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  • Front Porch
  • Jocelyn R. Neal, Editor

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In this issue’s South Polls, we witness the transformation of southern legislatures over the last half-century. “Radical members of the first legislature after the war, South Carolina,” ca. 1876, copyright Mercer Brown, Library of Congress.

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What makes the South a region distinct from its surroundings, and what makes it tick? These sorts of questions are at the heart of Southern Studies, an enterprise unbounded by academic discipline and only debatably bounded by geography. For this issue of Southern Cultures, we cast a wide net and pulled together articles, essays, poetry, and photographs that were not constrained by an editor’s choice of theme or topic, but rather that range across the scope of the current discourse on the South, what it is and how it works. Perhaps it is unsurprising that, either because of or in spite of this approach, the writing in this issue delves into the blues, train wrecks, disasters morphing into ghost stories, ghastly institutions for the mentally ill, coal mines in Appalachia, colorful politics, and, of course, food and booze: boiled cabbage rolls, pickles with roast beef sandwiches, and whiskey. New South or not, the substance of the conversation appears to be old, familiar territory. The Gothic South rears up in the tales of death, drunkenness, stoicism, perseverance in the face of potential despair, and politics within politics.

But those subjects serve at best as a preamble to the real insight of this issue: the people at the heart of these stories, their relationships, and the lines of demarcation within and among them—old and young, parent and child, white and black, male and female, northerner and southerner. It is within these character sketches and relationships, revealed amidst the chatter of everyday life, lunch breaks and midnight conversations, that we might enrich our understanding of the South.

The most poignant writing here engages with the relationships between parents and children. “Rewriting Elizabeth: A Life Lost (and Found) in the Annals of Bryce Mental Hospital,” by Lindsay Byron, is almost unbearable in its account of a non-southerner mother wrenched from her children and ultimately destroyed by an involuntary commitment to an asylum. In novels ranging from Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain to Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone or Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, it is the scenes of mothers torn from children on which my friends and I ruminate in water-cooler conversations; here is an account more heartbreaking yet. Donna Tolley Corriher’s account of her grandmother Maggie’s cabbage rolls gives us some insight into the pragmatism of a young wife with eight children to feed, while the synchronicity of her impoverished coal camp existence and her viewing of Elvis Presley on television reminds us of how the South compresses time, the glitz of modernity overlaid with an isolated and poverty-riddled existence of yesteryear.

Natalie Minik’s photographs—mesmerizing and inviting in their everyday-settings—call to mind the perspective of the children in these essays; in her work, are they bored? Pensive? Contemplative? In many, the subject’s position is framed by the South’s weather: blankets in the stadium, sweat and a cold drink under the sun. These are the same children of the South who might, in four decades, reminisce fondly, like Todd Boss in his “Apple Slices,” about eating lunch while on break with his dad’s construction crew. [End Page 2]

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Bill Koon on strong drink: “As bizarre as the tiff might sound to New Yorkers, it’s not so strange to old southerners like me. My own Palmetto State has had its share of peculiar booze laws. We have been committed to selling and drinking alcohol since we got statehood, but single servings were forbidden for the first half of my life—the length of which I’ll keep to myself.”

From An Illustrated Guide to Cocktails, by Elizabeth Graeber. © 2013 by Elizabeth Graeber and Orr Shtuhl. Reprinted with permission from Elizabeth Graeber (

The bonds and tensions that arise in culturally prescribed gender roles, especially between spouses, is...


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