Humor, Homosexuality, and the Southern Literary Canon
In Precious Perversions: Humor, Homosexuality, and the Southern Literary Canon, Tison Pugh challenges the premises that elevate William Faulkner and diminish Florence King, that esteem Walker Percy yet disregard David Sedaris, by arguing for the inclusion of gay comic authors as long-standing, defining voices of the field. Southern literature has long been heralded for its tragic sentiments, in its somber and necessary acknowledgments of the region’s tormented past, as it has for asserting a heteronormative vision of southern life. Yet a pantheon of great authors—ranging from Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, and Truman Capote in the mid-twentieth century to present-day writers including Florence King, Rita Mae Brown, and David Sedaris—collectively attest to both the vibrancy of queer experience and the prevalence of humor found in this rich regional canon.
Pugh reveals long-overlooked or discounted aspects of gay humor within the South’s literary realm. Noting, for example, that Tennessee Williams is revered as a dramatist who probes the heart of the human condition rather than for his submerged camp humor, and that Truman Capote’s comic cinema and literature never eclipsed his serious works, Pugh establishes that mainstream and academic criticism have traditionally ignored queer humor. Likewise, Florence King and Rita Mae Brown wrote defining narratives of southern lesbian experience in, respectively, Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady and Rubyfruit Jungle, yet, according to Pugh, they are almost entirely neglected in accounts of the literary South. More recently, the author shows, the critical reception of Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina testifies to an overarching interest in the traumatic aspects of her poetry and fiction rather than in her humor and its cathartic power. Pugh also asserts that David Sedaris, as a writer of the “post-southern South” who appears to fall outside the parameters of regional literature for many readers, creates a new, humorous vision of the South that recognizes both its pained history and its grudging accession to modernity.
Drawing from works of key writers, Pugh sets forth a new vision of southern literature—one illuminated by the humor of gay voices no longer at the margins.
Tison Pugh is professor of English at the University of Central Florida. His previous books include Truman Capote: A Literary Life at the Movies and Queer Chivalry: Medievalism and the Myth of White Masculinity in Southern Literature.
Praise for Precious Perversions
“Southerners’ ability to laugh at almost anything is one of the things that defines our regional character. It’s also true that much Southern humor contains a dark streak, and it’s this ability to seamlessly blend the comic and tragic by so many of the region’s writers that author Tison Pugh elevates and celebrates in his book Precious Perversions.”—Deep South Magazine
Found an Error? Tell us about it.