Southscapes: Geographies of Race, Region, & Literature

Southscapes: Geographies of Race, Region, & Literature

Southscapes: Geographies of Race, Region, & Literature

Southscapes: Geographies of Race, Region, & Literature

Synopsis

In this innovative approach to southern literary cultures, Thadious Davis analyzes how black southern writers use their spatial location to articulate the vexed connections between society and environment, particularly under segregation and its legacies.

Basing her analysis on texts by Ernest Gaines, Richard Wright, Alice Walker, Natasha Trethewey, Olympia Vernon, Brenda Marie Osbey, Sybil Kein, and others, Davis reveals how these writers reconstitute racial exclusion as creative black space, rather than a site of trauma and resistance. Utilizing the social and political separation epitomized by segregation to forge a spatial and racial vantage point, Davis argues, allows these writers to imagine and represent their own subject matter and aesthetic concerns.

Focusing particularly on Louisiana and Mississippi, Davis deploys new geographical discourses of space to expand analyses of black writers' relationship to the South and to consider the informing aspects of spatial narratives on their literary production. She argues that African American writers not only are central to the production of southern literature and new southern studies, but also are crucial to understanding the shift from modernism to postmodernism in southern letters. A paradigm-shifting work, Southscapes restores African American writers to their rightful place in the regional imagination, while calling for a more inclusive conception of region.

Excerpt

The map is not the territory.

—ALFRED korzybski, Science and Sanity (1933)

In “Entering the South,” Lucille Clifton transmutes the stark geographic metaphor that often appears as the landscape of the South for African Americans. the map she draws is a living one, alive in memory and in blood, but dead too in the literal skin of animals and in the material body of the mother. Luxury, beauty, and heritage combine into a familiar space; however, the familiar also sustains and is sustained by death and destruction. the South Clifton maps is not without the weight of a horrific past that continues on in hushed voices, coiled rope, and dark blood.

I have put on my mother’s coat. it is warm and familiar as old fur and I can hear hushed voices through it. too many animals have died to make this. the sleeves coil down toward my hands like rope. I will wear it because she loved it but the blood from it pools on my shoulders heavy and dark and alive.

Clifton’s poem is a reminder of the allure of the South as a warm, luxuriant familiar, but it is also a road map referencing the weight of the South alive today in all of its complexity. Without ever naming “race” as an aspect of the configuration of the South as a space, Clifton evokes the lynching of . . .

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