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Gather at the River

Notes from the Post-Millennial South


Publication Year: 2005

To read Hal Crowther is to find yourself agreeing with views on topics you never knew you cared so much about. In Gather at the River, Crowther extends the wide-angle vision of Southern life presented in his highly acclaimed collection Cathedrals of Kudzu. He cuts to the heart of recent political, religious, and cultural issues but pauses to appreciate the sweet things that the South has to offer, like music, baseball, great writers, and strong women. Some of these essays invite debate. Crowther gives a balanced perspective on the tragedy of the Branch Davidians at Waco, shedding light on a different world of religiosity and revealing urban media prejudices for what they are. He describes the unique heroism of a fallen Marine in the Iraq war, a war fought by one class and promoted by another. And his solution to racial conflict—interracial procreation—will jump-start readers' sensibilities. In other chapters, Crowther discusses the grim portrayal of the South in early film and the triumphs of Southern music. His literary essays include appreciations of William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Elizabeth Spencer, and Wendell Berry, and a biting lampoon of exhibitionist memoirs. Among the Southerners Crowther profiles with pride are the art historian and Museum of Modern Art curator Kirk Varnedoe; the great, cursed baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson; the curmudgeonly realist H. L. Mencken; and the singer Dolly Parton, whose candid artifice inspires the author's litmus test for Southern authenticity.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Southern Literary Studies

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

Hal Crowther tells us that as a fourteen-year-old he went to sleep each night with an autographed baseball under his pillow and a copy of The Vintage Mencken close by. Clearly both exposures took. He writes literary and cultural commentary with a verve that makes...

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The Tao of Dixie: A Stubborn People

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pp. 1-5

A foreigner from Scotland or California will visit a large Southern city—usually Atlanta—and complain that he could never find the South of song and story. Just another Minneapolis, as far as he could see, with the heat turned up and a few magnolias. Maybe our visitor...

I. Words and Music: But We Sure Can Sing

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pp. 7-27

The Word

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pp. 9-29

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The Shoes of a Giant

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pp. 11-15

On a curb that flanks the parking lot of the Renaissance Hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, the unwitting tourist confronts an enormous pair of tortured-looking shoes. At first glance they look like something cast o≠ by a derelict reduced to negotiating the mean...

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Landmarks: The Three Graces

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pp. 16-21

In Elizabeth Spencer’s short story “A Southern Landscape,” an enormous antebellum ruin called Windsor is locally famous—in fictional Port Claiborne, Mississippi—because its cupola was once so high you could see it from the river, and pilot Mark Twain was reputed to have...

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First Person Singular: A Boy and His Dog

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pp. 22-26

Last week a rambling dinner conversation turned to the gross excesses of the flourishing memoir industry. The worst thing I could document was a reading at the PEN-Faulkner dinner in Washington by the noted incest author Katharine Harrison, whose work in progress...

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Oral Misery: The Columbus Syndrome

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pp. 27-30

Americans never turn sentimental about something of real value— wilderness, wild animals, small towns, baseball, mountain music, our privacy—until the way we live and do business has pressed it to the edge of extinction. Then we administer a≠ectionate last rites to...

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"Son of a Preacher Man: Marshall Frady (1940–2004)

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pp. 31-38

I never met Marshall Frady, though we knew so many of the same people it seems uncanny that I missed him. We even survived the same apprenticeship as writers, among the hopeful anonymous at Time-Life and Post-Newsweek. I can imagine what he went through...

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The Other Appetite: The Literature of Lust

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pp. 39-45

“There are two fundamental urges in nature: the desire to eat and the desire to reproduce one’s kind. Which of these two impulses is the stronger depends somewhat on the individual and somewhat on the circumstances surrounding the individual—that is, it is apt to...

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Faulkner and the Mosquitoes

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pp. 46-52

The ridicule of literary theorists is a poor diversion, roughly as challenging—and as appetizing—as shooting box turtles with a machine gun. These scarcely moving targets, stumbling under their heavy burdens of calcified jargon and unjustified self-regard, have been...

The Song

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pp. 53-73

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Gather at the River: The O Brotherhood

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pp. 55-59

In Grundy, Virginia, where Ralph and Carter Stanley once played bluegrass on the roof of the concession stand at my wife’s uncle’s drive-in theater, Joel and Ethan Coen’s O Brother Where Art Thou? has been drawing customers rarely seen in the village, far less at the movies...

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Movies, Mules, and Music

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pp. 60-64

“What makes the South southern?” is a question that still provokes serious debate among Southerners. At one literary symposium, English professor Jerry Leath Mills of the University of North Carolina dismissed a cartload of leaden theory with the results of his own extensive...

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Nashville: Dolly and the Subterfugitives

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pp. 65-70

In his 1975 film Nashville—never praised and seldom mentioned in Nashville, Tennessee—Robert Altman scouted the borderlands between reality and fantasy in a city that’s become less a state capital than a state of mind. Among American dream markets only Hollywood...

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The Last Song of Father Banjo

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pp. 71-75

Tommy Thompson was from West Virginia and he bore a certain resemblance to a mountain, or at least to someone who’d just come down from the mountain after talking to The Boss. He wore the weather on his shoulders....

II. Spirits of the Place

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pp. 77-97

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The Last Autochthon: Listening to the Land

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pp. 79-83

Maybe John Barth wouldn’t have said it in Mississippi. Key West is an offshore principality where “Southernmost” appears on scores of business signs, but where living thirteen hundred miles south of the Mason-Dixon Line means no more than it means in Havana. Surrounded...

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A Man of the World

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pp. 84-88

In a country tribute to James Still’s longevity, one of his neighbors told him, “You’re the last possum up the tree.” The last of his generation in Knott County, Kentucky, the neighbor meant to say. But Still, who died in April a few weeks short of his ninety-fifth birthday, was...

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Among the True Believers

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pp. 89-93

Waco, Texas, is a quiet respectable town, a city of 100,000 with a well-endowed university, several art museums, a zoo, a famous collection of the manuscripts of the nineteenth-century English poet Robert Browning. It welcomes visitors with tourist attractions as wholesome...

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Storming Heaven

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pp. 94-98

The old boys don’t know what to make of Denise Giardina. When she announced her candidacy for governor of West Virginia, a bewildered Democratic functionary warned readers of one Charleston newspaper that there was “a darker quality” to her campaign, something...

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The Last Resort

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pp. 99-103

It’s a little after seven when I walk out on the balcony for my morning survey of the Gulf of Mexico. There are scattered clouds, a steady wind out of the northeast, and on the beach below me two street urchins, teenagers, doing what they so endearingly call “the wild...

III. Portrait from Memory: A Fine Disregard

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pp. 105-125

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A Prophet from Savannah

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pp. 107-118

In college, most of us are too self-conscious and too anxious about our own uncertain fortunes to make accurate judgments of our peers. We’re attracted to style without substance, often to individuals with neither if a deadly jump shot or a famous family is part of the package...

IV. Objections Sustained

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pp. 119-139

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A Farewell to Arms

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pp. 121-125

The rising sun is just clearing the ridge behind me, lighting up weeping cherry trees in peerless full bloom. A fresh breeze carries the dense sweet scent of wisteria down the terraces to the bench where I read my newspaper. So far I’m the only Sunday pilgrim in the Sarah P....

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The Old Dragons Sleep

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pp. 126-131

Through a harsh winter of saber-rattling anxiety, there was almost no good news for America except the final farewells of Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond, Jim Crow’s last prominent disciples, Carolina’s last living (barely) monuments to segregation and white supremacy....

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Who’s Your Daddy? Fathers of Us All

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pp. 132-137

On T-shirts and bumper stickers you don’t see if you live in a gated golf community, the slogan under the Confederate battle flag is “Heritage, not hate.” It’s a slogan I’ve been willing to accept, provisionally. The crusade against the Stars and Bars is one of the unexamined excesses...

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The Curse of Shoeless Joe

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pp. 138-142

At the end of the twentieth century, the major leagues had been all but abandoned by those who love baseball most. Good poets have written volumes explaining what we loved and why we loved it. Here, it’s enough to say that none of it lives in corporate skyboxes or domed stadiums...

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Sacred Art, Southern Fried: Harlots and Hellfire

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pp. 143-146

It’s not well known that I was once, for a very short run, an actual salaried art critic for a large northern newspaper. But it’s my reputation as an independent theologian that best qualifies me to comment on the paintings of the late Reverend McKendree Long. As a lapsed...

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Mencken and Me: Indiscreet Charms of the Bourgeoisie

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pp. 147-165

According to legend, Alexander the Great slept every night of his short life with two things under his pillow—his knife and his copy of The Iliad. As a boy of fourteen, already identified as a troubled adolescent, I slept with a baseball under my pillow—a ball autographed...

E-ISBN-13: 9780807152447
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807131008

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Southern Literary Studies

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- Southern States -- History and criticism
  • Southern States -- Intellectual life.
  • Southern States -- In literature.
  • Southern States -- Civilization.
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