The South is known and loved for so many things, not the least of which is its rich and thickly woven tapestry of storytelling. This legacy is one that is passed down from generation to generation in our beloved region, keeping the identity and soul of the South alive and undiluted. In The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists, renowned folklorist William Ferris explores the writers, artists and scholars who have defined the art of the great Southern story over the course of the last century.


Growing up Southern means that storytelling is an inherent part of life. We live and learn and move forward by looking to the past as a constant guide and reference. Here, we are bound together by the stories and memories we share. These tales exist as persistent (if not relentless) reminders of the unique history that we, as Southerners, exclusively share.  This is the dynamic that Ferris so expertly assesses through this compilation.


“The South is a land of talkers whose stories are as old as the region itself,” Ferris begins. “We tell stories at home, on the street, in settings familiar to every southerner. Our stories transport the listener, like a leaf turning on water, into another world,” he continues. But this book seeks to go beyond the topic of the tradition of storytelling.  It is the Southern way of translating our stories into fiction, history and song that Ferris attempts to uncover. Storytelling is at the root of Southern art but the end result is much more complex than the story itself.


Surprisingly, not every individual featured in the pages of the book is from the South. “[These interviews] feature a broad range of people--southerners and non-southerners, men and women, black and white,” Ferris writes. “Together, they share a common interest in, a passion for, and an obsession with the American South that define how they write, compose, photograph and paint.”


The famed and widely adored Eudora Welty is the first writer featured in the book. Ferris recounts his many visits with Welty over the years and speaks of the friendship that he developed with her. “Our visits in her home were always memorable, intimate moments as we sat in her living room and spoke about friends and ideas,” he recalls. Welty discusses her life, childhood and writing in the interview. “As for writing, I do not remember making a conscious decision to write,” she says. “I was a big reader and I thought in terms of the imagination and words. It was natural, I think, to want to write.”
The Storied South also features interviews with many of America’s most prominent literary figures including Robert Penn Warren, Alex Haley and Margaret Walker. Musicians, photographers, painters and scholars are also included in successive sections of the book. These are the stories of the storytellers themselves, told in their own voices and assembled with the skill of an expert.


Intimate and moving, the book is a collection of one-on-one interviews with twenty-six of the nation’s most brilliant thinkers and writers. Ferris conducted these interviews himself over the last forty years of his career. “This book tracks my intellectual and artistic growth through friendships with the individuals featured on these pages,” he writes. “I owe so much to them, and I hope that this work fully expresses my gratitude and respect.” Ferris is widely considered to be a leading expert on the Southern experience and is also a Professor of History and senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


The Storied South features 45 of Ferris’s remarkable photographic portraits of the speakers and includes both a CD and DVD of original audio and films of the interviews. It is truly a compilation of the great Southern storytellers, both in word and image. It is undoubtedly a volume that should be included in the personal library of every Southerner or lover of the Southern storytelling tradition. When the final page of The Storied South is turned, readers will truly feel like they have been sitting on the front porch listening to the voices and stories of these legendary Southern icons.

Legends and Lore

Writers and artists who have defined the South

 

Story by Shana Raley-Lusk

Arts & Culture | Books | September 2013

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