Friday, November 13, 2009

Literature in the South

I feel sure that I ended up in the teaching profession for a couple of reasons: one, I like talking, and two, I love being in the classroom. In fact, while I'd love to further my education, I doubt I would ever pursue an online degree simply because I like being in a classroom.

This semester I have been sitting in on the Southern Culture class on the Caldwell campus. My friend Amy teaches the class, and she knows me well enough to recognize the restraint I have to exercise in class. From Civil War history to Southernu music, I've learned a lot and I've wanted to learn more.

Currently in class, we are in the middle of Southern literature, so I am in my element. I agreed to "guest host" a couple of classes, allowing me to revisit a couple of authors I've enjoyed before. I first met Donald Secreast back in 1997, when he was a part of the college's Writers Symposium. I remember his telling us that his friend Charles Frazier had a first novel Cold Mountain about to be published. He predicted it was going to be a big hit. He was right.

A native of Caldwell County, Secreast's short stories from his collections Rat Becomes Light and White Trash, Red Velvet are all set here in this area in the lives of furniture workers. He has a gift for taking ordinary people in familiar settings and weaving extraordinary tales.

This week the syllabus assignment was Ron Rash's novel The World Made Straight. I had read the book a few years ago--I've read all of Rash's novels--long enough ago that I had forgotten just how good the book was. Also set in Western North Carolina, it is the story of a young drop out Travis Shelton who comes into contact with Leonard Shuler, a former English teacher who lost his job after a disgruntled student planted marijuana in his car. Throughout the novel runs a parallel story of the massacre of Unionists at Shelton Laurel by their Confederate neighbors, a true story rarely mentioned in Civil War history books.

Today when we began discussion of the novel, I was pleased (or relieved) that a significant number of the students in the class had actually read the novel. And they liked it. By Monday when we continue the discussion, we may even have a genuine book talk, the authentic kind of discussion that real readers enjoy.


Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Hey, let's get some poets into this Southern Literature class! We are always left out, unless we happen to write novels, too.

Nancy said...

It's not left out of this class!
In fact, Amy did her master's thesis on Fred Chappel. I shared the poetry from John's workshop in Greensboro when you, Fred, Jaki, Sally B., and the rest were there.

It's actually a Southern Culture class, so they get music, history, lit, the works.

I had my "Dead Mule" debut this month, by the way.

Jessica said...

I'm a Pacific Northwest native living in Charlotte, NC (for about 1.5 years) and would love any recommendations for Southern Lit. It's easy to browse the "local" sections of bookstores and libraries, but I don't know what I'm looking for.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Hi Jessica, come on over to my, where you will find plenty of help, and also go to th NC writers and Books archive at My other blog, Here Where I am, will often feature Southern fiction writers and poets.

Nishant said...

It's actually a Southern Culture class, so they get music, history, lit, the works.

Work from home India