Few if any are better endowed than George Garrett to comment on the general and the particular, the long and the short, of southern letters in our time. Garrett — a prolific and internationally renowned author of fiction, poetry, drama, and biography as well as a teacher, editor, critic, and frequent jurist for literary competitions — has been immersed in the writers and literature of his native region for almost a half century. Southern Excursions contains more than fifty of the best essays, reviews, and other short pieces of his career. For the connoisseur of good writing, this book is a depository, a treasure, a veritable time capsule of southern, literary, and American culture.
Without sacrificing reverence for modern masters such as Faulkner, O’Connor, and Welty, Garrett has consistently embraced worthy new artists through the years, deftly and judiciously drawing the line between critical acclaim and popular success. Payton Davis, Shelby Foote, Walker Percy, William Hoffman, Madison Jones, Reynolds Price, Robert Morgan, R. H. W. Dillard, Wendell Berry, Doris Betts, William Goyen, Mary Lee Settle, Randall Kenan, David Huddle, Allan Gurganus, Dorothy Allison — these are a few of the writers Garrett has championed. If some names sound less familiar, Garrett, in these pages, will inspire readers to swift investigation.
The author’s charm, wit, and anecdotal style make reading Southern Excursions a delight, and yet there’s no mistaking his erudition. Wise like a prophet, with a talent scout’s enthusiasm, Garrett is not afraid to tell unwelcome truths, covering topics that include southern publishing houses and literary quarterlies, the alliance between writers and academia, the state of criticism and theory, and, most eloquently, the persistence of place, memory, and the Civil War as themes in southern letters.
Southern Excursions is a book for the ages, stowing as it does the sage views of one as learned, respected — and modest — in his time as George Garrett. “My strong suggestion [to readers],” he states, “is to plunge in and fare forward. Experience the story before turning to or trusting the opinions and judgments of others, myself included.”
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