Stinson Carter, journalist and author of Southern Gothic novel False River, offers a personal introduction to the genre
Tennessee Williams called it “Romanticized Melancholy”. William Faulkner called it “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself”. Southern Gothic Literature has as many definitions as it does voices. It is not Gothic, nor should it be confused with the vampire fiction set in the South. But it can be surreal and grotesque. It is the raw open heart of the South, exposed by writers such as Williams, Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and many others. Its underlying pathos is tied to that of the South itself: the lingering stain of a slave-based economy and the indomitable memory of the Civil War; the sweltering climate and the religious and chivalric morality; and the tendency of creative spirits to inwardly rebel against a culture that often pretends to be something on its surface other than the truth of itself. That feeling of inward rebellion is not unique. But unless you are a child of the South, you will never fully know the sense of displacement that can exist there in the minds of those born to question, to challenge, and to create. And yet, that displacement is directly opposed by a strange and powerful sense of belonging to the South. It’s like hating an abusive father half your life, only to realize in adulthood that when he gave you your demons he was also giving you the strength to battle them.
All writers have something of this contradiction inside them. But in Southern Gothic, the voice is spawned in the crucible of Southern culture and the words are adorned by idioms borrowed from black Southerners. And then the stories emerge from an instinct honed at the pulpits of tent revivals, at the heads of finely appointed tables in antebellum plantation homes, around campfires in moss-draped swamps and pinewood forests, in slave shacks and on thousands of ordinary screen porches on balmy evenings.
Southern Gothic Literature is whisky as it catches in the throat. It is the bones left in the ground by a bloody embattled history. It is 90 degrees under a ceiling fan with 90 percent humidity. It’s the secrets on the bottom of the Mississippi River and the sweat that beads up on young skin in the backseat of a car on a gravel road. It is poker games that end in gunfire. It is voodoo brought from Africa and saints brought from France. It is football stars and town drunks and good men and women gone bad, and bad ones trying desperately to be good. If Bourbon is the only truly American libation, then Southern Gothic is the Bourbon of literature. It might have taken the bizarre, beautiful and terrible circumstances of the American South to bear such a fruit as Southern Gothic Literature. But its essence isn’t in its geography, but in the literary imperative of anyone, anywhere and at any point in time, who writes because they must. And who offers up their deepest vulnerabilities to us so that we might recognize them in ourselves.
Stinson Carter is a journalist, novelist, screenwriter, and playwright. He is a former editor-at-large for BlackBook magazine and a current contributor to Maxim and Huffington Post. Born and reared in Louisiana, Carter has since lived in Seattle, New York, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, and on a meditation commune in Iowa. He is a graduate of Vassar College.
About False River: “A silver-tongued bad boy from a blue-blood Southern family is framed for a bizarre crime and forced to live by his wits on the streets of New Orleans. After conning his way into high society, his path takes a dark turn when his charm fails him and tragedy propels him onto the difficult path to maturity that he’s been running from all his life”.
Watch the trailer: including a great moment from William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech and the painting The Poker Game by Louisiana artist Sam Rigling. Directed by Mark MacInnis:
For a chapter excerpt or to get the complete novel, go to www.stinsoncarter.com