South Carolina Educational TV and the University of South Carolina’s Institute for Southern Studies are in the midst of a series of eight one-hour programs collectively titled Take On The South. The last show aired back in October 2008, asking the question “Does the road to the White House run through the South?” (video of that episode is online, along with other information). On Wednesday, May 13, ETV will broadcast another episode, with scholars Trudier Harris, professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Noel Polk, professor emeritus at Mississippi State University, tackling the question “What was the most influential 20th-century Southern novel?”
As soon as I heard that question, two books popped into my own mind — William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men — and I was pleased to see those very two titles at the top of the list of 20 contenders for the prize, followed closely by Toni Morrison’s Beloved, another favorite of mine (though is it really a Southern novel?). The list was compiled by Harris, Polk, and faculty members from USC’s Institute for Southern Studies — and I should point out that it’s just coincidence that the first two books I considered were the first presented, since the nominees are simply listed in alphabetical order. The list is below, and the site features an online poll, where readers are invited to root for their favorites.
- Absalom! Absalom! by William Faulkner
- All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
- The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- Cane by Jean Toomer
- The Clansman by Thomas Dixon, Jr.
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- Deliverance by James Dickey
- Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
- The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
- The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy
- Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
- Native Son by Richard Wright
- Roots by Alex Haley
- The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell
- Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
If you’re not able to get Southern Carolina ETV yourself, don’t worry about missing the show; they’ll post it online after the broadcast. And even if you don’t catch the talk at all, this is still a great list for those interested in Southern literature, and it’s reminded me of some gaps in my own reading; I’ve finished only 12 of the 20 books and need to get started on the rest. How many have you read? What are your favorites from the list? And which titles did they miss?