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

"This book is an answer to a prayer for people wanting to learn about and understand the South. Along with good history on a complex region of the United States, we see it through the eyes and hearts of southerners telling their own stories. From racism, white life in Appalachia, mixed race identities, to the agonies of Jim Crow, we hear the voices of Lillian Smith, Richard Wright, Jimmy Carter, Zora Neale Hurston, and a host of others speaking in this absorbing book."
—Constance W. Curry, author of Silver Rights

"These highly readable essays offer nuanced and probing examinations of a wide range of important and, in the case of quite a few, neglected U.S. southern autobiographies and memoirs. With its original and arresting insights into the psychological repercussions of racism, classism, and gender discrimination, Inscoe’s Writing the South through the Self is especially valuable to anyone who teaches life writing in the South or the history of Jim Crow."
—Jim Watkins, editor of Southern Selves: From Mark Twain and Eudora Welty to Maya Angelou and Kaye Gibbons, a Collection of Autobiographical Writing

"Writing the South is without a doubt a valuable contribution to the field of southern studies."
—Janelle Collins, Arkansas Review

"Writing the South through the Self provides a solid introductory text for scholars and students looking to survey the parameters of southern autobiographical writing."
—Lisa Hinrichsen, Arkansas Historical Quarterly

"[The book's] breadth and the richness of its sources and interpretation make this book an important contribution to southern studies and biographical research."
—Jennifer Ritterhouse, Biography

"Using lives recounted by the southerners who lived them, Inscoe skillfully teases out meanings about the larger southern experience embedded in memoir. . . . In his hands, autobiography becomes an excellent teaching tool, which he uses to inspire students and promote empathy."
—Pamela Tyler, Journal of Southern History

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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.