Southern Writer from New England


I feel confused over my obsession with southern writers. Sometimes I can’t figure out if my story is about characters from my New England upbringing or about folks from the South. Both places offer a rich opportunity to write about strange people with peculiar accents. Both have a relationship with certain types of food. But honestly, other than that? The similarities escape me. We certainly never had barbeque in the backyard in my growing up years. And I don’t think I’ll ever meet a Southerner who craves whoopie pies or indian pudding. Why is it then, that I feel like my River Stories, which began as distinctly New England tales, could as easily have been small town stories from a youth in the South? Part of it, I think, is a desire – and terror – of comparing myself to the great Southern writers. But another part of it is so real in my mind that my characters sometimes start talking in the “wrong” dialect. I reckon small town life is much the same no matter where you are. I was struck by this again while reading a recent article by one of my current favorite southern writers, Celia Rivenbark. In her own small town girl style, Celia writes about “catching lightnin’ bugs in mayonnaise jars” and sitting on the floor on the oval braided rug. She may be writing about her native North Carolina, but the images of those scenes from my New England youth are as clear as if they had happened yesterday.

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