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Southern Cultures 7.3 (2001) 1-2

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Letters to the Editors

Not Your Oxford American

IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK=Each year we marshal the troops for another subscription drive in order to bring Southern Cultures to a larger audience, and often during these efforts we encounter the war stories of subscribers who have been burned before when they've tried out a new read. Ed Talley from Arkansas wrote just after signing up with us that Southern Cultures "had better not be like The Oxford American. When it came time to renew, the address was some place in Beverly Hills. Not in Dixie!" For good measure, he then added that "John Grisham [famed author and major Oxford American underwriter] sold out the South just like Hillary and Bill Clinton did!" We won't go nearly that far in our assessment of Mr. Grisham (or of The Oxford American, which we like), but we do confess to having a dust jacket photo of the novelist hanging in our office. Under his friendly visage, someone has penned a few words: "Wanted, for bankrolling the competition."

Loyal readers of Southern Cultures have discovered by now at least three important points that separate us from many of the other southern publications around. The first, judging from your responses by mail, is that our essays endure and provoke new thought long after the writing initially sees print. For example, we publish below Richard Rankin's take on J. Bill Berry's "The Southern Autobiographical Impulse," which appeared a year and a half ago in our special five-year anniversary issue. The second point is that when it comes time to renew, you'll notice that the address is Chapel Hill, which is in North Carolina, and not Beverly Hills, which is, well, not in Dixie.

And the third thing that separates Southern Cultures from other southern publications? As you'll notice below, John Shelton Reed will always be able to find a line in this periodical to get in a last kick or two before they haul him away. [End Page 1]

"I thoroughly enjoyed J. Bill Berry's 'The Southern Autobiographical Impulse.' Reading Berry's article inspired me to reread Lewis P. Simpson's 1994 essay on why there are so few southern autobiographies, 'A Fable of White and Black: Jefferson, Madison, Tate.' Simpson believes that the conventional autobiographical impulse was suppressed in the South. According to Simpson, Allen Tate's embarrassing knowledge of an ancestor's miscegenation and the existence of mixed-blood relatives kept him from writing his autobiography. Simpson's essay was written before dna testing confirmed Thomas Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings. [For further discussion of Jefferson and Hemings, see the Summer 1998 issue's 'Race, Sex, and Reputation: Thomas Jefferson and the Sally Hemings Story,' by Robert S. McDonald.] Can anyone imagine how Jefferson could have written a candid autobiography? Berry touches lightly on this issue, noting that any antebellum southerner who was considering an autobiography had to face the reality that his family 'all too often . . . included sons of sable hue.' The reason that many prominent antebellum slave owners did not write autobiographies was terribly personal. Their private lives had to remain secret and unrecorded because of affairs with slave mistresses that produced children."

Richard Rankin
Queens College
(Charlotte, North Carolina)

"Comrades: Well-raised southerners know when a thank-you note is called for, and this is obviously one of those times. Although reading our last issue was rather like attending my own funeral, I'm grateful to you all for putting it together, to my friends who wrote those generous assessments, and to our readers for not writing en masse to complain about Southern Cultures's devoting so much space to the life, work, and physiognomy of one of its editors. I suspect that only my mother cares that much about me (and she might be jiving, too), but I confess that I'm glad you ignored me when I asked you not to do it. Now, about all those typos. . . ."

John Shelton Reed

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