November 30, 2015

Writing About the South (Especially When it’s Not Cool to Write About the South)

By Tina Bausinger

O magnet-south! O glistening perfumed South! My South! — Walt Whitman

As Southerners, we get it.

The South will always have a lot to answer for. All those years of slavery and civil injustice don’t just go away because we wish they would. We’re working on change, and the old axiom that “change is never easy” hardly seems appropriate. The kind of change that’s needed here is the kind that tears and bleeds. It’s slower than we’d like. There aren’t any good excuses.

What does that mean for Southern writers? Are we supposed to ignore this idea, this identity?  Do we let everybody else paint us, or are we allowed to pick up the brush?
The first step to resolving problems is to acknowledge them, and a good place to do that is in writing.  Who knows better the beauty and tragedy of the South than those who have come from here?
But there is a way to write about the South as a setting without reverting to stereotypes.  It has to do with balance.

If we wax too far nostalgic, we risk a fake, Gone With the Wind mentality that attempts to gloss over the sins of our past and romanticize the way things used to be. Remaining in the past is one issue the South struggles with.

However, if we lean too far to the punishment side of the compass, anything we write will come across as too preachy or politically correct.

I think we just have to remain authentic to our characters, to our history, to ourselves. Honesty and integrity in writing go a long way in appealing to readers and good storytelling.  Perfection is never the answer.
So write your characters Southern if you want to. But color them with different crayons.  Give them both flaws and assets.
Place your setting in the South, but focus on both its beauty as well as its danger.

Write about racism, sexism, or ageism if you wish—but don’t stop there.

Don’t forget the beauty of a Southern sunrise, or the smile of a stranger.

Write about the difficulty a Southern woman encounters when rising up through the ranks, but also portray the charm of a Southern gentleman.  

It’s quite a complex dance.

A perfect example of achieving this balance is Toni Morrison’s work. She doesn’t shirk from the ugly, and somehow she manages to lead you along with her lovely words until you realize your heart is ripped right out of your chest and you’re not even sure when it happens.

That’s how you write about the South.

Tina Coleman Bausinger has a Master’s degree in English and is the author of War Eagle Women, a Southern gothic novel. She’s a contributing writer in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, publishing in two of their books--Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad: 101 Stories of Gratitude, Love, and Good Times and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners: 101 Inspirational Stories of Energy, Endurance, and Endorphins. She writes features, travel pieces and book reviews for IN Magazine, the Tyler Paper, and enjoys blogging at . She teaches English Composition at a local junior college. She lives in Tyler, Texas with her husband, three kids, a bully Chihuahua and a German shepherd with anxiety issues.
Contact Tina on any of her pages. Facebook: or Pinterest.

No comments:

Post a Comment