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.
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?
- 2 Friends 20th anniversary: Alison Jackson photographs reunited cast
- 3 London council removes 'unacceptable' Stamford Hill posters telling women which side of the road to walk down
- 4 The response to my Pizza Express review has been overwhelming, and taught me a lot about journalism
- 5 Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned into a PR disaster
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'