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.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
Best underrated Christmas movies from Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food