For about five years, the writer Jonathan Gibbs has curated a project called A Personal Anthology, where guest editors offer up a dozen short stories. Sometimes the anthologies are Greatest Hits, sometimes they’re personal favorites or central to the development of the editor’s own writing, sometimes they’re themed. Jonathan was kind enough to invite me to edit this week’s Personal Anthology. Putting it together was much, much harder than I had expected it would be, but once I imposed a limit on myself —namely “Southern literature” — the tracklist came together neatly. You can read my Personal Anthology here.
Here’s the introduction:
I live in Florida, and although I’m not a native, I consider myself a Southerner. “The South” is a nebulous, diverse, and perplexing region in the United States of America, often romanticized, vilified, ridiculed, championed, and misunderstood. It’s difficult to define exactly where the South begins and ends. Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi are the South, but what about Kentucky or Missouri? Texas is the South, but at some point, it also becomes the West. A common joke is that Florida stops being the South the farther south one goes into Florida. The boundaries are murky.
So too is so-called “Southern literature” hard to pin down. The great Georgian moralist Flannery O’Connor declared that “anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.” Here I think we might let the word “Northern” stand for any reader not from the South. O’Connor imbued her work with grotesque distortions to bring “alive some experience which we are not accustomed to observe every day, or which the ordinary man may never experience in his ordinary life.”
In compiling this Personal Anthology, I have sought to offer up a dozen tales from/of the nebulous, dirty, fecund South that bring unaccustomed experience to life for the reader.