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Writing the South through the Self

Explorations in Southern Autobiography

John C. Inscoe

Publication Year: 2011

Drawing on two decades of teaching a college-level course on southern history as viewed through autobiography and memoir, John C. Inscoe has crafted a series of essays exploring the southern experience as reflected in the life stories of those who lived it. Constantly attuned to the pedagogical value of these narratives, Inscoe argues that they offer exceptional means of teaching young people because the authors focus so fully on their confrontations—as children, adolescents, and young adults—with aspects of southern life that they found to be troublesome, perplexing, or challenging.

Maya Angelou, Rick Bragg, Jimmy Carter, Bessie and Sadie Delany, Willie Morris, Pauli Murray, Lillian Smith, and Thomas Wolfe are among the more prominent of the many writers, both famous and obscure, that Inscoe draws on to construct a composite portrait of the South at its most complex and diverse. The power of place; struggles with racial, ethnic, and class identities; the strength and strains of family; educational opportunities both embraced and thwarted—all of these are themes that infuse the works in this most intimate and humanistic of historical genres.

Full of powerful and poignant stories, anecdotes, and testimonials, Writing the South through the Self explores the emotional and psychological dimensions of what it has meant to be southern and offers us new ways of understanding the forces that have shaped southern identity in such multifaceted ways.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xv

THIS BOOK EVOLVED from a course I have taught at the University of Georgia for the past two decades or so, called "Southern Autobiography as Southern History." It was inspired by a similar course John Boles designed and taught at Rice University called "Growing Up Southern," and by an initiative...

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pp. 1-16

I HAVE LONG BELIEVED that autobiographers are, or can be, among the most astute chroniclers of the South. Much of what makes their self-portraits so accessible—indeed, so memorable—is that they tend to privilege storytelling, dramatic turning points, and cathartic or...

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1. Lessons from Southern Lives: Teaching Race through Autobiography

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pp. 17-47

ONE OF THE BIGGEST challenges we face as history teachers — whether working with middle- or high-school students or college undergraduates — is making sense of the vast complexities and variables that have always characterized the interactions of white and black Americans. ...

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2. "I Learn What I Am": Adolescent Struggles with Mixed-Race Identities

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pp. 48-72

OF THE MANY eyewitness accounts we have of the Atlanta race riot of 1906, none is more chilling than that describing a thirteen-year-old black boy's confrontation with an angry white mob on the steps of his home. That young man was Walter White, who grew up to become...

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3. "All Manner of Defeated, Shiftless, Shifty, Pathetic and Interesting Good People": Autobiographical Encounters with Southern White Poverty

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pp. 73-97

IN A TIDEWATER MORNING: Three Tales from Youth, his fictionalized memoir of growing up in eastern Virginia in the 1930s, William Styron wrote of his boyhood fascination with the Dabneys, a poor family who lived nearby and with whom he spent a great deal of time as a ten-year-old. ...

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4. Railroads, Race, and Remembrance: The Traumas of Train Travel in the Jim Crow South

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pp. 98-130

AT THE BEGINNING of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her classic account of growing up in Stamps, Arkansas, Maya Angelou told of the journey in 1931 that brought her there. She was a mere three years old when she and her four-year-old brother Bailey, the refuse of divorce, were...

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5. "I'm Better Than This Sorry Place": Coming to Terms with Self and the South in College

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pp. 131-160

WILLIE MORRIS'S DISILLUSIONMENT with college life came early in his freshman year at the University of Texas in the fall of 1952. A Yazoo City, Mississippi, native who went to UT in Austin at his father's urging — "I think you ought to go to school out there. Can't nuthin' in this...

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6. Sense of Place, Sense of Being: Appalachian Struggles with Identity, Belonging, and Escape

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pp. 161-186

IN A RECENT COLLECTION of autobiographical essays titled Moving Out, Finding Home, Bob Fox, a Brooklyn native, reflected on the intellectual and psychological impact of his decision to give up an academic career to become a farmer and independent writer in Appalachian Ohio. ...

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Afterword. "Getting Pretty Fed Up with This Two-Tone South": Moving toward Multiculturalism

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pp. 187-199

IN HIS ESSAY COLLECTION Beyond the Binary, my friend and former colleague Timothy Powell called for a new paradigm for American cultural studies. It is time, he wrote in 1999, to move beyond the long-established theoretical binaries of Self/Other, Center/Margin, and...


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pp. 201-228

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 229-239


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pp. 241-249

E-ISBN-13: 9780820339689
E-ISBN-10: 0820339687
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820337678
Print-ISBN-10: 0820337676

Page Count: 268
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 724071550
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Writing the South through the Self

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • College students -- Southern States -- Attitudes.
  • Appalachian Region -- Social conditions.
  • Miscegenation -- Southern States.
  • Social stratification -- Southern States.
  • Segregation in transportation -- Southern States.
  • Race discrimination -- Southern States.
  • Southern States -- Social conditions.
  • Southern States -- Biography.
  • Autobiography -- Psychological aspects -- Southern States.
  • Autobiography -- Social aspects -- Southern States.
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