Writing the South through the Self
Explorations in Southern Autobiography

John C. Inscoe

Using autobiography as an invaluable means for understanding southern history


"Southern autobiography and memoir have become the subject of much scholarly inquiry over the past couple of decades. John Inscoe's vast knowledge of southern life-writing, his grounding in southern history, and his insight into the various southern tempers have resulted in a book that is a significant contribution to the field."
—Fred Hobson, author of Tell About the South: The Southern Rage to Explain

"Infused with insights drawn from the vast experiences of an accomplished scholar, a caring teacher, and a passionate and empathetic reader. Inscoe's defense of the unique potential that autobiography has to shape our emotional understanding of the southern past is lucid, engaging, and utterly convincing."
—Jennifer Jensen Wallach, author of "Closer to the Truth Than Any Fact": Memoir, Memory, and Jim Crow

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Drawing on two decades of teaching a college-level course on southern history as viewed through autobiography and memoir, John C. Inscoe has crafted a series of essays exploring the southern experience as reflected in the life stories of those who lived it. Constantly attuned to the pedagogical value of these narratives, Inscoe argues that they offer exceptional means of teaching young people because the authors focus so fully on their confrontations—as children, adolescents, and young adults—with aspects of southern life that they found to be troublesome, perplexing, or challenging.

Maya Angelou, Rick Bragg, Jimmy Carter, Bessie and Sadie Delany, Willie Morris, Pauli Murray, Lillian Smith, and Thomas Wolfe are among the more prominent of the many writers, both famous and obscure, upon whom Inscoe draws to construct a composite portrait of the South at its most complex and diverse. The power of place; struggles with racial, ethnic, and class identities; the strength and strains of family; educational opportunities both embraced and thwarted—all are themes that infuse the works in this most intimate and humanistic of historical genres.

Full of powerful and poignant stories, anecdotes, and testimonials, Writing the South through the Self explores the emotional and psychological dimensions of what it has meant to be southern and offers us new ways of understanding the forces that have shaped southern identity in such multifaceted ways.

Published in association with the Georgia Humanities Council

Page count: 246 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


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John C. Inscoe is Albert B. Saye Professor of History and University Professor at the University of Georgia. His nine books include Mountain Masters: Slavery and the Sectional Crisis in Western North Carolina and Race, War, and Remembrance in the Appalachian South. Inscoe is the editor of the New Georgia Encyclopedia and secretary-treasurer of the Southern Historical Association.