relationships, and racism.
Kaye Gibbons - Donna Everhart (see above) has recently stated that Kaye Gibbons inspired her to start writing. Gibbons has 8 novels under her belt and two (Ellen Foster and A Virtuous Woman) were part of Oprah's Book Club. Her books could also be considered "gritty southern fiction" and are about difficult relationships, family dysfunction, loyalty, and love.
There is a saying which appears on tea towels and signs down here that truly describes Southern philosophy "Here in the South we don't hide crazy. We parade it around on the front porch, and give it a glass of sweet tea." These writers all do a great job of parading and sometimes normalizing our crazies