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This volume aims to show how southerners have faced their post and constructed a self. The essays in this volume explore the different personal narratives and strategies southern authors have employed to channel the autobiographical impulse and give artistic expression to their anxieties, traumas and revelations, as well as their relationship with the region. With the discussion of different types of memoirs, this volume reflects not only the transformation that this sub-genre has undergone since the 1990s boom but also its flexibility as a popular form of life-writing.

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CONSTRUCTING THE SELF:ESSAYS ON SOUTHERN LIFE-WRITING

Biblioteca Javier Coy d’estudis nord-americans

http://puv.uv.es/bibliotecajaviercoydestudisnordamericans.htmlhttp://bibliotecajaviercoy.com

 

Directora

Carme Manuel

CONSTRUCTING THE SELF:ESSAYS ON SOUTHERN LIFE-WRITING

Carmen Rueda-Ramos and Susana Jiménez Placer, eds.

Biblioteca Javier Coy d’estudis nord-americansUniversitat de València

Carmen Rueda-Ramos and Susana Jiménez Placer, eds. Constructing the Self: Essays on Southern Life-Writing

La preparación y publicación de este libro han sido posibles gracias a la financiación del Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (MEC) (proyecto FFI2013-44747-P)

1ª edición de 2017

Reservados todos los derechos

Prohibida su reproducción total o parcial

ISBN: 978-84-9134-248-9

 

Ilustración de la cubierta: Jorge Orrico

Diseño de la cubierta: Celso Hernández de la Figuera

Publicacions de la Universitat de València

http://puv.uv.es

[email protected]

Contents

INTRODUCTIONThe Enduring Impulse to Tell about the Self and the SouthCarmen Rueda-Ramos and Susana Jiménez Placer

PART 1SUBVERSIVE (RE)CREATIONS OF THE SELF—PAST AND PRESENT

‘My Story Is Better Than Yours’: The Changing Politics of and Motives for Composing Southern African American Life NarrativesTrudier Harris

Working a Lever: Booker T. Washington’s Autobiographies as Tools for Social ChangeRobert H. Brinkmeyer, Jr

PART 2THE LEGACY OF RACE:RECONCILING SELVES

‘I Knew Then Who I Was’: Memory, Narrative, and Sense of Self in Autobiographies of the Jim Crow SouthJennifer Ritterhouse

Daily Encounters: The Coming of Age of Melton A. McLaurinElizabeth Hayes Turner

Life Writing in Poetry and Prose: Natasha Tretheway’s Personal and National RevelationsPearl McHaney

Southern Autobiography Around the Table of Brotherhood: A Dream Deferred, a Dream Deceased, a Dream Destroyed, a Dream Dismissed?Ineke Bockting

PART 3AUTHORS,NARRATORS AND FICTIONALIZED SELVES

Memoirs’ Characters: Writer, Narrator, ProtagonistPeggy Whitman Prenshaw

Faulkner and Autobiography in FictionThomas L. McHaney

‘A Someone Somewhere’: Locating Richard Ford’s Southern Self in his Fiction and Non-FictionGérald Préher

Self-Fashioning and Philippe Labro’s ‘Southern Memoir’The Foreign Student Nahem Yousaf

PART 4TRANSGRESSORS AND PERFORMERS OF SELF

Appalachian Women’s Autobiographies from the Margins: Crossing the Boundaries of the GenreCarmen Rueda-Ramos

‘Pariahs for Flattering Reasons’: Confessions of Failed Southern Ladies on the Black HelpSusana Jiménez Placer

‘A Tarnished Lady?’: Tallulah Bankhead’s Southern Performance in HollywoodBeata Zawadka

Grief and Humor: Appalachian Writers Using Autobiography to Find a Way HomeSandra L. Ballard

PART 5SITES FOR SELF-EXPLORATION:TRAVEL AND ILLNESS NARRATIVES

The Self Elsewhere: Alice Walker’s Identity in the Wider WorldJesús Varela-Zapata

Reflecting on the Region, Revisioning the Self: John Gould Fletcher’s Song of His Life and Its Transatlantic ContextWaldemar Zacharasiewicz

The Physicality of Reminiscence: The Stimuli of the South in Bobbie Ann Mason’sClear Springs: A Memoir Candela Delgado Marín

Coming to the End: The Perception of Mortality in the Autobiographical Writings of Reynolds Price and Tim McLaurinMarcel Arbeit

Contributors

To Constante González Groba,passionate fellow southernist,great teacher, mentor and dear friend

Acknowledgments

Susana Jiménez Placer feels especially indebted to the members of the Southern Studies Forum for their tireless contribution to the dissemination of southern studies and their readiness to share their insightful ideas in usually academic, but always friendly, occasions. She would also like to express her gratitude to the Competitive Reference Research Group “Discourse and Identity” (GRC2015/002 GI-1924, Xunta de Galicia) at the University of Santiago de Compostela, and to her colleagues in the Department of English and German Philology for their inexhaustible encouragement and disposition to help.

Carmen Rueda-Ramos is deeply grateful to her colleagues at the University of Santiago de Compostela, where she has always been welcomed and her ideas have found an appreciative response. Her heartfelt appreciation goes to Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, particularly her friends Sandy Ballard and Katherine Ledford, for granting her access to the university’s library and the special collections, as well as for all the great moments in the mountains. An important part of the research for this project on life-writing was carried out at ASU. Special thanks are also extended to Catherine Dexter for her careful reading of some sections of the manuscript.

Finally, we would like to thank the Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (MEC) for funding (FFI2013-44747-P) this study.

Introduction

The Enduring Impulse to Tell about the Self and the South

Carmen Rueda-Ramos and Susana Jiménez Placer

Sincerely and earnestly hoping that this little book may do something toward throwing light on the American slave system, and hastening the glad day of deliverance to the millions of my brethren in bonds—faithfully relying upon the power of truth, love, and justice, for success in my humble efforts—and solemnly pledging my self anew to the sacred cause,—I subscribe myself, FREDERICK DOUGLASS.

—Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. Written by Himself (1845)

I think I have always known about my memory: I know when it is to be trusted and when some dream or fantasy entered on the life, and the dream, the need of dream, led to distortion of what happened.

—Lillian Hellman, Pentimento (1973)

In The Memoir and the Memoirist: Reading and Writing Personal Narrative (2007), American critic and memoirist Thomas Larson makes the following claim: “Despite the occasional female author, autobiography is a male genre” (12). After the initial shock, one is almost tempted to add—not without a heavy dose of irony, of course—the adjective white to his statement. In his brief overview of the history of the genre, citing Henry Adams’s Education of Henry Adams, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden as classics that prove his point, Larson wipes out southern authors’ rich contribution to American autobiography by saying that it would be the quintessential American genre “were the form widely practiced. But it hasn’t been” (11). One wonders how could Larson possibly overlook and dismiss so easily the autobiographies and memoirs penned by southern African Americans and women, two historically oppressed groups who found precisely in the different forms of life-writing the means to represent themselves. Larson ignores the autobiographical impulse in the South that has produced countless letters, diaries, slave narratives, autobiographies and memoirs written by black and white southerners in general, and by southern women in particular. Worst of all, he disregards the right of authors like Frederick Douglass to form part of the select group of canonical autobiographers1 in the US, let alone acknowledge the literary relevance of writers like Lillian Hellman, who happened to be more than an “occasional female author” of memoirs. Wondering, therefore, if such an autobiographical impulse exists among southerners is not exactly the right question to ask, for the urge and the tradition to tell personal narratives certainly have been there for a long time.

What moves southern writers to tell their life stories? An obsession with the region’s past, forever doomed to explore it and interpret it in the present time, or Fred Hobson’s famed “southern rage to explain”? Most likely, both account for the urgent need to look back and dig into the recesses of memory to interrogate their past and recapture small details, the precise moments and events that were vital in shaping them or that explained who and what they really were. Whether the autobiographical impulse springs from the need to confess or justify oneself, win converts to the Abolitionist movement or narrate one’s own conversion, southern writers have felt the need to face the past, with all its secrets and burdens, and reveal their inner selves. Although the importance of autobiography in southern writing is undeniable, black and white writers have responded differently to that impulse. In canonical autobiographies like Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, the impetus is to tell the story of a black man who frees himself from bondage to construct a new identity as a free man, a self-made man—like iconic Benjamin Franklin in his famous autobiography—but who was born a slave. Autobiographies like An Unfinished Woman or Pentimento, however, reveal the story of a woman who identifies with the dispossessed and participates in the Civil Rights movement. One thing both Frederick Douglass and Lillian Hellman have in common is that they each wrote not one but four memoirs. They both embody the autobiographical impulse to tell about the self and the South at different historical time periods, but from two different approaches. Douglass uses his autobiography to create himself “anew” as a free man, as a human being; and Lillian Hellman—with her deliberate “distortion of what happened” in Pentimento—represents what Carl Rollyson calls an “imaginative use of the autobiographical form” and therefore “a form of autobiographical fiction” (422). To put it differently, while Frederick Douglass’s slave narrative is an example of the use of autobiography as a form of self-creation, Lillian Hellman’s memoir epitomizes the use of autobiography as a form of creation or recreation, that is, a fabrication that combines autobiography with elements of fiction. Although these two impulses can be found in many southern autobiographical writings, it is true that, as Bill J. Berry notes in his Introduction to Located Lives: Place and Idea in Southern Autobiography (1990), Douglass’s Narrative is at “the roots of a southern autobiographical tradition” (xiii).

The issue of the southern autobiographical tradition is paradoxical, as it is simultaneously made up of the different impulses that have propelled it and the almost absolute absence of an impulse. In his essay “Autobiographical Traditions Black and White” in Located Lives, James Olney claims that while black writers established a strong autobiographical tradition with both slave narratives and fictional autobiography, white writers (particularly male) lack such a tradition but have channeled their autobiographical impulse through fiction. However, the similarities between blacks’ and women’s autobiographies, Olney suggests, prompt speculation that they might indeed be part of the same tradition:

I wonder if it might not be that women who write consciously and intentionally as women, black writers who write consciously and intentionally as members of a minority (and very few do not), would be included as adopting a kind of paradigmatic form that would make their individual autobiographies sound very much alike, thus establishing a generic tale and a tradition of autobiography. This is only speculation, however, and it is as such that I offer it. (“Autobiographical Traditions” 76)

In fact, the autobiographical impulse that both black and women writers in the South share is characterized by their “double-voiced discourse” and their joint struggle to make their personal stories and voices heard in what had previously been a white male-dominated literary genre. 2 This struggle also found correspondence in the demands of feminists and minorities with their emphasis on equity and social change. Few southern male white writers felt the impulse to write autobiographies, with the exception of Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, John Gould Fletcher, and William Alexander Percy, for example. It wasn’t until the late 1960s—with Willie Morris’s North Toward Home (1967)—and the 1970s that several male white authors started to write memoirs and deal with issues related to family, race, poverty and guilt in them—for example, Andrew Lytle’s A Wake for the Living: A Family Chronicle (1973), Will Campbell’s Brother to a Dragonfly (1977), and Harry Crews’s A Childhood: The Biography of a Place (1978), and later Melton McLaurin’s Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South (1987). In recent years, more male white writers have joined the body of southern life-writing, though the genre still shows an overwhelming majority of autobiographies and different kinds of memoirs written by southern African Americans and women writers.

Bill J. Berry, noted scholar and the editor of Home Ground: Southern Autobiography (1991), has also written about the autobiographical impulse of southerners. In his entry on “Autobiographical Impulse,” printed first in Southern Cultures (2000) and later included in Joseph M. Flora and Lucinda H. MacKethan’s The Companion to Southern Literature (2002), he traces its origins and notes its differences with the general American autobiographical impulse, more concerned with the exaltation of the individual than with the celebration of community, as in the case of southern autobiography, however tragic and painful this aspect might have been historically. “Of the existence of an impulse,” according to Berry, “there can be little doubt. It helps explain the meandering, anecdotal style of southern conversation. It’s central to the southern habit of storytelling” (78). Although Berry acknowledges that autobiography may well be the dominant form of expression in American literature, he also suggests that southern autobiography represents what one might call, for better or worse, the Mason-Dixon version of a national model of personal narrative. For Berry, “southern personal narrative is a conversation, often heated, within the self, between the self and the community, between the South and the country, and with those outsiders within, the other race” (79).

Other scholars have also discussed the autobiographical urge in southern writers. “This impulse,” as Lewis P. Simpson argues in Berry’s Home Ground, “reveals itself in more or less incidental ways in the case of white southern writers,” who are less prone to “formal autobiography” (65) but find in novels “the most distinguished fulfillment of the impulse to autobiography” (71). For Simpson, the main reason for this is the inability of authors like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Allen Tate “to reconcile the private and the public significance” of their lives and family history, in which slaves were—though not officially recognized as such—part of the family. Simpson explores “the complex autobiographical fable” of Southern Renaissance writers in his 1994 study The Fable of the Southern Writer (xv), to uncover the autobiographical motive so “compellingly present” in the novels of Faulkner, Madox Roberts, Tate, Warren and Percy. In his entry on “Autobiography” included in The Companion to Southern Literature, Timothy Dow Adams concludes that

James Olney may be right in suggesting that there is no southern white autobiographical tradition in the sense that there are no major autobiographies from which all others are derived, no major texts that all southern autobiographers must take into account—in short, no autobiographical equivalent to Faulkner. (84)

Rather than pondering the different autobiographical traditions among black and white writers, William L. Andrews is more interested in exploring what four black and white southern authors from the Mississippi Delta have in common. In his essay “In Search of a Common Identity: The Self and the South in Four Mississippi Autobiographies,” Andrews discusses William Alexander Percy’s Lanterns on the Levee (1941), Richard Wright’s Black Boy (1945), Willie Morris’s North Toward Home (1967), and Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi (1968) in order to find a “common identity” among them. Andrews notes that “[e]ach autobiographer conceived of his or her route to achieved selfhood differently” though “[n]one of these routes can afford to bypass the racial order” (43) and solve the “unresolved conflict with the self over one’s attitude toward” the other (42).

Apart from the debate over the different traditions, other perspectives have enriched the discussion of southern autobiography, particularly in the 1990s, with the renewed interest in memoirs and the narrative of the self. Fred Hobson’s seminal work But Now I See: The White Southern Racial Conversion Narrative (1999) presents the autobiographies and memoirs of a large group of white southerners who wrote their personal stories of enlightenment in the form of “racial conversion narratives” in a conscious effort to seek redemption for their racist past during segregation. Their “racial repentance” (2) takes place through confession and after a personal transformation, showing their journey from the darkness of sin to the light and joy the racially born-again white southerner experiences. In these stories of “secular salvation,” so similar to religious conversion as Hobson argues, “[t]he impulse is the same—to witness, to testify” (4) and to offer “a public confession of racial sins” (5). He takes his assumption one step further when he suggests that the white racial conversion narratives of Lillian Smith, Katherine Du Pre Lumpkin, James McBride Dabbs, Pat Waters, Willie Morris and many others are also slave narratives, like that of Frederick Douglass, or “freedom narratives.” “That is,” Hobson explains, “these writers too escape a kind of bondage, flee from the slavery of a closed society, of racial prejudice and restriction, into the liberty of free association, free expression, brotherhood, sisterhood—and freedom from racial guilt” (5). When referring to Lewis P. Simpson’s notion of “the autobiographical impulse” in southern writers, Hobson acknowledges that the canonical figures of the Southern Renaissance did have “the impulse to address race in personal terms . . . but not the desire, and perhaps not the courage, to confront race in personal and autobiographical, not to mention confessional, terms” (13-14). However, as Hobson claims, other less prominent white figures driven by racial guilt, like William Alexander Percy and Ben Robertson, started to address race autobiographically in the early 1940s.

While the autobiographical impulse of southern women writers had already been present in many of the slave narratives, letters and diaries they wrote in the antebellum and the bellum period, with Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) and Mary Boykin Chestnut’s A Diary from Dixie (1905) as classic examples, their works started to receive scholarly attention only in the 1990s.3 Lucinda MacKethan starts Daughters of Time: Creating Woman’s Voice in Southern Story (1990) by discussing in Chapter One the letters of Catherine Hammond, a plantation wife, and Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents. In Chapter Two, she reviews the autobiographies of Ellen Glasgow, Zora Neale Hurston and Eudora Welty as “prodigal daughters” who “journeyed away from home and then returned” and whose autobiographies “were conceived and enacted as a means to explore, as well as to complete, the writer’s definition of herself as a writer” (39). Though the following list doesn’t claim to be exhaustive, new approaches to slave narratives and bellum diaries and memoirs published in the 1990s are worth mentioning. Frances Smith Foster’s Written by Herself: Literary Production by African American Women, 1746–1892 (1993) is an example, which expanded on her previous work entitled Witnessing Slavery: The Development of Ante-bellum Slave Narratives (1979). Likewise, Jennifer Fleischner’s Mastering Slavery: Memory, Family and Identity in Women’s Slave Narratives (1996) provides one more perspective on the same topic. Worth mentioning also is Michael O’Brien’s An Evening When Alone: Four Journals of Single Women in the South, 1827-67 (1993), as well as Walter Sullivan’s The War the Women Lived: Female Voices from the Confederate South (1995), which offers a selection of twenty-three Confederate women’s diaries and memoirs, including Mary Chestnut, Cornelia Peake McDonald, Sarah Morgan and Belle Boyd, among others.

Studies that included an increasing multiplicity of southern female voices appeared in the 1990s. Apart from Elizabeth Fox-Genovese’s 1990 essay, included in Berry’s Located Lives, “Between Individualism and Community: Autobiographies of Southern Women” on the autobiographies of black and white southern women, William Brantley’s Feminine Sense in Southern Memoir (1993) is the first book-length study that discusses the autobiographical works of southern women writers. His volume deals with the autobiographies of Lillian Smith, Ellen Glasgow, Eudora Welty, Lillian Hellman, Katherine Anne Porter, and Zora Neale Hurston. The will to modify errors and omissions in some of the articles in Located Lives is what propels Brantley’s volume on southern women writers’ life narratives. Brantley’s aim with this book is not only “to deprovincialize the Southern Renaissance—to redefine it without abstract a priori conditions for what constitutes ‘southernness’” but also “to show how and why this body of writing can be seen as more than a mere foil for their ‘creative’ work” (xi). Brantley notes that “[t]here is a real need, however, to look carefully at the intellectual and autobiographical prose of southern women writers” and to pay attention to the other Souths—the black South and the female South—long excluded from the canon of southern literature traditionally seen as white and male (14). Proof of the diversity of the autobiographical impulse in the South is James H. Watkins’ anthology entitled Southern Selves: From Mark Twain and Eudora Welty to Maya Angelou and Kaye Gibbons, A Collection of Autobiographical Writings (1998), in which he brings together excerpts from thirty-one southern authors, including men and women, black and white, as well as a few Appalachian writers. Though narrower in scope than Brantley’s study, Darlene O’Dell’s volume Sites of Southern Memory: The Autobiographies of Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin, Lillian Smith, and Pauli Murray (2001) offers also racial diversity in her selection of southern women and their autobiographies. O’Dell views the memoirs and autobiographies selected as “sites of personal memory, places where the authors unearth the meanings of their culture’s symbols and rituals” (3), and as “site[s] of regional memory, like the monuments and memorials to Lost Cause memory and like the southern body as a place where regional identity is contested” (6). The autobiographies of Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin and Lillian Smith, along with that of Belle Kearney, are also explored in Jeanne Perreault’s essay, “Southern White Women’s Autobiographies: Social Equality and Social Change” (2008). Perreault focuses on “how each of these writers uses the issue of ‘social inequality,’” which is based on race (32).

The History of Southern Women’s Literature (2002), edited by Carolyn Perry and Mary Louise Weaks, with its eighty-six essays by different prestigious scholars, traces the evolution and development of southern women writers, both black and white. It includes a fair number of essays on diaries, slave narratives and letters written in the antebellum and bellum period, as well as specific essays focusing on Harriet Jacobs and Mary Chestnut. Apart from several separate essays on some of the most prominent women writers who penned autobiographies, there are two relevant essays that focus exclusively on self-representation in the Renaissance period and in the contemporary South, respectively. Fred Hobson’s essay on “Southern Women’s Autobiography” points out how odd it is that neither Evelyn Scott’s Background in Tennessee (1937) nor Ellen Glasgow’s The Woman Within (1954) addressed race “with any honesty” (270). But he focuses mostly on racial conversion narratives and on white writers who wrote their autobiographies from the 1940s onwards—Lillian Smith, Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin, Anne Braden, Sarah Patton Boyle—and on African American women writers like Pauli Murray, Maya Angelou, and Anne Moody. He also briefly lists other remarkable autobiographies and memoirs written by women from the 1970s on that centered around race, gender, sexuality, class and other issues. James H. Watkins in “Contemporary Autobiography and Memoir” focuses on ethnic and class diversity, the impact of feminism on memoirs and the constant flow of personal narratives written in the 1980s and particularly the 1990s, “with women as the dominant voice in southern life writing” (454). This outpouring of self-writing also coincided with “a virtual explosion in theoretical and critical approaches to selfrepresentation—with consequent implications for the ways in which life writing by southern women was produced and received” (448).

In recent times, some noted historians have found in southern autobiography a fertile ground to explore the region’s identity and history. Jennifer Ritterhouse’s fascinating study Growing Up Jim Crow (2006) uses memoirs to show what she calls “the ‘etiquette’ of race relations” in the segregated South and how black and white children gradually learned its secret codes and “the racial roles they were expected to play” (2). In Closer to Truth Than Any Fact: Memoir, Memory, and Jim Crow (2008), Jennifer Jensen Wallach claims that “[t]here are certain aspects of historical reality that can best be captured by artfully wrought literary memoirs. Skillful autobiographers are uniquely equipped to describe the entire universe as it appeared from an acknowledged perspective” (4). Wallach uses the memoirs of Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Willie Morris, Lillian Smith, and William Alexander Percy as valuable sources to understand the history of the South during the Jim Crow era. The same intersection of history and literature is what can be found in John C. Inscoe’s volume Writing the South Through the Self: Explorations in Southern Autobiography (2011). Inscoe expresses his “firm belief that autobiography and memoir are history at its most humanistic” (15). This book, which evolved from a course Inscoe taught for a number of years, as he explains in the Preface, has some unique qualities worth pointing out. This is the first book-length study that includes a whole chapter on Appalachian autobiography by both men and women. Equally important is the inclusion of a final Coda in which Inscoe provides an interesting overview of autobiographies by Native Americans—mostly Cherokee/Appalachians—Asians, and Latinos. Among them one can find Marilou Awiakta, Lisa Alther, Koji Ariyoshi and Judith Ortiz Cofer, to name a few. Inscoe’s volume obviously includes discussions of other more classic autobiographies—William Styron, Erskine Caldwell, Lillian Smith, Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin, for instance. But the final sections of the book—with their rich variety of life stories—show the reality of a multicultural and multiethnic South that has already moved beyond the traditional black and white binary.

Two more important studies on southern autobiography appeared in 2011. Peggy Whitman Prenshaw’s award-winning volume Composing Selves: Southern Women and Autobiography truly is an exceptional contribution to the study of southern life-writing by women. She focuses on the autobiographies and memoirs of eighteen women who grew up in the South in the period between 1861 and the 1930s, which she calls the “late southern Victorian” period (5). Her book covers the autobiographical texts of well-known women writers (like Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin, Lillian Smith, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Zora Neale Hurston, Ellen Glasgow, Eudora Welty, Elizabeth Spencer, and Ellen Douglas) but she also examines the writings of what Prenshaw calls “wifehood narratives” (Mary Hamilton and Agnes Grinstead Anderson) which, in a way, function as “the biographies of husbands” (96). Furthermore, she includes the life writing of four southern women who were actively involved in politics (like Virginia Foster Durr and Mary Craig Kimbrough Sinclair). On the other hand, in Radical Spiritual Motherhood: Autobiography and Empowerment in Nineteenth-Century African American Women, Rosette R. Haynes offers a very different approach to southern women’s life-writing. She focuses her study on the autobiographies of five itinerant nineteenth-century African American preachers (Jarena Lee, Zilpha Elaw, Julia Foote, Amanda Smith, and Rebecca Jackson). These traveling radical mothers seek both spiritual and bodily freedom, and these aspects connect them, in Haynes’ view, to the slave narratives of authors like Harriet Jacobs, Mary Prince, and Sojourner Truth. Therefore, Haynes analyzes those spiritual autobiographies “to explore the links between the treatment of sexuality and the body in the texts of enslaved and free women” (2). She also includes a final chapter on Pauli Murray, who became a twentieth-century Episcopalian priest, and her 1956 autobiography Proud Shoes to show the continuity of earlier radical spiritual foremothers and their autobiographical texts.

Studies on autobiography and self-presentation have taken a new direction with the publication of different edited collections on the correspondence of literary women. Two outstanding examples are Pamela Matthews’s Perfect Companionship: Ellen Glasgow’s Selected Correspondence with Women (2005) and Suzanne Marrs’s What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell (2011). In “Letter-Writing, Authorship, and Southern Women Modernists,” included in The Oxford Handbook of the Literature of the U.S. South (2016), Will Brantley examines four edited collections of letters which include The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald (1979); Letters of Katherine Anne Porter, edited by Isabel Bayley (1990); How Am I to Be Heard? Letters of Lillian Smith, edited by Margaret Rose Gladney (1993); and Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters, edited by Carla Kaplan (2003). In his groundbreaking essay, Brantley shows that letters “are a revelatory mode of self-writing . . . because they can provide a sense of immediacy often missing in autobiography” (345). Because of the episodic nature of letters, Brantley writes, and despite changes of self over time, “for a reader [they] may be as true to the writer’s lived experience as the self-summation of the more formal autobiography” (345). Brantley, therefore, concludes that letters “are, as [Katherine Anne] Porter maintained, autobiography in a pure sense” (358).

Autobiography and the Self—Transforming a Life into a Text

The notion of autobiography as a form of self-writing and self-creation, rather than as a simple reproduction of a life, has had tremendous implications for the genre. In the Introduction to his 1980 volume, James Olney asked a few simple questions on this aspect: “What do we mean by the self, or himself (autos)? What do we mean by life (bios)? What significance do we impute to the act of writing (graphe)—what is the significance and the effect of transforming life, or a life, into a text?” (Autobiography 6). As Peggy Whitman Prenshaw remarks in her contribution to this volume, “autobiography is not a life. It is a text, a product of memory and imagination, the effort of one storyteller to fashion a coherent plot from the episodic events that make up a life.” In other words, it is a literary work of nonfiction, not a historical account of facts in a person’s life. The confluence and influence of feminist theory and postcolonial theory during the 1980s, with its emphasis on ethnic and minority literatures, enriched critical approaches to the genre and provided new impetus to the literary analysis of autobiographical works. Since then, an impressive number of studies on autobiography have explored how a life is transformed into a text which is mediated by issues of identity, gender, race, class, performance and the body.

The preeminence of the self and the boundaries between fact and fiction have been constant in studies on autobiography. James Olney discusses the issue in Metaphors of Self: The Meaning of Autobiography (1972) by presenting autobiography as one more example of the self, saying that “the self expresses itself by the metaphors it creates and projects, and we know it by those metaphors” (188). Other important autobiography theorists like Paul John Eakin have emphasized the fictive element present in autobiography and the absence of an absolute truth. Autobiography, for Eakin, is an act of self-creation and self-invention at the moment of writing. In Fictions in Autobiography: Studies in the Art of Self-Invention (1985), he claims that “autobiographical truth is not fixed but an evolving content in an intricate process of self-discovery and self-creation, and further, that the self that is at the center of all autobiographical narrative is necessarily a fictive structure” (3). Similarly, and in the context of self and development, Mark Freeman argues in Rewriting the Self: History, Memory, and Narrative (1993) that “the process of narrating the past has a markedly fictive dimension” (9), which points to the autobiographer’s inevitable distortion or interpretation of the past. In his analysis of the relationship between the self and the text, Timothy Dow Adams focuses on the fact that autobiographers are unreliable narrators and, as such, they may compose a self based on the image they want to project for the reader. In Telling Lies in Modern American Autobiography (1990), Adams argues that autobiography is paradoxical because it

possesses a peculiar kind of truth through narrative composed of the author’s metaphors of self that attempt to reconcile the individual events of a lifetime by using a combination of memory and imagination . . . all . . . rooted in what really happened, and judged both by the standards of truth and falsity and by the standards of success as an artistic creation. (3)

Among the different authors he analyses, he devotes entire chapters to discussing southerners like Lillian Hellman and Richard Wright as examples of authors who were accused of lying in their memoirs. The creative dimension of memory and its fictive component in self-constructions are the main focus of James Olney’s Memory and Narrative: The Weave of Life-Writing (1998). He also includes Richard Wright in Chapter Three.

Studies on autobiography including gender issues appeared in the 1980s. Mary G. Mason’s essay “The Other Voice: Autobiographies of Women Writers” in James Olney’s Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical (1980) is the only one in the entire volume that discusses women’s contribution to the autobiographical genre. Her work, however, paved the way for lengthier studies in subsequent years. Early attempts to establish a distinct female tradition of autobiography can be seen, for example, in Estelle Jelinek’s The Tradition of Women’s Autobiography (1986), in which she undertakes a historical overview of women’s autobiography in England and America and includes Lillian Hellman as part of that female tradition she views as “different” (13) from the male one. Bella Brodzki and Celeste Schenk’s volume Lifelines: Theorizing Women’s Autobiography (1988) constitutes also an attempt to introduce women’s autobiographical texts into the canon, whereas Sidonie Smith’s A Poetics of Women’s Autobiography: Marginality and the Fictions of Self-Representation (1987) places emphasis on the presence of fiction in women’s autobiographies. Carolyn Heilbrun also defines her popular volume Writing a Woman’s Life (1988) as a “feminist undertaking” (18) that deliberately seeks to be non-theoretical to reach wider audiences.

In The Private Self: Theory and Practice of Women’s Autobiographical Writings (1988), Shari Benstock views autobiography as a genre that mediates “between ‘self’ and ‘life’” and also as “a meeting of ‘writing’ and ‘selfhood’” (11). Her collection of essays includes a seminal article by Susan Standford Friedman entitled “Women’s Autobiographical Selves: Theory and Practice” that questions Gusdorf’s individualistic paradigm of the autobiographical self because it cannot be applied to women and minorities, as it “ignore[s] the role of collective identity and relational identities in the individuation process of women and minorities” (35). Her notion of autobiographical selves applies Nancy Chodorow’s and Sheila Rowbotham’s theories of women’s relational identity to women’s autobiographical texts. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese’s essay in the same collection, “My Statue, My Self: Autobiographical Writings of Afro-American Women,” focuses on the markers of race and gender as an element of difference in women’s autobiography to examine the distinctiveness of the African American female literary tradition and the autobiographies it has produced, claiming Zora Neale Hurston as part of that tradition. Another important contribution to feminist readings, which incorporates postcolonial theory to question the universal validity of male self-presentation in autobiography, is Françoise Lionnet’s Autobiographical Voices: Race, Gender, Self-Portraiture (1989). Lionnet uses the “subversive . . . idea of métissage” or hybridization to challenge the discourses of (patriarchal and colonial) power (12). Including Zora Neale Hurston and Maya Angelou in her discussion of African-American, Caribbean, and Mauritian women’s autobiographies, the Mauritian-born author focuses on the sociocultural constructions of race and gender to contest discourses of power.

In Autobiographics: A Feminist Theory of Women’s Self-Representation (1994), Leigh Gilmore offers the term “autobiographics” as an alternative to the traditional model of autobiography and the “philosophical definition of the self derived from Augustine” (153), which reproduces a universal selfhood and therefore is not apt to represent women’s life stories. Gilmore believes that autobiographics allow women to transgress the boundaries of the genre and to move from the position of object to subject with “self-representational agency” (12). Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson are also outstanding scholars in the study of autobiography. Their co-edited volume Women, Autobiography, Theory: A Reader (1998) includes most of the relevant critical and theoretical contributions to women’s autobiography by leading scholars in the field over more than twenty years. In their lengthy introduction, they provide a theoretical overview of the development of the genre, and it is a must-read volume for anyone interested in autobiography. In Interfaces: Women, Autobiography, Image, Performance (2003), they have moved from their exploration of autobiographical acts in textual modes to the “self-representational acts” in visual modes (7), with an emphasis on performance art and the different forms of self-portraiture. In Before They Could Vote: Autobiographical Writings, 1819-1919 (2006), they offer a selection of twenty-four autobiographical narratives written by American women, focusing on what they call the “forgotten century” (19), a period of suffragist reform that took place in domestic spaces. They avoid the black and white binary and instead present a multicultural and multiethnic selection of autobiographical narratives by unknown women.

Recently, and drawing on the work of Judith Butler, particularly Bodies That Matter (1993), an emphasis on the body as site for the construction of the self has produced a number of interesting works. Disability and disease have been recurrent topics in many memoirs written by both men and women. Some of the most important studies are Thomas Couser’s Recovering Bodies: Illness, Disability, and Life Writing (1997) and Signifying Bodies: Disability in Contemporary Life Writing (2009), as well as earlier references to the body in Sidonie Smith’s Subjectivity, Identity, and the Body (1993), along with Paul John Eakin’s How Our Lives Become Stories (1999) and Living Autobiographically: How We Create Identity in Narrative (2008). Leigh Gilmore also discussed trauma and the raped body in The Limits of Autobiography (2001), with an interesting analysis of Dorothy Allison’s autobiographical novel Bastard Out of Carolina. This new direction in life-writing found its continuation in the volume New Essays on Life Writing and the Body (2009) edited by Christopher Stuart and Stephanie Todd, who present a collection of essays containing multiple perspectives on the topic (racialized bodies, disabled bodies, aged bodies, disfigured bodies, ill bodies, etc.). The volume also includes an illuminating Foreword by Timothy Dow Adams, who claims that “[n]ot only are our embodied selves a kind of on-going textual narrative of the course of our lives, but they are also directly connected to graphe, our ability to produce life writing” (x).

Constructing the Self in this Volume

Current discussions of southern life-writing are not alien to the critical theories and approaches to the self and autobiography mentioned above, as we hope to demonstrate in this volume. Neither is southern life-writing alien to the torrent of memoirs and other types of personal narratives published over the last few years. Given the diversity of autobiographical works covered in this volume, we prefer to use the term life-writing4 to refer to the narratives produced by southerners to construct the self in time. New elements and types of life narratives have inevitably changed the way southerners construct the story of the self. Timothy Dow Adams claims that “autobiography is often an attempt to reconcile one’s own sense of self and one’s life, and for southerners, often conflicted over racial matters, the genre is therefore especially apt” (“Autobiography” 84). However, while it is still apt and appealing to discuss race, we believe that the current southern autobiographical impulse also responds to a multiethnic and multicultural South in which not only racialized bodies but also ill bodies, for example, find expression. Proof of that is Lee Smith’s Dimestore: A Writer’s Life (2016), a memoir in which she interweaves her own personal reflections with the reality of global migrant workers in the region (in her funny piece “Driving Miss Daisy Crazy; or Losing the Mind of the South”) and talks about mental and bodily disease and the role of writing (in “Kindly Nervous” and “The Little Locksmith”). In her seventies, like many other great southern women writers before—Eudora Welty and Elizabeth Spencer, for instance—Lee Smith has decided to look back to trace, through a collection of personal essays, her development as a writer. Dimestore, which Sandra Ballard discusses in this volume, is a contemporary exploration of self, moving and at times funny, told with Smith’s inimitable artistic craft.

Autobiography in the form of travelogue, frequently presented as a voyage of self-discovery, has figured prominently in southern literature and entered our discussion of life-writing.5 Southern autobiography has often merged with travel literature to show the journeys, whether psychological or physical, southern writers undertake when they respond to the autobiographical impulse. Lillian Hellman, one of the authors Robert H. Brinkmeyer covers in The Fourth Ghost: White Southern Writers and European Fascism, 1930-1950 (2009), famously recounted in An Unfinished Woman, the first of her four memoirs, her trips to Spain to support Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. Mary Lee Settle, another supporter of leftist causes in Europe, wrote her last book Spanish Recognitions: The Roads to the Present (2004) at 87 in the form of a travelogue to narrate her second trip to Spain, carrying “the poems of St John of the Cross and St Teresa [of Ávila’s] dear autobiography” (10-11). In that second trip, she recognizes mountains that remind her of the ones she left in West Virginia, with their power to shape people and their past, but she also feels a sense of kinship that makes her say “they are our kin” (12). As Hellman and Settle seem to have sensed, at the root of autobiography are the notion of pilgrimage—as an inner and outer journey—and the idea of self-exploration, the same that can be found in Margery Kempe’s The Book of Margery Kempe (1436), the first autobiography written in English. Kempe’s 1417 pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela, Spain, forever associated the city with autobiography.

This volume contains a selection of essays by American and European historians and literature scholars who discuss southern life-writing. The following essays offer a self-portrait of the South and southerners as told in their rich body of autobiographical writing, reflecting a variety of readings and perspectives. These new readings on how southerners construct the self cover a wide spectrum, ranging from some of the earliest autobiographical writings in southern literature to contemporary and internationally renowned southern authors. Through discussions that incorporate many of the current critical approaches present in the theory of autobiography, these essays show the vitality of southern life-writing. The flexibility of the term life-writing, which now covers a wide range of autobiographical acts, the memoir boom and the impact at the turn of the millennium of what Leigh Gilmore calls “a culture of testimony” in The Limits of Autobiography (2) have certainly influenced the many and varied forms of recent southern life-writing. This volume, therefore, includes not only discussions of canonical black autobiography and classical autobiographies by black and white authors, but also poetry, as well as different varieties of memoirs—memoirs written for performance, family memoirs, autoethnographies, political memoirs, travel memoirs, and examples of the new memoir of disease and disability. This collection of essays also incorporates the personal reflections of a southern memoirist who felt the urge to write her own life story after the death of her mother.

The purpose of this volume is to provide an update on southern life-writing and present how southerners have variously constructed, deconstructed, reconstructed, and performed the self, tracing the evolution of the genre in classical works and showing its development in recent life narratives. This new southern life-writing is characterized by a wider range of personal narratives, themes, and approaches (including a transnational one), genre experimentation, performance, and the inclusion of other sites of autobiographical self-knowledge. The following essays, therefore, aim to show a variety of voices, forms and discursive constructions of the southern self. The organization of the volume loosely reflects the development of southern life-writing, from its beginning to more recent approaches to autobiographical works that incorporate contemporary critical theories and perspectives. Divided into five parts, the collection focuses first on the subversive quality of most African American autobiographies in their effort to construct a self that resists prejudice and discrimination. Second, it presents attempts at reconciliation of the self with itself and the other race. The third section examines the blurred boundaries between autobiography and fiction with the construction of fictionalized selves that question the validity of both truth-telling and the autobiographical pact. The following section explores the different forms of transgression that southern life narrators use to deconstruct the self (and even the memoir genre) and the masks they wear to tell their life stories. The final section presents real and allegorical pilgrimages of self-discovery, focusing on travel writing and the body as spaces through which southern authors construct and reconstruct the self.

Part 1 “Subversive (Re)creations of the Self—Past and Present” centers on African American life-writing and investigates the political motives of black authors, most of whom often used subversive strategies to construct their selves and dismantle the foundations of a racist southern society. In the opening essay of this collection, Trudier Harris examines the different and fluctuating autobiographical impulses that have moved African American southern writers,6 including herself as the author of a memoir. Early life narrators like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs and Booker T. Washington clearly had a political purpose and were more committed to community than to literary self-creation. For Harris, the tradition of what she calls “individualistic life narration” [her emphasis] starts in the 1920s and 1930s, with Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, and is further confirmed in the autobiographical works by Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston, though they constitute an “exception.” Life narrators like Alice Walker and Anne Moody, who penned their stories during the Civil Rights era, clearly had a social consciousness, wanted to change the South, and embraced activism in their lives and life-writing. Maya Angelou’s classic memoir, however, written in 1970, is “less activist-oriented” and more focused on the individual. Although region and landscape are important for southern life-writing, other factors like Hurricane Katrina have defined the life narratives of several African Americans like Natasha Trethewey, who uses what Harris calls “self-erasure” to highlight the destructive effect of the disaster on people’s lives. With her memoir, entitled Summer Snow: Reflections from a Black Daughter of the South (2003), Trudier Harris herself joins a long line of academic life narratives written by African Americans since the 1990s. Scholarly in her approach yet deeply personal when discussing her own life-writing process, Harris ultimately finds a sense of connectedness with the autobiographical urge of those who preceded her.

The “political” impetus of African American life-writing is also at the core of Robert H. Brinkmeyer’s essay, in which he discusses Booker T. Washington’s subversive use of his autobiographical writings—Up from Slavery and Working with the Hands—as metaphorical levers to create social change. Brinkmeyer explores “how Washington constructed himself” and at the same time sought “to construct a more racially tolerant South” through his life narratives, which function as tools for change. Challenging the traditional view of Washington’s ideas as accommodationist and reactionary, Brinkmeyer argues that Washington’s philosophy, deeply influenced by Benjamin Franklin’s canonical Autobiography and his notion of the self-made man, is more complex than has usually been acknowledged. Brinkmeyer focuses on Washington’s promotion of “education and meaningful labor” in his life-writings, which “simultaneously [engage] head, heart, and hand” or “intelligence, morality, and artisanship.” Brinkmeyer understands “this three-way engagement” as “the foundation of Washington’s most far-reaching and subversive tactic for dismantling the racist structures of southern society.” Thus Washington’s impulse to write, according to Brinkmeyer, emerges from his conviction that a new appreciation of manual work should allow him to produce a social change, remake southern attitudes towards blacks, and create a new order. The “metaphor of construction” he frequently uses and his educational philosophy were in line with the proposals of the followers of the Arts and Crafts Movement, who promoted a new social and economic order based on the work of craftsmen. Brinkmeyer contends that, even if not obvious at first, Washington’s theories on the education of African Americans are charged with subversiveness and disruptive power.

Part 2 “The Legacy of Race: Reconciling Selves” focuses on the lasting influence of the racial divide as a stimulus for the autobiographical writings of different authors, who have variously tried to reconcile their selves, atone for a racist past and find true brotherhood. Jennifer Ritterhouse centers on life writing that tells stories of childhood racial training during the Jim Crow era. Herself a historian, Ritterhouse reflects on the difficulty of using autobiographical material as a source of historical information, thus addressing the problem of the “truth-value of autobiography” when it contains elements of fiction. Both black and white autobiographers who grew up in the Jim Crow era narrate what Ritterhouse calls southern “dramas of social inequality” in which children were gradually socialized into the southern racial system. In fact, Ritterhouse identifies Fred Hobson’s southern “rage to explain” as the impulse behind many of the white “autobiographical accounts of childhood events,” which are “much like the ones African American autobiographers recount, but with the roles reversed.” These childhood stories also share the same “political intent” as black autobiography, in that the white adults who have undergone a moral transformation also seek to challenge the Jim Crow system and change the South. Despite the presence of some fictional elements, Ritterhouse believes that these retrospective childhood stories are not just “literary constructs” but valid sources for historians who “tend to be most interested in the patterns, the scripts—that is, in the social and cultural than the individual level.” For these white life narrators, according to Ritterhouse, “the autobiographical impulse derives from a feeling that they have achieved a mature viewpoint on past events” and from their need to repeat that unacceptable moment of the past to correct it, making amends with the racial attitudes they held then.

Elizabeth Hayes Turner discusses Melton A. McLaurin’s autobiography Separate Pasts (1987) as one more example of what Fred Hobson calls “conversion narratives” to reconcile an apologetic past self. Like Ritterhouse, Turner steps into the complex middle ground between history and autobiography to analyze the life narrative of historian Melton A. McLaurin. For him, even if memory is “the most subjective of all sources,” it is also “a valuable source of both fact and truth.” Turner distinguishes three stages in McLaurin’s self-transformation: his “child self,” which learns the racial prejudices of the Jim Crow South; his “adolescent self,” which rebels against parental regulations and sees his parents’ world as illogical; and finally his “adult self,” which seeks to “reform that which is absurd”—southern segregation—and can finally find redemption. In his autobiography McLaurin records “the gradual evolution of his own critical thinking about race relations” and “the profound impact of the inequalities in southern society upon his gradual awareness.” Turner identifies McLaurin’s rejection of the role of the privileged white man as the “point of conversion” in his autobiography. But to reach this crucial juncture, McLaurin had to experience a series of enlightening episodes through his daily encounters with black people at his grandfather’s convenience store. His conversion reflects a gradual shift from the influence of white supremacist doctrines to a weakening of his racial prejudice through conversations with black men and women, which later turns into guilt. His reflections on family paternalism, a fake escape route from guilt, finally open his eyes to the pernicious effects of southern paternalism as an insurmountable obstacle keeping African Americans from achieving equality.

Pearl McHaney’s essay focuses on twice US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, an example of the biracial national identity of the South and the US, whose work reflects her attempts to cope with the complicated legacy of race and reach self-reconciliation. Pearl McHaney analyses Trethewey’s poetry and prose, which has a markedly autobiographical quality, finding countless samples of how she interweaves her personal story with regional and national history in her work. McHaney argues that traces of Trethewey’s life experience are discernible in much of her poetry and distinguishes different stages in the poet’s literary output. The poems in Domestic Work reflect the poet’s early attempts “to not focus on her mother’s murder” by writing poems about her grandmother. McHaney states that in her second collection of poems, Bellocq’s Ophelia, Trethewey adopts a “thicker mask,” but even so it reveals “the poet’s life still.” According to McHaney, it is in Trethewey’s third book, Native Guard, that her “voice sounds loudest in telling her life story.” In the first section of the book, Trethewey remembers her mother and recreates her grief over her mother’s death; in the second section, she “brings to light the erased histories of the South”; and in the final third section, she weaves “the personal and national life stories together.” Trethewey’s complicated relationship with her father—already manifested in some of her earlier pieces—is the source of inspiration for many of the poems in Thrall. Finally, McHaney analyzes Beyond Katrina, a blending of her poems and the poetry by her half-brother written from prison after the Katrina disaster. Trethewey’s work reflects her constant effort to deal with “her complicated legacies,” which include an estranged white poet-father and a dead black mother who can only be a muse.

Race issues and reconciliation are also prominent in the following essay, where Ineke Bockting elaborates a persuasive argument around the table of brotherhood, which traces the evolution of the American Dream as perceived by different southern writers in their autobiographical narratives. Using Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous dream of race integration as a starting point for her discussion, Bockting turns to C. Vann Woodward’s postulates in The Burden of Southern History to offer an overview of “the American founding myths that form the background of the American Dream, [and] against which the South stands out as if it were a foreign nation.” According to Bockting, King’s dream of brotherhood, materialized in “the powerful visual, olfactory and gustatory imagery of the dinner table,” depended precisely on the possibility of bringing these myths to the South. But the obstacles that the dream of a dinner table of brotherhood had to overcome in the South were too many and too deep, as evinced in Malcolm X’s response to King in “The Ballot or the Bullet,” and as further reflected in the autobiographical experiences recorded by writers and activists. Bockting traces references to those experiences in the life narratives of William Alexander Percy, Langston Hughes, Lillian Smith, Anne Moody and Marita Golden. Images of food and dinner tables figure prominently in some of these works, as Bockting shows, but mostly as a realistic counterpoint to King’s dream which seems to end up in fatalistic disillusionment. Bockting also comments on the Obama administration, as the first African American US President in history, in relation to the Dream “of a family dinner table of brotherhood” and harmony.

Taking as a starting point Philippe Lejeune’s autobiographical pact between author, narrator and protagonist, who are identified as one, Part 3 “Authors, Narrators and Fictionalized Selves” deals with the fracture of the pact and the thin line between autobiography and fiction. This section considers the intrusion of fiction and fictionalized selves in autobiographical writings, as well as the inclusion of autobiographical elements in the novels of important southern authors. Peggy Whitman Prenshaw’s article centers on Lejeune’s triad, which she calls “memoir’s characters,” and her discussion of the presence of those characters in different life narratives by southern women serves as a framework for the rest of the papers in this section. Using Mary Karr’s insightful reflections on the issues that usually complicate the task of memoir writers, Prenshaw engages in a discussion about the components of voice and the strategies several life narrators have used to manipulate the interplay of this “trinity” of voices and thus condition the credibility of their life writings. Prenshaw’s characters are the “self-aware writer,” the “created narrator” and the “objectified, characterized self” who acts as protagonist. Prenshaw points to the centrality of the narrator’s voice as the main means of expression of “the interpreted self, the composed self presented to the reader,” and argues that the other two, “the protagonist of the narrative, the younger characterized self” and “the present-moment laboring writer,” function just as dramatic foils to the “transformed self” represented by the narrator. In Prenshaw’s essay, passages from autobiographies written by southern women in different periods of literary history serve to illustrate this discussion, which is further animated by a variety of reflections on related topics such as truth telling, the use of devices typical in life-writing, the contribution of sensory details to enhance a narrative’s credibility, or the effects of the “steady cultural change in what society regards as acceptable for public exposure” on women’s life-writing. Prenshaw notes that “in the works of Mary Karr, Ellen Douglas, and many other southern women autobiographers, we may read memoir’s characters as a trinity leaning toward oneness.”

Prenshaw also acknowledges that “[i]t is not unusual to hear or read remarks by writers that ‘deeper truths’ may be told in fiction than in memoir” with the construction of a fictionalized self. The following essays in this section further explore this idea. Thomas L. McHaney draws on The Sound and the Fury to discuss Faulkner’s tangential relationship with autobiography. In contrast to other essays in this collection, which deal with the effects of the intrusion of fiction in memoir writing, T. McHaney’s traces the presence of what he calls Faulkner’s “embellished autobiography” in his fiction. He argues that “the writer’s propensity for biographical application and exaggeration” was evident even in his early poetry, long before Sherwood Anderson had advised him to “embroider autobiography,” as Faulkner himself explained to his mother in a March 1925 letter from New Orleans. According to T. McHaney, the revelation of Faulkner’s “long-suppressed letters to his parents” in 1992 threw renewed light on the presence of autobiographical elements in his fiction. In his analysis of the parallels between the author’s factual self and his fictionalized self, T. McHaney identifies new autobiographical details in the depiction of Quentin Compson by drawing a revealing comparison between this character’s last day and evidence provided by one of Faulkner’s letters to his mother dated June 2, 1918, when the writer was living in New Haven. Thomas McHaney offers a detailed description of the events depicted in this letter and an analysis of the significance of its historical context for the southern writer. He also argues that Faulkner “toyed with autobiography to make fiction” and even “threw up a very fictional screen, or a series of fictional screens, to hide the details of his biographical inventions and his real life from reporters and biographers.”

Gérald Préher turns to Richard Ford to delve into the writer’s own ambivalence towards his southern self and autobiography in general. In spite of his early admiration for Faulkner’s literary output, Ford tried to escape the looming shadow of the universal writer from Mississippi as well as the label of southern writer. Préher suggests that Ford’s work, like that of William Faulkner, “confirm[s] James Olney’s idea that ‘[w]hite writers from the South seem for the most part unwilling to write autobiography without veiling it or presenting it as fiction.’” (140). While admitting that the autobiographical impulse in Ford is mainly “incidental” and often “presented behind a veil,” in his contribution Préher explores how Ford’s southern self infiltrates his fiction and non-fiction. By providing examples of autobiographical elements in Ford’s novels, Préher seeks to show what he considers paradoxical in the writer, his love-hate relationship with the South—particularly in The Sportswriter, his third novel and the first of his Bascombe trilogy. In his analysis of The Sportswriter, Préher uses interviews and Ford’s essays in order to show the parallelisms between the author’s personal life and his fictional self, Frank Bascombe. Despite Ford’s claims denying his interest in the past and the South, the character of Frank Bascombe is, according to Préher, an example of the writer’s own ambiguity and a reflection of his inner struggle with his southern self. The Bascombe novels represent, therefore, a form of “fictional autobiography” in which “the narrative is always self-reflective [and] the past is mediated through the present.” Acknowledging the freedom that fiction provides for many southern white writers when they look at the past, Préher contends that “[f]ictionalizing an actual event, relocating it in a narrative, enables Ford to become doubly independent: from the South and from the past.”

Nahem Yousaf analyzes Philippe Labro’s fictionalized southern self and his portrait of southern culture in The Foreign Student (1986), which Yousaf describes as “a memoir with the texture of fiction.” Yousaf’s essay on Labro—a French journalist, writer and filmmaker—is an example of how southern culture has influenced the literary and cultural production of other countries. Through a hybrid between fiction and memoir, as Yousaf explains, Philippe Labro tells the story of his southern experience as a young student in the 1950s. At the time of globalism, this essay opens up an interesting perspective because it acknowledges the global dimension of southern culture and life-writing. Reflecting a cross-cultural approach to southern life-writing, Yousaf shows that Labro’s fictionalized southern memoir blurs the boundaries between the local and the global, and between the national and the transnational, in relation to southern culture. Yousaf defines The Foreign Student as a coming-of-age story in which Labro nostalgically looks back on the year he spent in Virginia as a student. By a subtle but conscious manipulation of his lived experiences there, Labro constructs a fictionalized younger self for whom the 1950s South represents a crucial and self-defining moment that marked the beginning of his life as a man. The discussion of Labro’s text, focusing on its southernness and on its generic status, makes Yousaf claim that The Foreign Student is precisely the “‘southern’ memoir” of Labro’s fashioning of his younger self: “Labro acts as guardian of his younger self and re-possessor of that self, nostalgically and sensually re-connecting to the vanished world of youth.”