The Best Southern Books of March 2021

It’s March again, which is hard to believe. Amidst the heartache of the continuing pandemic, rising violence against the AAPI community, and the horrible attacks in Atlanta last week, I hope you’re experiencing brighter days and early spring blooms like I am here in Tennessee.

This month’s list is full of fantastic books, like a Black Bear Creek, collection of stories about fictional town in West Virginia; Infinite Country, a novel about a family split between America and Colombia; and Peach State, a poetry collection about Atlanta as seen and shaped by Chinese Americans.

Black Bear Creek
By Joshua Cross
March 1, 2021

Southeast Missouri State University Press: “The fictional town of Black Bear Creek lies tucked in a remote hollow of the Coal River Valley in West Virginia, a region reliant on and devastated by the mining industry. The people in these stories struggle to survive against rampant poverty while their drinking water is poisoned and the mountains around them are stripped away. But amongst this bleak backdrop, they find ways to love and hope and fight. Cross’s raw, spare prose reflects the barren landscape his characters inhabit as they put their bodies and lives at risk just to feed their families.”

A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers
By Babette Fraser Hale
March 5, 2021

Winedale Publishing: “Each of the flawed, fully human characters we meet in these twelve stories faces a moment of life-altering transformation. Most are newcomers to the scenic, rolling countryside of central Texas whose charms they romanticize, even as the troubles they hoped to leave behind persist.”

The Baddest Girl on the Planet
By Heather Frese
March 2, 2021

Blair: “There have been several detours — career snafus, bad romantic choices, a loved but unplanned child — not to mention her ill-advised lifelong obsession with boxer Mike Tyson. Evie is not plucky, but when life’s changes smash over her like the rough surf of the local shoreline, she muddles through — until that moment of loss and longing when muddling will no longer suffice.” 

Infinite Country
By Patricia Engel
March 2, 2021

Avid Reader Press: “Talia is being held at a correctional facility for adolescent girls in the forested mountains of Colombia after committing an impulsive act of violence that may or may not have been warranted. She urgently needs to get out and get back home to Bogotá, where her father and a plane ticket to the United States are waiting for her. If she misses her flight, she might also miss her chance to finally be reunited with her family in the north. Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality of the undocumented in America, Infinite Country is the story of two countries and one mixed-status family — for whom every triumph is stitched with regret, and every dream pursued bears the weight of a dream deferred.”

What’s Mine and Yours
By Naima Coster
March 2, 2021

Grand Central Publishing: “A community in the Piedmont of North Carolina rises in outrage as a county initiative draws students from the largely Black east side of town into predominantly white high schools on the west. For two students, Gee and Noelle, the integration sets off a chain of events that will tie their two families together in unexpected ways over the span of the next twenty years. When Gee and Noelle join the school play meant to bridge the divide between new and old students, their paths collide, and their two seemingly disconnected families begin to form deeply knotted, messy ties that will shape the trajectory of their adult lives. And their mothers — each determined to see her child inherit a better life — will make choices that will haunt them for decades to come.”

Second Story
By Denise Duhamel
March 9, 2021

University of Pittsburgh Press: “When her Florida apartment is damaged by the ferocity of Hurricane Irma, Duhamel turns to Dante and terza rima, reconstructing the form into the long poem ‘Terza Irma.’ Throughout the book she investigates our near-catastrophic ecological and political moment, hyperaware of her own complicity, resistance, and agency. She writes odes to her favorite uncle — who was “green” before it was a hashtag — and Mother Nature via a retro margarine commercial. She writes letters to her failing memory as well as to America’s amnesia. With fear of the water below and a burglar who enters through her second story window, she bravely faces the story under the story, the second story we often neglect to tell.”

Thinking the US South:
Contemporary Philosophy from Southern Perspectives

Edited by Shannon Sullivan
March 15, 2021

Northwestern University Press: “The varied essays in Thinking the US South: Contemporary Philosophy from Southern Perspectives demonstrate that Southern identities, borders, and practices play an important but unacknowledged role in ethical, political, emotional, and global issues connected to knowledge production. Not merely one geographical region among others, the US South is sometimes a fantasy and other times a nightmare, but it is always a prominent component of the American national imaginary. In connection with the Global North and Global South, the US South provides a valuable perspective from which to explore race, class, gender, and other inter- and intra-American differences.”

Hot, Hot Chicken: A Nashville Story
By Rachel Louise Martin
March 15, 2021

Vanderbilt University Press: “These days, hot chicken is a ‘must-try’ Southern food. Restaurants in New York, Detroit, Cambridge, and even Australia advertise that they fry their chicken “Nashville-style.” Thousands of people attend the Music City Hot Chicken Festival each year. The James Beard Foundation has given Prince’s Chicken Shack an American Classic Award for inventing the dish. But for almost seventy years, hot chicken was made and sold primarily in Nashville’s Black neighborhoods — and the story of hot chicken says something powerful about race relations in Nashville, especially as the city tries to figure out what it will be in the future. Hot, Hot Chicken recounts the history of Nashville’s Black communities through the story of its hot chicken scene from the Civil War, when Nashville became a segregated city, through the tornado that ripped through North Nashville in March 2020.”

Big Bad
By Whitney Collins
March 16, 2021

Sarabande Books: “Within the thirteen stories of Whitney Collins’s Big Bad dwells a hunger that’s dark, deep, and hilarious. Part domestic horror, part flyover gothic, Big Bad serves up real-world predicaments in unremarkable places (motels, dormitories, tiki bars), all with Collins’s heart-wrenching flavor of magical realism. A young woman must give birth to future iterations of herself; a widower kills a horse en route to his grandson’s circumcision; a conflicted summer camper is haunted by a glass eye and motorcycle crash. Collins’s cast of characters must repeatedly choose to fight or flee the “big bad” that dwells within us all.”

The House Uptown
By Melissa Ginsburg
March 16, 2021

Flatiron Books: “Ava, fourteen years old and totally on her own, has still not fully processed her mother’s death when she finds herself on a train heading to New Orleans, to stay with Lane, the grandmother she barely remembers. Lane is a well-known artist in the New Orleans art scene. She spends most of her days in a pot-smoke haze, sipping iced coffee, and painting, which has been her singular focus for years. Her grip on reality is shaky at best, but her work provides a comfort. Ava’s arrival unsettles Lane. The girl bears an uncanny resemblance to her daughter, whom she was estranged from before her death. Now her presence is dredging up painful and disturbing memories, which forces Lane to retreat even further into her own mind. As Ava and Lane attempt to find their way and form a bond, the oppressive heat and history of New Orleans bears down on them, forcing a reckoning neither of them are ready for.”

The Tender Grave
By Sheri Reynolds
March 16, 2021

Bywater Books: “Dori, at age 17, participates in a hate crime against a gay boy from her school and runs away to escape prosecution — and her own harrowing childhood. In her pocket, she carries the address of an older, half-sister she’s never met. She has no idea that her sister Teresa is married to another woman. When Dori and Teresa finally meet, they’re forced to confront that, while they don’t like or really even understand one another, they are inextricably bound together in ways that transcend their differences. Together, the sisters discover that shifting currents of family and connection can sometimes run deeper than the prevailing tides of abandonment and estrangement. In The Tender Grave, Sheri Reynolds weaves complex themes of parenting, forgiveness, guilt, and accountability into a lyrical and lushly-woven tapestry that chronicles our enduring search for heart, home, and healing.”

Peach State
By Adrienne Su
March 23, 2021

University of Pittsburgh Press: “Peach State has its origins in Atlanta, Georgia, the author’s hometown and an emblematic city of the New South, a name that reflects the American region’s invigoration in recent decades by immigration and a spirit of reinvention. Focused mainly on food and cooking, these poems explore the city’s transformation from the mid-twentieth century to today, as seen and shaped by Chinese Americans. The poems are set in restaurants, home kitchens, grocery stores, and the houses of friends and neighbors. Often employing forms — sonnet, villanelle, sestina, palindrome, ghazal, rhymed stanzas — they also mirror the constant negotiation with tradition that marks both immigrant and Southern experience.”