A week in books
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
Saturday 02 August 1997
All the more reason, then, to savour an anthology with a clear purpose and a coherent pattern evident through its 600 well-balanced pages. The Oxford Book of the American South (OUP, pounds 22.50) jumps the gun on William Faulkner's centenary by six weeks or so. Yet its one-author-one-piece rule determines that the sage of another Oxford (Mississippi) has to make do with a single story. "Wash", from 1934, portrays the kind of marooned but uncrushable poor whites whose accents fill the book.
Its other leading voice, of course, belongs to the black Southerners who somehow managed to record their lives from at least a century before Emancipation in 1861. As their first black contributor, editors Edward L Ayers and Bradley C Mittendorf select Olaudah Equiano, who documents a Middle Passage in 1756. The last - Anthony Wilson, born in 1960 - returns to Mississippi to "embrace the ghosts and cradle the bones" of a brutal but enduring past.
Sliding easily between fiction, memoirs and reportage, the editors pick cleverly from every expected figure - Mark Twain, Alice Walker, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King - but also dig up many hidden gems. They want us to cherish all their choices: black and white, radicals and diehards, scoffers and romantics. And I did - all except a slice from the most famous Southern novel of the lot. In their extract from Gone With The Wind, Scarlett O'Hara, in the aftermath of Civil War, whines that she would "never feel like a lady again ... until black hands and not white took the cotton from Tara". Tough luck, girl; or rather (all together now): frankly, my dear, we couldn't give a damn.
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I was a Woman Against Feminism too
- 2 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 3 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 4 The Tory donor whose firm is one of Britain’s biggest tax avoiders - with HMRC's blessing
- 5 John Barrowman praised for Commonwealth Games opening ceremony gay kiss
Comic-Con 2014: Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch and Game of Thrones' George RR Martin set to attend
Hercules, review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson takes centre stage in preposterous movie
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?
George R. R. Martin responds to 13-year-old fan's 'heartfelt' letter asking for a grisly death in Game of Thrones
Star Wars 7: Plot details 'leak', with sequel's opening sequence and premise revealed
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains