Cover image for New stories from the South : the year's best, 1999
New stories from the South : the year's best, 1999
Ravenel, Shannon.
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, [1999]

Physical Description:
xii, 306 pages ; 23 cm
Birdland / Michael Knight -- Fla. boys / Heather Sellers -- Lunch at the piccadilly / Clyde Edgerton -- Those deep elm Brown's ferry blues / William Gay -- Missy / Richard Bausch -- Caulk / George Singleton -- Borrowed hearts / Rick DeMarinis -- The human side of instrumental transcommunication / Wendy Brenner -- Pagan babies / Ingrid Hill -- Leaving Venice, Florida / Richard Schmitt -- Storytelling / Mary Gordon -- Krista had a treble clef rose / Mary Clyde -- Booker T's coming home / Laura Payne Butler -- Beyond the point / Michael Erard -- Miracle boy / Pinckney Benedict -- Neighborhood / Kurt Rheinheimer -- Little bitty pretty one / Andrew Alexander -- Name of love / Janice Daugharty -- Quill / Tony Earley -- Poachers / Tom Franklin.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS551 .N49 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



It was an anthology that began simply enough: as a way to gather together the best kinds of writing going on in the South. It was also a way, back then, for editor Shannon Ravenel to keep tabs on who was writing what. Some of those voices that she heard first are now well-known: Barbara Kingsolver, Robert Olen Butler, Marly Swick, Rick Bass, Abraham Verghese, James Lee Burke, Larry Brown.

Our goal is still the same-to find the most original and affecting stories. And this year, in our newest tradition, we're pleased to include a preface by Tony Earley, which calls into question the message of one of the most-anthologized Southern stories of our time.

The 1999 edition gathers stories by: Michael Knight, Pinckney Benedict, Richard Schmitt, Clyde Edgerton, Andrew Alexander, Mary Clyde, Richard Bausch, Tony Earley, Michael Erard, Rick DeMarinis, Heather Sellers, Kurt Rheinheimer, Ingrid Hill, William Gay, Janice Daugharty, Mary Gordon, George Singleton, Tom Franklin

Laura Payne Butler, and Wendy Brenner.

An indispensable resource for aspiring writers, students, and readers of Southern fiction, New Stories from the South also includes the story behind each story. We continue to offer an updated list of magazines consulted by the editor, along with a complete list of all the stories selected each year since the series' inception, in 1986.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This annual collection of American stories has become an important source of writing from and about the South. Ravenel's selection, as usual, has range and variety: stories from the New Yorker and Esquire as well as from more obscure magazines, such as Five Points; stories from fairly well known story writers, such as Richard Bausch and Rick DeMarinis, as well as from less-familiar ones. Bausch's very brief piece captures a recognizable tableau of household relations from the uniquely uncomprehending perspective of the household's one motherless child. There and elsewhere a vaguely recognizable texture of southern life and writing emerges, not easily summarized, and yet at times (as for earlier generations of southern writers) almost mystified, as in Knight's "Birdland," where the tiny town of Elbow, Alabama, population around 10, exerts a mysterious hold for six months annually on some African parrots (transplanted to Rhode Island). Not incidentally, its hold extends to a young researcher who has followed the birds one autumn, and who, as inexplicably, falls into a life with a local. --Jim O'Laughlin

Publisher's Weekly Review

This distinctive series' 14th anthology of Southern stories offers the usual capable and engaging mix, juxtaposing established writers (Tony Earley, Mary Gordon), emerging writers (Michael Knight, Heather Sellers), and some perhaps well known only in Southern literary communities (Kurt Rheinheimer, George Singleton). The settings of these 20 entries range from Maryland to a section of Florida still recognizably Southern, and the styles vary nearly as much as the county names. The lineup includes the ubiquitous Southern gothic (it's the creepy and convincing "Poachers," the title story of Tom Franklin's award-winning collection), a few satires, a Faulkner homage and plenty of narratives that avoid easy labeling. Knight's story, "Birdland," a sweet, lyrical exploration of love and ornithology in a very small Alabama town, opens the collection and is perhaps the most polished entry. Between paeans to the South's famous humidity ("bone-warming, inertial heat, humidity thick enough to slow your blood"), Knight constructs the relationship of Raymond and Ludmilla, a couple bound together by the heat and a flock of African parrots. Singleton's tale, "Caulk," presents a farce perhaps only possible in the South, in which a man covers his entire house in acrylic white caulk in an unsubtle rebellion against his wife. "The Human Side of Instrumental Transcommunication," by Wendy Brenner, offers a public confessional that is both bitingly satirical and eminently compassionate, as she demonstrates the lengths to which some people will go to manage grief. Of the headline writers, Gordon's contribution, "Storytelling," employs her signature motifÄpeople smiling through pain. Earley, Richard Bausch, and Clyde Edgerton have produced stronger short fictions than the ones that appear here, but there are no disappointments in this zesty collection, which continues to showcase significant work. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Once again, this series does not disappoint. As the South has changed, so have the voices emerging from the deltas, farms, and burgeoning metropolitan areas. These voices offer personal histories of human interactions, such as Rick DeMarinis's "Borrowed Hearts." Others, like Mary Gordon's "Storytelling," reveal the gifts of friendships and the inspirations for stories. Most of these stories are not particularly Southern-related, but they are most definitely Southern-flavored. The memorable writing of Laura Payne Butler's "Booker T's Coming Home" speaks of the legacy of the South, while this reader's personal favorite, Wendy Brenner's "The Human Side of Instrumental Transcommunication," seems to be taking place anywhere and nowhere. Short stories such as these remind the world that the South has rich, deep talent and fertile ground for the art of storytelling. There's writing here to please any reader, no matter what his or her geography.ÄShannon Haddock, Bellsouth Corporate Lib. & Business Research Ctr., Birmingham, AL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



from the Preface: Letter from Sister-What We Learned at the P.O. I have a theory-perhaps unformed and, without question, unsubstantiated-that most bad Southern writing is descended directly from Eudora Welty's "Why I Live at the P.O." Welty's story smacks of a certain now-familiar sensibility, rife with caricature, overstated eccentricity, and broadly drawn humor, that has come to represent Southern writing and, through that representation, the South itself. It would be dif?cult, if not impossible, to read much Southern ?ction and not come upon story after story faithfully cut from our landscape and culture, using the template provided by Welty in 1941. The characters in "Why I Live at the P.O." possess the prototypical, colorful Southern names that, in the musical sound of their regional speci?city, have come to promise colorful Southern doings: Papa-Daddy, Uncle Rondo, Stella-Rondo, Shirley-T., Sister. They eat green-tomato pickle and, on the Fourth of July, sport about in ?esh-colored kimonos while impaired by prescription drugs. They live in Mississippi. They grow long beards and illegitimate children and mismatched sets of breasts. In delicious, honey-coated accents they utter the delicious, honey-coated statements, void of any real importance, that fall sweetly on the ears of book-buying lovers of stereotype everywhere. "Papa-Daddy," Stella-Rondo says, when she's looking to stir up trouble, "Papa-Daddy! . . . Sister says she fails to understand why you don't cut off your beard." Uncle Rondo, after he has donned Stella-Rondo's ?esh-colored kimono and illegally ingested God knows what prescription narcotic (he's a pharmacist), cries, "Sister, get out of my way, I'm poisoned." So faithfully have the conventions of "Why I Live at the P.O." been copied by succeeding generations of writers, so dominant has the regionally identi?ed literature laid out by the story become, that Welty might well have titled it "How to Exploit the People of the Nation's Poorest Region and Get a Really Big Book Advance." All of which is at least shameful, if not artistically criminal, because "Why I Live at the P.O." is a bona ?de work of genius, not only one of the best short stories produced by a Southern writer, but one of the best stories by any writer, anywhere. The genius of "Why I Live at the P.O." lies not in the story that the narrator, Sister, tells us-which is, without question, broadly told, colorful, eccentric, and side-splittingly funny-but in the story Sister does not know she is telling us. In her hysterical attempt to win us over to her side in a seemingly inconsequential family dispute, Sister inadvertently reveals the emotional and spiritual burdens that she and the members of her family must pull through their lives. Stella-Rondo has been abandoned by a traveling salesman who might or might not be her husband, leaving her to raise a daughter who might or might not be illegitimate. Uncle Rondo is a shell-shocked veteran of World War I who once had a breakdown because one of his nieces broke a chain letter from Flanders Field. Mama is a tired woman-a widow, one presumes-who knows that she must spend the rest of her days caring for and keeping peace among, the rapidly aging daughters she can't marry off; her senile father; and her shell-shocked, drug-addled brother. Papa-Daddy's rages are directed not so much at Sister, but at what a colorful writer who wasn't from around here famously called the "dying of the light" (Sister tells us he's "just about a million years old"). And Sister, poor Sister. She thinks she is simply justifying to us her reasons for choosing to live in the second smallest post of?ce in the state of Mississippi. But what she doesn't know she is telling us is that she is horribly alone, that she realizes she will spend the rest of her life in a tiny, tiny place, with no chance of escape, unloved and unmarried, dependent upon the charity of her family. Her monologue to us, unbeknownst to her, is at once a comedic tour de force and a heartrending cry in the wilderness. While these aren't new critical insights, they are, I think, important ones. The bright surface of "Why I Live at the P.O." is so extraordinarily attractive that it is easy to see why it has been so often imitated. But it is also easy to see why, if only the surface of Welty's story is imitated, the result is but a shallow and often exploitative parody of a great work of art. It is easy to make up characters who live in double-wide mobile homes, wear beehive hairdos and feed caps, never put a g on the end of a participle, have sex with their cousins, voted for George Wallace; who squint and spit whenever an out-of-towner uses a polysyllabic word; who aspire only to own a bass boat, scare a Yankee, have sex with their cousins again, burn a cross, eat something fried, speak in tongues, do anything butt nekkid, be a guest on a daytime talk show, and make the next payment on a satellite dish that points toward Venus and picks up 456 separate channels on a clear day. What is dif?cult is to take the poor, the uneducated, the superstitious, the backward, the redneck, the "trailer-trash," and make them real human beings, with hopes and dreams and aspirations as real and valid, and as worthy of our fair consideration, as any Cheeverian Westchester County housewife. While I can forgive our brothers and sisters from other parts of the country for taking pleasure in, or even creating, a Southern literature based on stereotype, I ?nd it harder to forgive Southerners who do the same thing, particularly if they are capable of writing with greater understanding but choose not to. What Welty's more cynical impersonators* choose to ignore is that the eccentricities portrayed in "Why I Live at the P.O." are character-speci?c and not indicative of any larger pattern of regional or cultural behavior or belief. The humor in the words Uncle Rondo arises not from the words themselves, but from the way Sister says them. While the sound of Sister's voice has become the matriarch of all the shrill, self-absorbed voices we hear in Southern ?ction, yammering on about nothing at all, we should remember that her voice is also one of agenda and calculation. Sister wants to make her family look bad; she wants us to believe that they are stupid and that, in their stupidity, they have treated her unfairly. What worries me is the possibility that Sister's voice, with all its layers of complexity, will become lost in the din raised by its imitators, and that din will become, if it hasn't already, the only voice we hear in our heads when we think about the nature of the word Southern. I am often asked if I consider myself a Southern writer, and, to be honest, my answer depends on-to borrow a line from Owen Wister's Virginian, one of the most famously one-dimensional Southern stereotypes-whether or not my questioner smiles when he calls me that. If he means, do I make fun of my characters because they are Southern and because there is a bottomless market for that sort of thing, then the answer is no. But if he means, do I consider myself someone who at least attempts to portray the people of my native region in all their complexity and diversity and Christ-hauntedness and moral ambiguity, the answer is yes, I consider myself a Southern writer. And as a Southern writer-even one who tends to be as thin-skinned, testy, and self-righteous about this issue as I am-I have been tempted to lower the IQs of my characters, name them Something-or-Other Bob, and stick their illiterate backsides to a Naugahyde La-Z-Boy in order to make myself popular and sell some books. The real danger arises when too many of us at once give in to this invidious urge. In creating our own literature, a Southern literature, we often go for the quick laugh, the easy buck, the cardboard character. When we do that, we eat away the foundation of that literature from the inside. My fear is that, eventually, because of our willingness to feed on, without replacing, the tenets and traditions and subjects given to us by our predecessors-Welty, Flannery O'Connor, and William Faulkner most prominent among them-Southern writing will collapse and bury all of us, leaving only kudzu, grits, and a certain vaguely familiar voice to mark the spot. *I understand that I am committing an act of critical cowardice here by not naming names. My concern is that I might inadvertently indict a writer who is doing the best he or she can do. I would hate to snag the sincere but unsuccessful in a net cast for the cynical. But to those Southern writers who are cynical, mercenary, exploitative, and aware: You know who you are. Shame on you. Use of this excerpt from NEW STORIES FROM THE SOUTH may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright c 1999 by Tony Earley. All rights reserved. Excerpted from New Stories from the South 1999: The Year's Best All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

"Letter from Sister--What we learned at the P.O."Tony Earley and Michael Knight
"Birdland" From THE NEW YORKER Heather Sellers
"Fla. Boys" From FIVE POINTS Clyde Edgerton
"Lunch at the Piccadilly" From THE CAROLINA QUARTERLYWilliam Gay
"Those Deep Elm Brown's Ferry Blues" From THE MISSOURI REVIEWRichard Bausch
"Missy" From FIVE POINTSGeorge Singleton
"Caulk" From SHENANDOAHRick DeMarinis
"Borrowed Hearts" From THE ANTIOCH REVIEWWendy Brenner
"The Human Side of Instrumental Transcommuni