Writers in The South grow slowly and organically like garden vegetables, about one row back from the tomatoes (a.k.a “tomatas”). We soak up about as much sunlight as we can, but grow the most on our rainy days. We dare not cover the scuffs or rough marks on our skins, because it shows where we once laid on the ground until somebody came along to pick us up.
I’ve always emphasized my connection to my atmosphere. I always say this as if I’m the only one who operates that way. On occasion I like to prance around in self-indulgent thoughts when my ego has hit a little drought. However, I’ve realized a lot of people are conjoined, like a Siamese twin, to his or her atmosphere. After all, that’s how we develop different cultures. Culture is born from an atmosphere rubbing off on everyone in it. Writers come from all different backgrounds, but often display trends rooting back to the region they come from. We Southern writers are no exception to the rule.
I’ve written on many occasions about the unexplainable energy that pumps through that Bible-quoting, front-porch-sitting, humidity-expelling, artistic cess pool below the Mason-Dixon line. That energy is what fertilizes Southern American writers. It’s our miracle grow. We are emotional, romantic, hopeful, wishful, and always starved for something. Those things are the connective tissues formed between us. That’s what makes Southern literature incredible, and is why I want so badly to be a part of it. We are all home grown, sprouting up with seeds inside spicier than a hot banana pepper’s. I know that fire, and it’s a blood thirsty flame that can only be controlled for fleeting moments at a time when my hand and the page connect and make sense for that minute. Whenever that beautiful event occurs, I just look around me to quickly find where it came from. When I read other Southern authors like, Sue Monk Kidd, Nicholas Sparks, Barbara Kingsolver, or the great Thomas Wolfe I recognize something. I recognize a community pulsing the same heartbeat, a sweet Southern song, performed by a chorus of crickets and summer afternoon thunder. I see all of the writers speckled about the lower right side of the map writing out those passions bred by an amazing culture, and I realize I belong there, and I am home.
Creative Writing teacher Natalie Goldberg says, “Often when a southerner reads [an original piece], the members of the class look at each other, and you can hear them thinking, gee, I can’t write like that. The power and force of the land is heard in the piece. These southerners know the names of what shrubs hang over what creek, what dogwood flowers bloom what color, what kind of soil is under their feet.”
I can almost hear all the Southern writers sigh, in different variations of the accent, a collective, “Amen.”