Sections: Introduction | The Northeast | The South | The Midwest | The West

I couldn't imagine this trip. It was the most fabulous of all. It was no longer east-west, but magic south.

Jack Kerouac, On The Road

The South's diverse topography from Virginia's rolling mountains and valleys to Louisiana's mysterious swamps to Florida's sultry subtropics has provided rich inspiration for the imaginations of some of America's most distinguished authors. Southern writers have emphasized connection with the land, and many of their descriptions of their region are featured in this exhibit. Photographs of the places they have etched into the American consciousness are coupled with their words: the Mississippi River forever associated with Mark Twain, Ellen Glasgow's Virginia, a Mississippi farm photographed by Eudora Welty, Thomas Wolfe's Asheville. Also depicted are some of the most striking characters from the pens of southern writers: Margaret Mitchell's Scarlett O'Hara, determining to survive at all costs; Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, escaping "sivilizing" by a trip downriver; Marjorie Kennan Rawlings's Jody Baxter, growing up through affection for his fawn Flag.

"Gloucester," Natchez, Mississippi

O Magnet-South! O glistening perfumed South! . . .
I see where the live-oak is growing, I see where the yellow-pine, the scented bay-tree, the lemon and orange, the cypress, the graceful palmetto,
I pass through sea-headlands and enter Pamlico sound through an inlet and dart my vision inland;
O the cotton plant! the growing fields of rice, sugar, hemp!

Walt Whitman, "O Magnet South"

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Valley farmland, near Wytheville, Virginia,

The picturesque old homeplace sits so high on the hill that it leaves one with the aftertaste of judgment in his or her mouth. Looking out from its porch, one sees the panorama of the whole valley spread out like a picture, with all its varied terrain (garden, pasture, etc.) stitched together by spilt-oak fences resembling nothing so much as a green-hued quilt.

Lee Smith, Oral History

Valley farmland, near Wytheville, Virginia,. November 1940. Marion Post Wolcott, Photographer. FSA-OWI Collection. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (29a)

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Shadows of Old New Orleans

One of those lovely misty mornings of late spring when every flower in New Orleans seems to melt and mix with the air.

Lillian Hellman, An Unfinished Woman

Shadows of Old New Orleans, 1938. Annette Moore, Photographer. Gelatin-silver print. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (29b)

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Mississippi River, Perthshire, Mississippi

And here for the first time I saw my beloved Mississippi River, dry in the summer haze, low water, with its big rank smell that smells like the raw body of America itself because it washes up.

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Mississippi River, Perthshire, Mississippi. June 1940. Marion Post Wolcott, Photographer. FSA-OWI Collection. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (31)

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The Literary Map of the American South

Tell About the South . . . What's it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all.

William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom

The Literary Map of the American South. Linda Ayriss, Illustrator. Los Angeles: Aaron Blake, 1988. Courtesy of Molly Maguire and Aaron Silverman. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress (32)

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Tennessee Literature

When I tasted your big juicy
Black berries ignoring the rattle —
Snakes they said came to Cameron
Hill after the rain, I knew I
Had to have you Chattanooga
When I was in Lincoln Park
Listening to Fats Domino sing
I found my thrill on Blueberry
Hill on the loudspeaker
I knew you were mine Chattanooga.

Ishmael Reed, "Chattanooga"

Tennessee Literature. Elizabeth Mims Hoffman, Illustrator. Memphis: McClaren & Warren, 1976. Courtesy of the Tennessee Council of Teachers of English. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress (33)

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Knoxville, Tennessee, 5th Avenue

We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child. . . . There was still daylight, shining softly and with a tarnish like the lining of a shell; and the carbon lamps lifted at the corners were on in the light, and the locusts were started, and the fireflies were out, and a few frogs were flopping in the dewy grass . . . from low in the dark . . . the regular yet spaced noises of the crickets, each a sweet cold silver noise, threenoted, like the slipping each time of three matched links of a small chain.

James Agee, "Knoxville: Summer 1915"

Knoxville, Tennessee, 5th Avenue. Detroit: Detroit Publishing Company, ca. 1900. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (34)

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A Literary Map of Arkansas

There is a deep brooding
in Arkansas.
Old crimes like moss pend
from poplar trees.
The sullen earth is much too red for comfort.

Maya Angelou, "My Arkansas"

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A Literary Map of Arkansas. Judith DuPree, Illustrator. Arkansas Council of Teachers of English, 1967. Courtesy of the Arkansas Council of Teachers of English. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress (35)

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Louisiana Literature

She found herself upon the border of a field where the white, bursting cotton, with the dew upon it, gleamed for acres and acres like frosted silver in the early dawn. . . .She stopped to find whence came those perfumes that were assailing her senses with memories from a time far gone. There they were, stealing up to her from the thousand blue violets that peeped out from green, luxuriant beds. There they were, showering down from the big waxen bells of the magnolias far above her head, and from the jessamine clumps around her. There were roses, too, without number. To right and left palms spread in broad and graceful curves. It all looked like enchantment beneath the sparkling sheen of dew.

Kate Chopin, "Beyond the Bayou"

Louisiana Literature. Matthew J. Armand, Designer. Baton Rouge: Louisiana Library Association and the Louisiana Council of Teachers of English, 1992. Courtesy of the Louisiana Library Association and the Louisiana Council of Teachers of English. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress (36)

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn From the Book by Mark Twain

The first thing to see, looking away over the water, was a kind of dull line—that was the woods on t'other side—you couldn't make nothing else out; then a pale place in the sky; then more paleness, spreading around; then the river softened up, away off, and wasn't black any more, but grey; you could see little dark spots drifting along, ever so far away—trading scows and such things; and long black streaks—rafts . . . and by and by you could see a streak on the water which you know by the look of the streak that there's a snag there in a swift current which breaks on it and makes the streak look that way; and you see the moist curl up off the water, and the east reddens up. . . .

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn From the Book by Mark Twain. Everett Henry, Illustrator. Cleveland: Harris-Intertype, 1959. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress (38)

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A Literary Map of the Commonwealth of Virginia

One found a low hill, on which the reaped corn stood in stacks like the weapons of a vanished army, while across the sunken road, the abandoned fields, overgrown with broomsedge and life-everlasting, spread for several miles between worm fences which were half buried in brushwood . . . there was an air of desolation in the neglected roads, in the deserted fields and in the dim grey marshes beyond the low banks of the river.

Ellen Glasgow, The Miller of Old Church

A Literary Map of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Richmond: Virginia Association of Teachers of English, 1957. Courtesy of the Virginia Association of Teachers of English. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress (40)

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Richmond, Virginia, and the James River

Riding down to Port Warwick from Richmond, the train begins to pick up speed on the outskirts of the city, past the tobacco factories with their ever-present haze of acrid, sweetish dust and past the rows of uniformly brown clapboard houses which stretch down the hilly street for miles, the hundreds of rooftops all reflecting the pale light of dawn; past the suburban roads still sluggish and sleepy with early morning traffic, and rattling swiftly now over the bridge which separates the last two hills where in the valley below you can see the James River winding beneath its acid-green crust of scum out beside the chemical plants and more rows of clapboard houses and into the woods beyond.

William Styron, Lie Down In Darkness

Richmond, Virginia, and the James River, 1912. H. P. Cook, Photographer. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (41)

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Modern Mississippi Writers: A Map of Literary Mississippi

Up from the Mississippi soil
her sons and daughters came
from red-clay hills and delta land
the coastal plains
from barren rocks, from loam and sand
they came with hunger for the truth
for knowledge and the need to understand
the meaning of our living in this southern land.

Margaret Walker, "Ode on the Occasion of the Inauguration of the Sixth President of Jackson State College"

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Modern Mississippi Writers: A Map of Literary Mississippi. Wyatt Waters, Illustrator. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992. Used by permission. Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress (42)

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Asheville, North Carolina

The town was thrown up on the plateau like an encampment. There was nothing below him that could resist time. There was no idea. Below him in a cup he felt that all life was held. . . . It seemed to him suddenly that he had not come up on the hill from the town, but that he had come out of the wilderness like a beast, and was straining now with steady beast-eyes at this little huddle of wood and mortar which the wilderness must one day repossess, devour, cover over.

Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel

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Sections: Introduction | The Northeast | The South | The Midwest | The West