Renaissance in the South: A Critical History of the Literature, 1920-1960

Renaissance in the South: A Critical History of the Literature, 1920-1960

Renaissance in the South: A Critical History of the Literature, 1920-1960

Renaissance in the South: A Critical History of the Literature, 1920-1960

Excerpt

To a Kentuckian growing up to literary consciousness during the 1910's and 1920's, the state of Mississippi was an enduring comfort. As long as Mississippi survived, he felt statistically assured that his own backward Commonwealth could never effectively challenge her perennial status as forty-eighth among forty-eight in national literacy. The surprise was disproportionally great, therefore, when at the outset of this study came the discovery that in the 1950's Mississippi had taken the lead, on a per capita basis, among American states in the production of creative literature. The state does not yet read or attend its artists as it should, but perhaps it cannot take time from its writing. Incontrovertibly Mississippian are America's most honored novelist, her most successful playwright, her most renowned Negro writer. In addition, a high percentage of her finest poets, short story writers, and novelists prove to be natives of the Magnolia State.

But Mississippi's case is symptomatic rather than unique in the recent literary history of the South, for the general revival of Southern letters since the First World War has been the major literary phenomenon of our time. North Carolina and Georgia have produced even more prolifically. Louisiana, Alabama, and South Carolina have been rivalled nationally only by Virginia, Tennessee, East Texas, and, indeed, Kentucky. There have been important contributions, too, from Maryland, from Florida, though much of that state has become a Northern province, from Eastern Arkansas, and from the Shenandoah Valley in West Virginia.

What has now for some years been recognized by literary critics and historians as the Southern Renaissance includes, in addition to one winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, eleven recipients of Pulitzer Prizes for fiction, which constitutes a full third of those . . .

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