- Southern Music, Photography, Art, Fiction, Foodways, and Poetry
This general issue is one of the most expansive The Southern Quarterly has published, with articles on Southern music, photography, art, fiction, foodways, and new archival records, plus two interviews—one featuring the work of the US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey and the other with Mississippi photographer Maude Schuyler Clay—and several stirring poems, including three by former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser.
Bruce Raeburn’s opening essay looks at the closing of New Orleans’s Storyville red-light district in November 1917 that has been variously “imagined and/or immortalized as a victory (or defeat) for local prudes; a diaspora generating memories of a lost age; or the unleashing the jazz furies on an unsuspecting America.” Raeburn tracks “the movements of the African American and Creole of color jazz musicians who worked in the [Storyville] District and departed New Orleans from 1902 through 1917 to discover why they made the choices they did.” His essay charts in great detail the activities of forty Storyville musicians, who relocated to cities such as Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, to see how the closing of the District influenced their travel plans, career choices, and economic well-being. Challenging the conventional exodus myth as “far too simplistic … and chronologically inaccurate,” and one that negatively influenced perceptions of Storyville, Raeburn concludes that several complex factors led to the nationwide dissemination of New Orleans jazz.
The next two essays turn to Eudora Welty’s politics and religion, repectively. Studying her well-known short story “The Whistle,” Jan Nordby Gretlund claims that Welty was shocked by the plight of Southern tomato growers in the late 1930s and argues that her story is best read as essential social criticism, an explicit warning against the economic exploitation fore-grounded [End Page 5] in her other fiction. Explicating the story’s symbolism, Gretlund finds that “the whistle itself is the audible ‘chain’ that keeps [Welty’s] characters in their poverty” and that references to the husband Jason’s breathing help to structure the narrative. Most intriguing, though, Gretlund unearths thematic connections between “The Whistle” and Hans Christian Andersen’s long story “The Snow Queen,” written decades before, seeing them as “parallel” texts. In the following essay, Nicholas Pruitt assesses Welty’s Delta Wedding (1946), Losing Battles (1970), and The Optimist’s Daughter (1972) to discern her religious affiliations and beliefs. Conceding that Welty provides rich details with cultural precision about “staid institutional religion’s” place in Southern society, Pruitt nonetheless argues that she critiqued “stereotypical representatives of local denominations” and subtly “provide[d] alternatives that reflected” a “holiness of life” in her novels. However, as he maintains, Welty did not dismiss religious practice or personal spirituality; instead, she provided substitutes to denominational religion that imparted a higher purpose to her characters’ lives by inverting the secular and the sacred—“family becomes sacred; organized religion secular.”
The next essay studies the reciprocal influences foodways have exerted on Southern culture. Investigating the history of restaurant segregation laws, Angela Jill Cooley claims that “Although white Southerners shrouded the larger political objectives of this race-based taboo within the rhetoric of racial stereotype, the primary reason that whites condemned the act of interracial eating was to subordinate African Americans in consumer culture.” Communicating this prohibition through a series of verbal and nonverbal cues, the white establishment, according to Cooley, regulated blacks eating with whites. While this racial taboo caused black Southerners shame and humiliation, they courageously coped with a Jim Crow food culture by relying on family and community, particularly the culinary skills developed by African American cooks, male and female. As Cooley points out, however, entrepreneurs often took advantage of these segregated practices by operating black cafés which contributed to economic success and community building in black neighborhoods.
Also reading Toni Morrison’s third novel, Song of Solomon, within the context of the civil rights movement, Laura Dubek holds that the novel is best interpreted as Morrison’s response to Solomon Burke’s call in his 1968 rendition of “I Wish I Knew (How it Would Feel to be Free).” While Burke, a soul singer with gospel roots, never...