The Best Southern Books of September 2021

Hello Fall! We’ve had a (brief) break in summer temps here in Tennessee this week, and I am thrilled to be enjoying walks and crunching leaves — all without sweating! Autumn is the perfect time to curl up with a mug of hot apple cider and dive into a new read, like these fantastic Southern novels, essays, and poetry collections.

Reparations Now!
By Ashley M. Jones
September 7, 2021

Hub City Press: “In formal and non-traditional poems, award-winning poet Ashley M. Jones calls for long-overdue reparations to the Black descendants of enslaved people in the United States of America. In this, her third collection, Jones deftly takes on the worst of today — state-sanctioned violence, pandemic-induced crises, and white silence — all while uplifting Black joy. These poems explore trauma past and present, cultural and personal: the lynching of young, pregnant Mary Turner in 1918; the current white nationalist political movement; a case of infidelity. These poems, too, are a celebration of Black life and art: a beloved grandmother in rural Alabama, the music of James Brown and Al Green, and the soil where okra, pole beans, and collards thrive thanks to her father’s hands.”

Where the Devil Don’t Stay: Traveling the South with the Drive-By Truckers
By Stephen Deusner
September 7, 2021

University of Texas Press: “Where the Devil Don’t Stay tells [The Drive-By Truckers’] unlikely story not chronologically but geographically. Seeing the Truckers’ albums as roadmaps through a landscape that is half-real, half-imagined, their fellow Southerner Stephen Deusner travels to the places the band’s members have lived in and written about. Tracking the band from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia, to the author’s hometown in McNairy County, Tennessee, Deusner explores the Truckers’ complex relationship to the South and the issues of class, race, history, and religion that run through their music.”

Fight Songs
By Ed Southern
September 7, 2021

Blair: “Fight Songs explores the connections and contradictions between the teams we root for and the places we plant our roots; between the virtues that sports are supposed to teach and the cutthroat business they’ve become; between the hopes of fans and the demands of the past, present, and future.”

Poet Warrior
Joy Harjo
September 7, 2021

W. W. Norton & Company: “Joy Harjo, the first Native American to serve as U.S. poet laureate, invites us to travel along the heartaches, losses, and humble realizations of her “poet-warrior” road. A musical, kaleidoscopic, and wise follow-up to Crazy Brave, Poet Warrior reveals how Harjo came to write poetry of compassion and healing, poetry with the power to unearth the truth and demand justice.”

Children of Dust
By Marlin Barton
September 10, 2021

Regal House: “Filled with haunts, new and old, Children of Dust is a novel about the relationship between two women allied against a violent man with secrets of his own, and it is also a complex look at race, violence, and the ways in which stories are passed down through generations.”

By Gayl Jones
September 14, 2021

Beacon Press: “First discovered and edited by Toni Morrison, Gayl Jones has been described as one of the great literary writers of the 20th century. Now, for the first time in over 20 years, Jones is ready to publish again. Intricate and compelling, Palmares recounts the journey of Almeyda, a Black slave girl who comes of age on Portuguese plantations and escapes to a fugitive slave settlement called Palmares. Following its destruction, Almeyda embarks on a journey across
colonial Brazil to find her husband, lost in battle.”

Graceland, At Last
By Margaret Renkl
September 14, 2021

Milkweed Editions: “‘People have often asked me how it feels to be the ‘voice of the South,’” writes Renkl in her introduction. ‘But I’m not the voice of the South, and no one else is, either.’ There are many Souths — red and blue, rural and urban, mountain and coast, Black and white and brown — and no one writer could possibly represent all of them. In Graceland, At Last, Renkl writes instead from her own experience about the complexities of her homeland, demonstrating along the way how much more there is to this tangled region than many people understand.”

Otto Wood, the Bandit
By Trevor McKenzie
September 14, 2021

The University of North Carolina Press: “Legions of bluegrass fans know the name Otto Wood (1893–1930) from a ballad made popular by Doc Watson, telling the story of Wood’s crimes and violent death. However, few know the history of this Appalachian figure beyond the larger-than-life version heard in song. Trevor McKenzie reconstructs Wood’s life, tracing how a Wilkes County juvenile delinquent became a celebrated folk hero.”

The Trees
By Percival Everett
September 21, 2021

Graywolf Press: “Percival Everett’s The Trees is a page-turner that opens with a series of brutal murders in the rural town of Money, Mississippi. When a pair of detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation arrive, they meet expected resistance from the local sheriff, his deputy, the coroner, and a string of racist white townsfolk. The murders present a puzzle, for at each crime scene there is a second dead body: that of a man who resembles Emmett Till… In this bold, provocative book, Everett takes direct aim at racism and police violence, and does so in a fast-paced style that ensures the reader can’t look away.”

Desperate: An Epic Battle for Clean Water and Justice in Appalachia
By Kris Maher
September 28, 2021

Scribner: “Erin Brockovich meets Dark Waters in this propulsive and heart-wrenching legal drama set in Appalachian coal country, as one determined lawyer confronts a coal industry giant in a battle over clean drinking water for a West Virginia community — from Wall Street Journal reporter Kris Maher. For two decades, the water in the taps and wells of Mingo County didn’t look, smell, or
taste right. Could it be the root of the health problems — from kidney stones to cancer — in this Appalachian community? Environmental lawyer Kevin Thompson certainly thought so.”