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Southern Writers gives glimpse of where and how writers create

We bibliophiles often are not only fascinated by what writers write but also by how, when and where they write. “Southern Writers” answers some of those questions in a revealing pictorial of seventy-two critically and popularly acclaimed writers of the contemporary American South.

I recently received a copy of this book as a birthday gift, and I’m enjoying getting to know more about some of my favorite writers. The black and white photographs are especially interesting and in most cases show the authors where the creative process occurs. Some are as you would expect — neat, book-lined offices. Others are not so neat, such as the late James Dickey, photographed amidst unruly stacks of books in his Columbia, S.C. home less than five months before he died.

Spielman worked unobtrusively to capture these writers’ personalities and settings. It’s a comfortable, well-furnished den for Anne Rivers Siddons; the Confederate Home in downtown Charleston for Josephine Humphreys; a cramped, paper-strewn office for Clyde Edgerton; and a cheap motel room for Terry Kay. Others are pictured where they relax. Spielman was striving for pictures that would be genuine and current.

The book was published in 1997 so of course does not include some great Southern writers such as William Faulkner. Sadly, several notable Mississippi writers are in the book but are no longer with us. Those include Larry Brown, Barry Hannah, Shelby Foote and Eudora Welty.

There are a few we don’t generally think of as Southern writers. One is John Jakes, who was born in Ohio and chose to become a Southerner when he built a home on Hilton Head Island.

The book’s foreword by Fred Hobson, University of North Carolina professor of humanities, states, “What we usually get with writers, Southern or otherwise, is the product of their work — the books — but, unlike actors, ballerinas, tight-rope walkers and basketball players, we see little of the process, the action of the work in progress.”

He goes on to say that in “Southern Writers” we are given much more, including engaging photos on the writers’ native ground and the enlightening biographical sketches that tell us about the process of creating.

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