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English 210W: Major Authors/ Issues in Southern Literature


Fall 2015, Emory University


Current, n. 1. That which runs or flows, a stream; spec. a portion of a body of water, or of air, etc. moving in a definite direction. 5. fig. The course of time or of events; the main course. 7. a. Electr. The name given to the apparent transmission or ‘flow’ of electric force through a conducting body. b. transf. Applied to the transmission of nerve-force along a nerve.

Current, adj.  3. a. Running in time; in course of passing; in progress. b. Belonging to the current week, month, or other period of time.


I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

- Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”


The study of US southern culture has been and continues to be inevitably linked to conversations around identities of and in place.  The twelve southern agrarians of 1930’s I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition produced, perhaps, the strongest statement on rootedness in any study of “the” South: the title itself illustrates the firm resolve, the “stand,” of the agrarian way of life, which by definition is rooted to land. In the face of economic, industrial, and social change, the agrarians constructed “the South” as fundamentally a region that articulated the “theory of agrarianism,” a “culture of the soil,” set both as an exception from and in opposition to the industrial North and the rest of the nation (li). In his Southern Aberrations, Richard Gray writes that the Agrarians “fought so successfully on their own postage stamp of soil that they established their own form of hegemony. Southern writings of the tenor and tradition they approved of assumed canonical status” (x). Is southern culture fundamentally rooted to place-as-land? And is there a way to define a “southern culture” through looking at writings of spaces that lack firm “roots”?

In this section of English 210, “Southern Currents,” we will follow Patricia Yaeger’s Dirt and Desire (2000), which asks us to uproot southern culture from the lands that bound it and look at some “new categories,” namely “bodies of water,” as constitutive of and central to southern culture (12-13). We will aim to read texts from the turn of the twentieth century to the present that place various bodies of water as central to their meaning and their construction of geographic and imagined “souths.” We will consistently challenge accepted and received narratives of southern literary culture through thinking outside the lines and against the current to determine what the “South” is today and how southern culture is and has always been a porous ebb and flow of influences.

The course progresses in units that roughly span the period of time shortly before and after two of the country’s largest natural disasters, the 1927 Mississippi River flood and 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, respectively. Unit 1, Pre-1927, works to loosen imagined southern roots through a series of what I call “foundational” texts; next, unit 2, focuses on cultural productions of the 1927 flood, both then and now, while unit 3 looks at the events surrounding the Tallahatchie river in 1955 Mississippi. In unit 4, we will read texts concerning those floaters and outsiders who live literally off of the land, and unit 5 brings us to texts that describe Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.


Course Goals and Outcomes:


You will:

  • Read a variety of texts pertaining to southern literary culture, developing skills in close reading, annotation, and synthesis.

  • Engage in a semester-long writing process, developing skills in summary, argument, comparison, research, citation, editing, and remixing.

  • Posit arguments for the location of southern literary culture through engaging in collaborative class discussions and entering existing scholarly conversations.

  • Develop skills in methods of presentation and leading classroom discussion.


Required Texts:

(to purchase, rent, or borrow. I recommend websites such as for used texts. I also recommend local new and used bookstores.)


  • William Faulkner, The Wild Palms (If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem) (1939). ISBN-10: 0679741933. ISBN-13: 978-0679741930

  • Lewis Nordan, Wolf Whistle (1993). ISBN-10: 1565121104. ISBN-13: 978-1565121102.

  • Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones (2011). ISBN-10: 9781608196265. ISBN-13: 978-1608196265.


Course Choice Texts:

At two points in the semester, you will have a choice between two texts to read/ skim. As such, you are responsible to access these texts. However, I recommend that you read the Cooley or Smith via the library or share a copy within small groups. You may want to purchase the Cheng or Franklin/Fennelly novel, however, to read on your own.


  • Bill Cheng, Southern Cross the Dog (2013). ISBN-10: 0062225022. ISBN-13: 978-0062225023. or Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, The Tilted World (2013). ISBN-10: 0062069195. ISBN-13: 978-0062069191.

  • Nicole Cooley, Breach (2010) or Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler (2008).


Assignment Overview:


Reading Journal / Online Blog (10%)


You are responsible for keeping a weekly reading journal in our digital blog space. You will be graded for continual participation. Use these journals/blogs to take notes on the texts, to ask questions, and to posit first attempts at arguments.


Stream of Southern Consciousness Assignment (5%)


In this low-stakes writing assignment occurring at the end of Unit 4, you are to live-tweet  to our private course channel (using the hashtags #blanche #moonlake #beasts and #bathtub) your viewings of Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), paying particular attention to Blanche’s discussion of Moon Lake in the first film and Hushpuppy’s time at the floating bar/ brothel Elysian Fields in the second film. After tweeting, you will write 2-page mini-papers detailing what might be going through each character’s, Blanche’s and Hushpuppy’s, respectively, head as the scenes progress. In class, we will discuss each film and your reactions to what might be called the water poetics and currents of desire contained within them.


“Major” Southern Currents Canon Activity and Discussion Introduction (5%)


At the beginning of the semester, you will sign up to introduce discussion of the assigned reading(s) for that day. On your date to present, you will provide a handout that summarizes the main themes, characters, and plot of the text and contains one or two major lead-off discussion questions. In addition, you will also suggest one (or more) other text(s) that would fit alongside your assigned reading in this particular narrative of southern literary culture, “Southern Currents.” I recommend that you correspond with me via email or set up appointments to meet with me a week before presenting in order to talk through the assigned text and your suggested addition(s). You are not responsible for leading the entire discussion; your introductory comments should average 5-8 minutes.


“Currents” and GILLS: Map Activity, Presentation, and Reflective Paper (20%)


“New Orleans… a city of amorphous boundaries, where land is forever turning into water, water devours land, and a thousand degrees of marshy, muddy, oozing in-between exist… most land here is full of water.”

- Solnit and Snedeker, Unfathomable City:  A New Orleans Atlas


Utilizing Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas and Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker’s Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas as models, you will construct a “southern” atlas that pinpoints important spaces as reflected in the readings throughout the entire semester. Your goal should be to pinpoint at least 10 spaces; you should be as complete as you can within the confines of this class and readings, but you are not expected to provide an exhaustive southern atlas. Each student is responsible for individual atlases to be presented during the last week of the semester. I expect and encourage the form and shape of these atlases to be creative and to utilize a variety of mediums. I encourage the use of ECDS to learn about digital mapmakers and I will bring in various artistic examples in addition to Solnit’s and Snedeker’s texts to provide inspiration. Each digital or physical atlas will not be graded on artistic ability, although you will be graded on your effort, your presentation, and a 2-3 page reflective essay describing your process, your result, and any pertinent questions or issues raised by the activity.


  • Note: think of this as a visual component/addendum to your reading journals in that you should work on this continuously throughout the semester with each reading or viewing. Be kind to yourselves in not putting this off until the week before it is due.


Unit Papers (5 each at 10% = 40-50%)


Each unit of the course requires an argumentative essay response of 3-4 double-spaced pages. A week before each paper is due, I will hand out suggested questions to consider. You are to provide evidence for your arguments from at least 2 of the readings/viewings that occur in each unit; please return to your reading journals for ideas and inspiration. Although you are encouraged to complete each paper in overview of the corresponding unit and in preparation for the final synthesis paper, at the end of the semester, I will drop your lowest unit paper score (10%) from your final grade, adding 10% to your final argumentative synthesis paper grade. I will not do this if it affects your grade negatively or if your grade would remain unchanged. The goal of this is both to help your grade and help you realize the importance of a sustained, continually flowing and evolving writing process.


Southern Currents: Final Argumentative Synthesis Paper (10%-20%)


In this final 5-6 page-paper, you are to provide your own answer to the course’s primary questions: Is southern culture fundamentally rooted to place-as-land? And is there a way to define a “southern culture” through looking at writings of spaces that lack firm “roots”? This paper is due during the final exam week; however, the goal of the unit papers is to prepare you to answer these questions in the final paper with significant preparation. You are highly encouraged to utilize the arguments, evidence, and to remix/adapt/edit the writing from the earlier unit papers for this assignment.


Course Policies:


  1. LATE WORK AND REVISION: All late work must be pre-approved by the instructor except in extenuating circumstances, i.e. a medical emergency.  Extensions will not be granted the day an assignment is due.  All late work is due the next class meeting after the original date posted in the syllabus unless otherwise stipulated by the instructor.  Late work will be deducted a letter grade for every day it is late unless otherwise specified by the instructor.  Unapproved late work will not be accepted.  However, during the semester, you are allowed to revise one assignment, with no guarantee for a higher grade, per the instructor’s approval. The lectures, class discussions, group work, or other daily class work or homework exercises cannot be reconstructed for a student who has been absent; therefore, daily work missed due to tardiness or absence (for any reason) cannot be made up.  Students may arrange to turn in major-grade work in advance or online only if allowed by your instructor.

  2. RESPECT: All students are expected to be respectful of others and their opinions and to act with decorum. 

  3. ATTENDANCE: Students are expected to attend class with thoughtful classroom participation. Please schedule appointments with the instructor(s) if you are concerned about your participation role.

  4. TARDINESS: Students are expected to come to class prepared with tasks completed, texts, homework, and pen in hand, ready to go on time and awake. If you arrive to class after roll has been taken (and I strongly advise you do not), it is your responsibility to approach the instructor and make your presence known.  Otherwise, you may automatically be counted absent.  If your presence is noted after arriving late, points will be deducted from your class participation grade. Such late arrivals disrupt class and prevent both the late student and his/her classmates from benefiting from the entire lecture/discussion.

  5. ELECTRONIC DEVICES: I strongly discourage the use of cell phones, even for texting, during class time.  If you are experiencing a special circumstance, the birth of your child, etc., that requires that you leave your phone on during class, please inform a teaching assistant or me before class begins.


Policy on Academic Misconduct

Emory University and the English Department take plagiarism cases and all academic misconduct very seriously.  The full Emory College Honor Code statement can be read here:



Writing Center

The Emory Writing Center is located in Callaway Center North 212.  The Writing Center provides a broad range of services related to writing, including thinking through writing assignments during the planning phase and advising regarding many aspects of writing, including brainstorming, organization, thesis, style, wording and revision.  The Center can also help you in your digital and multimodal texts.  The Writing Center is a wonderful resource for students, and I encourage you to take advantage of it.


Office of Disability Services

Emory University complies with the regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and offers accommodations to students with disabilities. If you are in need of a classroom accommodation, please make an appointment with me to discuss this as soon as possible. All information will be held in the strictest confidence.  Appropriate documentation from the Office of Disability Services is necessary for all accommodations.  You may contact ODS via telephone at (404-727-6016).


Emory Counseling Center

Free and confidential counseling services are available at the Emory Counseling Center.

(404) 727-7450,


Course Calendar and Reading Schedule:


*Note: all non-required texts/ readings available online unless otherwise indicated. BB = Blackboard reading.

*Note: Syllabus subject to change at instructor’s discretion, especially during the first weeks of the semester.


Unit 1: Pre-1927: Loosening the Roots


Week 1:


Th 08/27: Course Introduction / Read: I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition excerpt, “Introduction: A Statement of Principles” (xli-lii) (BB).


Week 2:


Tu 9/1: Read: Patricia Yaeger, from Dirt and Desire, (12-13) (BB), George Washington Cable, “Belles Demoiselles Plantation” (121-145) from Old Creole Days found online here.


Th 9/3: Read: Herman Melville, Chapter 1: “A Mute Goes Aboard a Boat on the Mississippi,” from The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857), found online here. Also read, Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883), “The ‘Body of the Nation,’” I: “The River and Its History,” XXXIII: “Refreshments and Ethics,” XXXV: “Vicksburg during the Trouble,” XLI: “The Metropolis of the South,” XLII: “Hygiene and Sentiment,” XLIV: “City Sights,” XLVI: “Enchantments and Enchanters,” selected chapters found here. Atlases Introduced.


Week 3:


Tu 9/8: Read: Mary Noailles Murfree, “Drifting Down Lost Creek” (1-79) from In the Tennessee Mountains found online here.


Th 9/10: Read: 1936 'Show Boat': A Multiracial, Musical Melodrama, Now Out On DVD.” In Class, listen to “Lost Creek” at the Tennessee Jamboree and Show Boat musical selections, Paul Robeson, “Ol’ Man River.”

Week 4:


Tu 9/15: Read: Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899), Chapters I-XV, found here.


Th 9/17: Read: The Awakening, Chapters XVI-XXV.


Week 5:


Tu 9/22: Read: The Awakening, Chapters XXVI-XXXIX. Begin Lafcadio Hearn, Chita: A Memory of Last Island (1889), found here. Read at least “The Legend of L’Ile Derniere.”


Th 9/24: Finish Hearn, Chita. (“Out of the Sea’s Strength” and “The Shadow of the Tide”). Read: Lafcadio Hearn, from American Writings “At the Gate of the Tropics” (669-679) (BB), Alexander Narzayan’s “After the Hurricane: Reading Lafcadio Hearn’s ‘Chita,’” found here, and Pablo Neruda, “The United Fruit Company.”


Unit 2: 1927 (Then and Now): Rising Tides, Returning Waters


Week 6:


Tu 9/29: Unit 1 Paper Due. Read: John M. Barry, Rising Tide, (399-426), Chapters 34, 35, Appendix. Read: William Alexander Percy, “The Delta” (3-15), from Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter’s Son (1941). (BB).


Th 10/1: Read: William Faulkner, The Wild Palms [If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem] (1939), chapters 1-5. Please let me know which Class Choice text you have selected on this date.


Week 7:


Tu 10/6: Read: Faulkner, chapters 6-14


Th 10/8: Read: Finish Faulkner, chapters 15-20


Week 8:


Tu 10/13: No Class. Fall Break. Class Choice: Read/Skim either Bill Cheng, Southern Cross the Dog (2013) and review found here, or Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, The Tilted World (2013).


Th 10/15: No Class. Eric out of town. Finish Cheng/ Franklin, Fennelly. Submit reviews with list of argumentative questions via email by 10/16 at 5pm.


Week 9:


Tu 10/20: Read: Richard Wright, “Down By the Riverside” (1938) (62-124) (BB). In Class: View Pare Lorentz’s The River (1938) and listen to songs from Bessie Smith, Vernon Dalhart, Sippi Wallace, Ernest Stoneman, and “Blind” Lemon Jefferson.


Unit 3: 1955: “Mississippi Goddamn,” Disposable Bodies


Th 10/22: Unit 2 Paper Due. Read: John Edgar Wideman, “Looking at Emmett Till” (2005), available here, and “The Killing of Black Boys” (1997) (BB).

CARTO DB Workshop.


Week 10:


Tu 10/27: Read: Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” found here, and “Mississippi—1955,” found here. Gwendolyn Brooks, "A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, A Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon" (1960), found here. William Faulkner, “On Fear” (1956) (BB). In Class: Listen to Bob Dylan, “The Death of Emmett Till” and Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddamn” (1964).


Th 10/29: Read: Eudora Welty, “Where is the Voice Coming From?” (1963), found here. Natasha Trethewey, “South” (2006), found here. First half of Lewis Nordan, Wolf Whistle (1993).


Week 11:


Tu 11/3: No Class: Eric out of town. Continue Reading Nordan.

Extra Credit: Watch Jeff Nichols’s Mud (2012): 500-word Film Review (Due 11/10).


Unit 4: 1955-2005: Floater, Outsider: Onto Wild Waters


Th 11/5: Unit 3 Paper Due. Read: Karen Russell, “Out To Sea” (2006) (179-196) (BB); Reinaldo Arenas, “End of a Story” (1990) (170-190) (BB). (ATLAS catch up: CARTO DB workshop, part 2).


Week 12: Mini unit: From streetcar to “The Turk,” from Moon Lake to Elysian Fields: Viewing A Streetcar Named Desire and Beasts of the Southern Wild.


Tu 11/10: In Class: View A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) (first half). Live tweet.


Th 11/12: In Class: View A Streetcar Named Desire (second half). Live tweet.


Week 13:


Tu 11/17: Stream of Southern Consciousness Assignment. View Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) before coming to class, having completed your live-tweets. (This film is available in the Music and Media library at Woodruff. I highly recommend that you check it out and watch it in groups or access it online. Although I have not placed it on reserves, please do not check it out and keep it for a long period of time). Work on assignment and/or unit 4 papers in class via laptops.


Th 11/19: Continue film discussions. Please let me know which Class Choice text you have selected on this date. Unit 4 Paper Due vie email by Saturday 11/21 at 5pm.


Unit 5: 2005- Now: Katrina, Aftermath


Week 14:


Tu 11/24: Read: Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), chapter 18 only (154-167) (BB). Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones (2011), first half (1-130).



Read: Finish Ward (131-262).


Week 15: During Weeks 15 and 16, we will have our Atlas presentations.


Tu 12/1: Finish Ward discussion. Class Choice: Skim Nicole Cooley, Breach (2010) or Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler (2008). Submit reviews with list of argumentative questions.


In-class: view Kara Walker, After the Deluge (2007), Chris Jordan, In Katrina’s Wake (photos).


Th 12/3: Begin Presentations.


Week 16:

Tu 12/8: LAST DAY of CLASS. Finish Presentations. Read: Derek Walcott, “A Sea-Chantey” (44-46) and Gone Girl, “Nick Dunne: Three Days Gone,” 103-117 (BB). Unit 5 Paper Due.


Exam Period (12/9-/12/19): Final Synthesis Papers are due no later than December 14, noon.


Extra Resources:

The following is a list of monographs and other texts that could prove useful in your final papers or for further reading. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it could serve as a leaping off point for further inquiry and research. Throughout the semester, we will collectively add to this list as topics and issues present themselves in our discussions and your writings.


  • John M. Barry, Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America

  • Jon Smith and Deborah Cohn, Look Away!: The US South in New World Studies

  • Jon Smith, Finding Purple America: The South and the Future of American Cultural Studies

  • Patricia Yaeger, Dirt and Desire: Reconstructing Southern Women’s Writing, 1930-1990

  • Richard J. Gray, Southern Aberrations: Writers of the American South and the Problems of Regionalism

  • Anne Goodwyn Jones and Susan V. Donaldson, Haunted Bodies: Gender and Southern Texts

  • Jennifer Greeson, Our South: Geographic Fantasy and the Rise of National Literature

  • Michael Kreyling, Inventing Southern Literature

    • The South that Wasn’t There: Postsouthern Memory and History

  • Martyn Bone, The Postsouthern Sense of Place in Contemporary Fiction

  • Caroline F. Levander and Robert S. Levine, Hemispheric American Studies

  • Cecile Vidal, Louisiana: Crossroads of the Atlantic World

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