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The Rise of Southern Redneck and White Trash Writers

From: Southern Cultures
Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 2000
pp. 68-90 | 10.1353/scu.2000.0048

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The Rise of Southern Redneck and White Trash Writers
Erik Bledsoe

Erik Bledsoe is an instructor of English and American Studies at the University of Tennessee. He is the editor of Getting Naked With Harry Crews: Interviews.


1. Linda Tate, A Southern Weave of Women: Fiction of the Contemporary South (University of Georgia Press, 1994), 5-6; Frank W. Shelton, "The Poor Whites' Perspective: Harry Crews Among Georgia Writers," Journal of American Culture 11.3 (1988): 47; Gary Hawkins has written and directed two of a planned series of documentaries on writers of the Rough South, The Rough South Stories of Tim McLaurin (1990) and The Rough South of Harry Crews (1992), both produced by the University of North Carolina Center for Public Television; for a description of some of these excesses see Jim Goad, The Redneck Manifesto, (Simon and Schuster, 1997), esp. 124-45.

2. Dorothy Allison, "A Question of Class," in Skin: Talking about Sex, Class & Literature (Firebrand, 1994), 15; Fred Hobson, The Southern Writer in the Postmodern World (University of Georgia Press, 1991), 22, 23, 20.

3. J. Wayne Flynt, Dixie's Forgotten People: The South's Poor Whites (Indiana University Press, 1979), 1 and 1-14 (definition of poor whites); Annalee Newitz and Matthew Wray, "What is 'White Trash'? Stereotypes and Economic Conditions of Poor Whites in the United States" in White Trash: Race and Class in America, ed. Wray and Newitz (Routledge, 1997), 168-84; Julian B. Roebuck and Ronald L. Neff attempt to define "rednecks" and their role in southern class structure in "The Multiple Reality of the 'Redneck': Toward a Grounded Theory of the Southern Class Structure," Studies in Symbolic Interaction 3 (1980): 233-62; John Shelton Reed provides perhaps the best examination of the various labels applied to lower-class southern whites in his Southern Folk, Plain and Fancy: Native White Social Types, Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures, No. 29 (University of Georgia Press, 1986), esp. 34-47.

4. Sylvia Jenkins Cook, From Tobacco Road to Route 66: The Southern Poor White in Fiction (University of North Carolina Press, 1976), 5.

5. Cleanth Brooks, William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (Louisiana State University Press, 1990), 481-82.

6. C. Hugh Holman, "Detached Laughter in the South," in Windows on the World: Essays on American Social Fiction (University of Tennessee Press, 1979), 34; on eugenics and poor whites, see Edward J. Larson, Sex, Race, and Science: Eugenics in the Deep South (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), and Nicole Hahn Rafter, ed., White Trash: The Eugenic Family Studies, 1877-1919 (Northeastern University Press, 1988).

7. Robert Hendrickson, Whistlin' Dixie: A Dictionary of Southern Expressions (Facts on File, 1993), 185; Will D. Campbell, "Used and Abused: The Redneck's Lot," in The Prevailing South: Life and Politics in a Changing Culture, ed. Dudley Clendinen (Longstreet, 1988), 92; Jim Goad, The Redneck Manifesto (Simon and Schuster, 1997) 20.

8. Flannery O'Connor, "Revelation," The Complete Stories (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972), 491-92; Barbara Wilkie Tedford, "Flannery O'Connor and the Social Classes," Southern Literary Journal 13.2 (1981): 35.

9. Larry Brown, Dirty Work (Algonquin, 1989), 33.

10. See, for example, John Skow's Time review of Joe, "Southern Pine," where Brown is called "a talented fiction writer in the whiskeyish, rascally Southern tradition of Faulkner and Erskine Caldwell," 28 October 1991, 96; Cleanth Brooks succinctly refutes such comparisons: "Larry Brown's hometown is the same as William Faulkner's, Oxford, Mississippi. But his novel, Joe, is not imitation Faulkner. Brown has his own style and is quite comfortable in it." An Affair of Honor: Larry Brown's Joe. Pre-publication promotional pamphlet for Joe (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1991), 1; Brown's On Fire (Algonquin, 1993) is a memoir of his days as a member of the Oxford Fire Department and his decision to become a writer. For a brief biography of Brown, see Thomas J. Richardson, "Larry Brown: (1951-)." Contemporary Fiction Writers of the South, ed. Joseph M. Flora and Robert Bain (Greenwood, 1993), 54-66.

11. Larry Brown, Joe (Algonquin, 1991), 201; V. Sterling Watson, "Arguments over an Open Wound: An Interview with Harry Crews," Prairie Schooner 48...