A week in books
Boyd Tonkin is Senior Writer and a columnist at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Literary Editor at The Independent, and before that Social Policy Editor and then Books Editor at the New Statesman magazine. He has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes and has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize. In 2001, he re-founded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for literature in translation, and serves on its judging panel every year.
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.
Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Artist Jamie McCartney: How The Great Wall of Vagina is a stand against 'body fascism'
- 2 Katie Hopkins reveals fear she will die during brain surgery to cure epilepsy
- 3 Tom Cruise: Reporters banned from asking actor about Scientology
- 4 Dutch King Willem-Alexander declares the end of the welfare state
- 5 Michael B Jordan and Kate Mara handle excruciatingly awkward and offensive interview questions like pros
Artist Jamie McCartney: How The Great Wall of Vagina is a stand against 'body fascism'
Agatha Christie: Experts discover secret formula to unmask killers in author's books
Cilla Black: Her 12 best songs, from 'Anyone Who Had a Heart' to 'You're My World'
Zoolander 2 trailer leaks online and it's really, really, ridiculously good looking
Michael B Jordan and Kate Mara handle excruciatingly awkward and offensive interview questions like pros
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Calais Migrant Crisis: Deputy Mayor of Calais labels Cameron's use of 'swarm' as 'racist' and 'ignorant'
Chris Leslie: Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity agenda will harm the poor, says Labour shadow Chancellor
While we fixate on Calais, the Home Office is quietly deporting dozens of migrants on 'ghost flights'
Calais crisis: The seven claims made about the migrants - and the reality