Classics

100 Must-Read Works of Southern Literature

A Riot reader from the Midwest was so intrigued by my love letter to Flannery O’Connor, she tweeted me and asked if I had a copy of my Southern literature class reading list. She always wanted to dig into Southern lit, but didn’t know where to start. I suddenly realized that if you aren’t exposed to Southern lit, you really don’t know where to start. Sure, you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, and yeah… that Faulkner guy was from Mississippi (let’s face it, Faulkner’s words ain’t easy on the brain). But what else is there?

william-faulknerI started to make a list of Southern books I had in my personal library, and I had around 70 that I would be willing to tell a stranger to read. Bookseller extraordinaire Joe Hickman of Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi helped me fill in some gaps, and we exchanged a few notes on upcoming releases. Lemuria is by far the best bookstore in the South because they have a huge staff full of people who know their stuff. Plus, they have ALL THE BOOKS. Seriously. The books overflow off the shelves all over the floor. Great place.

A few notes: some authors have so many good books, I just listed the ones I liked the most. In the case of Faulkner, I picked his more accessible novels. There is some really great nonfiction included and a lot of really great nonfiction NOT included. I had to cut it off at some point.

I suggest you pour yourself a glass of single barrel bourbon, make a batch of cheese straws, and start reading.

 

  1. A Childhood: The Biography of a Place – Harry Crews
  2. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
  3. A Death in the Family – James Agee
  4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
  5. Airships – Barry Hannah
  6. A Land More Kind Than Home – Wiley Cash
  7. A Lesson Before Dying – Ernest Gaines
  8. All Over But the Shoutin’ – Rick Bragg
  9. All the King’s Men – Robert Penn Warren
  10. Apostles of Light – Ellen Douglas
  11. As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner
  12. A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennessee Williams
  13. A Time to Kill – John Grisham
  14. The Awakening – Kate Chopin
  15. Bastard Out of Carolina – Dorothy Allison
  16. Bats Out of Hell – Barry Hannah
  17. Big Bad Love – Larry Brown
  18. Black Boy – Richard Wright
  19. Blues All Around Me – B.B. King
  20. Brother to a Dragonfly – Will Campbell
  21. Burning Bright: Stories – Ron Rash
  22. Before Women Had Wings – Connie May Fowler
  23. Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
  24. Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters – Robert Gordon
  25. Child of God – Cormac McCarthy
  26. The Civil War: A Narrative (I-III) – Shelby Foote
  27. Cold Mountain – Charles Frazier
  28. Cold Sassy Tree – Olive Ann Burns
  29. *The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty – Eudora Welty
  30. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  31. The Complete Stories – Flannery O’Connor
  32. The Courting of Marcus Dupree – Willie Morris
  33. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter – Tom Franklin
  34. Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man – Fannie Flagg
  35. Deep Blues – Robert Palmer
  36. Deliverance – James Dickey
  37. Delta Wedding – Eudora Welty
  38. Ellen Foster – Kaye Gibbons
  39. The End of California – Steve Yarbrough
  40. Every Day By the Sun – Dean Faulkner Wells
  41. The Fall of the House of Zeus – Curtis Wilkie
  42. Father of the Blues – W. C. Handy
  43. Fire in the Morning – Elizabeth Spencer
  44. Geronimo Rex – Barry Hannah
  45. Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues – William Ferris
  46. Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  47. The Great Santini – Pat Conroy
  48. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers
  49. Hell at the Breech – Tom Franklin
  50. House of Prayer No. 2 – Mark Richard
  51. I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down – William Gay
  52. It Wasn’t All Dancing and Other Stories – Mary Ward Brown
  53. Joe – Larry Brown
  54. The Keepers of the House – Shirley Ann Grau
  55. The Kitchen House – Kathleen Grissom
  56. Known World – Edward P Jones
  57. Lanterns on the Levee – William Alexander Percy
  58. The Last Gentleman – Walker Percy
  59. The Last Girls – Lee Smith
  60. The Last of the Southern Girls – Willie Morris
  61. Light in August – William Faulkner
  62. The Little Friend – Donna Tartt
  63. Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South – Roy Blount Jr.
  64. Look Homeward, Angel – Thomas Wolfe
  65. The Mind of the South – W.J. Cash
  66. The Moviegoer – Walker Percy
  67. Mudbound – Hillary Jordan
  68. The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure – Jack Pendarvis
  69. Native Guard – Natasha Trethewey
  70. North Toward Home – Willie Morris
  71. Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All – Allan Gurganus
  72. Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored – Clifton Taulbert
  73. One Foot in Eden – Ron Rash
  74. One Mississippi – Mark Childress
  75. The Optimist’s Daughter – Eudora Welty
  76. Other Voices, Other Rooms – Truman Capote
  77. Poachers – Tom Franklin
  78. The Prince of Tides – Pat Conroy
  79. Provinces of Night – William Gay
  80. The Quiet Game – Greg Iles
  81. Raney – Clyde Edgerton
  82. Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 – John Barry
  83. Run with the Horseman – Ferrol Sams
  84. Salvage the Bones – Jesmyn Ward
  85. Salvation on Sand Mountain – Dennis Covington
  86. The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
  87. Serena – Ron Rash
  88. The Sharpshooter Blues – Lewis Nordan
  89. Shiloh and Other Stories – Bobbie Ann Mason
  90. The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
  91. Southern Belly: A Food Lover’s Companion – John T. Edge
  92. Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom – Peter Guralnick
  93. Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
  94. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  95. Victory Over Japan – Ellen Gilchrist
  96. Walking Across Egypt – Clyde Edgerton
  97. Welding with Children – Tim Gautreaux
  98. Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor
  99. Work Shirts for Madmen – George Singleton
  100. Zeitoun – Dave Eggers

Coming soon:

  1. The Death of Santini – Pat Conroy (Nan A. Talese)
  2. Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt (St. Martin’s Press)
  3. Men We Reaped – Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury USA)
  4. The Realm of Last Chances – Steve Yarbrough (Knopf)
  5. The Resurrectionist – Matthew Guinn (W.W. Norton)
  6. Rivers – Michael Farris Smith (Simon & Schuster)
  7. Someone Else’s Love Story – Joshilyn Jackson (William Morrow)
  8. Sycamore Row – John Grisham (Doubleday)
  9. This Dark Road to Mercy – WIley Cash (William Morrow)
  10. The Tilted World – Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly (William Morrow)

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About Emily Gatlin

Emily Gatlin is a former independent bookstore manager turned freelance writer. She writes about books, blunders and noms at A Prose For Emily and culinary awesomeness at Food Riot. Follow her on Twitter: @emilygatlin