The Best Southern Books of October 2021

This month’s list is full of fantastic Southern literature, including essays using Outkast as a lens to understand the Postmodern South, several short story collections, poems rich in landscapes, and novels set in Nashville, Arkansas, and Kentucky. Happy October reading!

An Outkast Reader: Essays on Race, Gender, and the Postmodern South
Edited by Regina N. Bradley
October 1, 2021

University of Georgia Press: “OutKast, the Atlanta-based hip-hop duo formed in 1992, is one of the most influential musical groups within American popular culture of the past twenty-five years. An OutKast Reader, then, takes the group’s aesthetic as a lens through which readers can understand and explore contemporary issues of Blackness, gender, urbanism, Southern aesthetics, and Southern studies more generally. Divided into sections on regional influences, gender, and visuality, the essays collectively offer a vision of OutKast as a key shaper of conceptions of the twenty-first-century South, expanding that vision beyond long-held archetypes and cultural signifiers. The volume includes a who’s who of hip-hop studies and African American studies scholarship, including Charlie Braxton, Susana M. Morris, Howard Ramsby II, Reynaldo Anderson, and Ruth Nicole Brown.”

Those Fantastic Lives
By Bradley Sides
October 1, 2021

City of Light Publishing: “In Sides’ tender, brilliantly-imagined collection, a young boy dreams of being a psychic like his grandmother, a desperate man turns to paper for a miracle, a swarm of fireflies attempts the impossible, scarecrows and ghosts collide, a mother and child navigate a forest plagued by light-craving monsters, a boy’s talking dolls aid him in conquering a burning world, and a father and mother deal with the sudden emergence of wings on their son’s back. Brimming with our deepest fears and desires, Sides’ dazzling stories examine the complexities of masculinity, home, transformation, and loss.”

Now You Know It All
By Joanna Pearson
October 5, 2021

University of Pittsburgh Press: “Poised on the precipice of mystery and longing, each character in Now You Know It All also hovers on the brink of discovery — and decision. Set in small-town North Carolina, or featuring eager Southerners venturing afar, these stories capture the crucial moment of irrevocable change. With a sharp eye for rendering inner life, Joanna Pearson has a knack for creating both compassion and a looming sense of threat. Her stories peel back the layers of the narratives we tell ourselves in an attempt to understand the world, revealing that the ghosts haunting us are often the very shadows that we cast.”

The Gods of Green County
By Mary Elizabeth Pope
October 5, 2021

Blair: “Coralee Harper struggles for justice for her dead brother and her own sanity in Depression-era rural Arkansas. In 1926 in rural Green County, Arkansas, where cotton and poverty reign, young Coralee Harper hopes for a family and a place in her community, but when her brother Buddy is killed by a powerful sheriff, she can’t recover from his death or the injustice of his loss. When she begins to spot her dead brother around town, she wonders — is she clairvoyant, mistaken, or is she losing her mind?”

When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky
By Margaret Verble
October 12, 2021

Mariner Books: “Louise Erdrich meets Karen Russell in this deliciously strange and daringly original novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Margaret Verble: set in 1926 Nashville, it follows a death-defying young Cherokee horse-diver who, with her companions from the Glendale Park Zoo, must get to the bottom of a mystery that spans centuries.”

We Imagined It Was Rain
By Andrew Siegrist
October 12, 2021

Hub City: “Hailed by ZZ Packer as “a master of tone, detail, and imagery”, Andrew Siegrist’s debut collection We Imagined It Was Rain is a love song to Tennessee. These loosely connected stories are imbued with tenderness, seriousness, and a deep understanding of the human spirit. Siegrist demonstrates careful attention to the smallest moments, to the rain on a windowpane, to individual mementos passed down through generations, in this far-reaching and thoughtful collection.”

The Boundaries of Their Dwelling
By Blake Sanz
October 15, 2021

University of Iowa Press: “Moving between the American South and Mexico, these stories explore how immigrant and native characters are shaped by absent family and geography. In the collection’s second half, we follow a Veracruzan-born drifter, Manuel, and his estranged American son, Tommy. Over decades, they negotiate separate nations and personal tragicomedies on their journeys from innocence to experience.”

A Dangerous Place
By Chelsea B. DesAutels
October 19, 2021

Sarabande: “Early in her powerful, affecting debut, DesAutels writes: ‘I always mention gratitude because/people like that ending.’ Unflinching in its candor, this is the story of a woman with two swellings in her belly: a nascent baby, and a cancerous tumor. The poet could focus on the particulars of the medical case, using language from a traditional illness narrative. Instead she gives us the basics, then gathers up surprising and expansive material from various landscapes — the Black Hills, the prairies of Texas, the mountains, switchgrass, and, especially, the neighboring buffalo, to which she feels a profound connection. DesAutels’ metaphors strike home; they are counterpoints, balm to the uncertainty and grief that make us uncomfortable. The book moves elegantly from its dark beginnings to a transcendent thankfulness. With healing lyricism, she writes: ‘And I imagine the white sheets as heron wings. / And the whirring machines are white eggs. / And the worried voices are sunlight on water.'”

Drowned Town
By Jayne Moore Waldrop
October 26, 2021

Fireside Industries: “Drowned Town explores the multigenerational impact caused by the loss of home and illuminates the joys and sorrows of a group of people bound together by western Kentucky’s Land Between the Lakes and the lakes that lie on either side of it. The linked stories are rooted in a landscape forever altered by the mid-twentieth-century impoundment of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers and the seizing of property under the power of eminent domain to create a national recreation area on the narrow strip of land between the lakes. The narrative follows two women whose lives are shaped by their friendship and connection to the place, and their stories go back and forth in time to show how the creation of the lakes both healed and hurt the people connected to them. In the process, the stories emphasize the importance of sisterhood and family, both blood and created, and how we cannot separate ourselves from our places in the world.”