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Actualité de la recherche

“Southern Trans/formations”: An International Gathering of the Southern Studies Forum

Université de Picardie Jules Verne, Amiens, & Université d’Artois, Arras, France, September 21-23, 2023
Gabriel Daveau, Eva Gourdoux et Camille Le Gall

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General Introduction

1This year’s Southern Studies Forum on “Southern Trans/formations” exceptionally followed last year’s conference in Kraków, which marked the return of the bi-annual meeting in person after the pandemic. This edition was organized jointly by Frédérique Spill (Université Picardie Jules Verne) and Gérald Préher (Université d’Artois) and took place on the two neighboring campuses of Amiens and Arras from September 21st to 23rd, 2023. In response to this year’s topic, participants examined those transformative phenomena that contribute to the definition and delineation of the Southern region of the United States. Researchers in the fields of history and social sciences looked into the borders and thresholds that continue to shape Southerners’ understanding of themselves, from the year 1865 down to congressional maps and the Rust and Bible Belts that have acted as major interpretive frameworks for the region. Cultural studies were an important item of discussion in the conference, as questions of race and gender were regularly addressed by participants, including in two single-author panels dedicated to Jesmyn Ward (Panel 5) and Eudora Welty (Panel 9). All in all, the topic chosen for this edition of the Southern Studies Forum prompted wide-ranging contributions that demonstrate the continued relevance of Southern Studies in the humanities.

Day 1: September 21st, 2023

Panel 1: Plantation Metamorphoses

2Peter Templeton (Open University, UK) inaugurated the conference with a paper entitled “The American Revolution, the 1830s, and Horse-shoe Robinson,” which examined how the U.S.’s inaugural conflict was processed in the Southern historical romances of the antebellum era. Looking at John Pendleton Kennedy’s 1835 novel, and at the many romances of the Revolutionary War published by South Carolina writer William Gilmore Simms, Peter Templeton explored the upsurge of regional interest for this subject matter. His work seeks to reveal how the conflict became a central element in formulations of regional nationalism from the 1830s until the Civil War, and ultimately fits into a broader transformation of Southern identity.

3Gabriel Daveau (Université de Lille, FR) then compared the tales that William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870) wrote after the Civil War with a staple of Frontier humor: T. B. Thorpe’s “The Big Bear of Arkansas” (1841). In “Frontier Humor and the Metamorphoses of the Old South in William Gilmore Simms’s Late Short Fiction,” Daveau showed how the writer recovered a certain transformative idiom in Thorpe which enabled him to carve out an imaginative supplement for the Old South and work “against 1865,” as per the phrase coined by Hager and Marrs in their 2019 Timelines of American Literature. At odds with the romance of the Lost Cause that developed in the aftermath of the conflict, Simms’s late tales expose strategies designed to ensure the virulent survival of Old South conservatism and racism.

4Maarten Zwiers (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen) then steered the conversation towards twentieth-century plantation developments. In “Placemaking in the Plantationocene: Agricultural Transformations in the Mississippi Delta, 1930-1980,” Zwiers detailed the progressive interconnection of plantation agriculture and petrochemical factories in the years 1930-1980 in the Mississippi Delta, notably in the area of Louisiana that bears the nickname “Cancer Alley.” Forms of community activism and organization emerged in the face of this toxic climate, however, that should be seen as “counter-plantation projects.” The Freedom Farm Cooperative (FFC) and the Fishermen and Concerned Citizens Association (FCCA) are two such initiatives that “targeted racist politics and practices” and “constituted quests for multispecies justice.” His current project, “Race Land: The Ecology of Segregation,” seeks to keep exposing such intersections of race and the environment in the Agrochemical Mississippi Delta.

Panel 2: The Appalachian South

5In her presentation entitled “Harriette Arnow’s The Dollmaker: Migration, Alteration and Film Adaptation,” Gisèle Sigal (Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour, FR) explored Arnow’s ambitious, anthropological, epochal 1954 novel, The Dollmaker. She explained the loss of innocence implied by the female protagonist’s forced economic migration from her agrarian lifestyle in Appalachian Kentucky to industrial, urban Detroit. Sigal analyzed the notions of alteration, dispossession and disillusion that come with the process of migrating to find a better life in urban regions. Sigal ended her presentation with a discussion of the novel’s TV adaptation, its successes but also its inadequacies regarding the text’s protagonist as portrayed by movie star Jane Fonda.

6Mae Miller Claxton (Wester Carolina University) then introduced her recent work in her presentation “Transformational Texts: How Cherokee and Appalachian Writers Use Language to Reveal Environmental Devastation and Promote Community Healing.” She analyzed the healing power of language in the works of Appalachian authors Ann Pancake, Ron Rash and Silas House. In the three novels she explored, environmental abuse is pictured as an introduction to the possibility of healing. Claxton explained how Appalachian and Cherokee cultures have developed the notion of healing as an antidote against the centuries of devastation their communities have suffered, with the concepts of peoplehood matrix and inter-connection being at the center of Native American Studies.

7Ted Atkinson (Mississippi State University) presented the counternarrative work of TVA novels in a paper entitled “About Dam Time: Infrastructural Development and Disruptive Temporality in TVA Novels.” The national myth built around Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority Act (1933) was supposed to rehabilitate the “backward” areas of the South by bringing modernity to them, in the form of flood control and the construction of dams, among others. But TVA novels emerged as a reaction to this narrative and shifted the temporal focus to re-center our attention on the people undergoing the changes linked to TVA projects and infrastructures, like displacement and environmental destruction.

First Plenary: Michał Choiński, “Homecoming as Transformation.”

8Michał Choiński (Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland) was invited to give the first plenary session of the conference. In an address he soberly entitled “Homecoming as Transformation,” Choiński shared his ongoing examination of the homecoming motif in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Southern literature. Homecoming is a practice that 50% of Americans engage in at one point in their lives. It is a universal practice of memory, hope, and identity, which is closely connected to the literary archetype of nostos, the classical return journey. In his project, Choiński uses Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again (1940) as a central trope of Southern literature, where tension arises between the fact that one has never left, and that one can never go home. Mirrors and doubles in Wolfe’s novel show us that coming home really means becoming a stranger to oneself. In parallel, Choiński explains, what constitutes home is itself altered by the joint experience of moving away and returning.

9From among the wide selection of works that he aims to investigate, Choiński selected three to share his understanding of homecoming as transformation with the conference. Steve Yarborough’s The End of California (2006) examines multiple difficult homecomings, from California where the main character Pete lives as an expatriate, to the Mississippi Delta where he grew up, and to Poland where his roots lie. Choiński shows how Pete is trapped within himself, and carries his own chaos back home. In Natasha Trethewey’s collection of poems Native Guard (2006) secondly, the impossibility to come home becomes axiomatic: places passed by on one’s journey home are specters that can only confirm the irreversibility of time. Homecoming in this case is an active transformation of space and memory. Thirdly, Choiński explored Monique Truong’s semi-autobiographical novel Bitter in the Mouth (2010), the story of Linda, a first-generation Vietnamese immigrant who was forced into adopting a white normative narrative growing up in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. When she returns home, Linda engages in a counter-narrative act where writing the self is an act of transformation that allows her to take control of her own life.

10Michał Choiński demonstrated that homecomings provide a much-needed space for personal experimentation, which encompasses interregional experiences, and allows for a novel understanding of the self. His presentation prompted vivid reactions from the audience, around the notion of homecoming itself, as well as the Southern specificity of the phenomenon.

Panel 3: Many Souths and Many Mouths: Representing Diversity Through Micro-Regional Foodways

11In a session focusing on food studies, panelists discussed the challenge of representing a distinct Southern cuisine in cookbooks when there seems to be no consensus as to what the South is, on account of terroirs being so varied.

12Carrie Tippen (Chatham University, Pittsburgh) began by examining how authors of cookbooks have responded to this challenge by delineating micro-regions that defy the monolithic projections of the South. These are uniquely diverse in their makeup, that is, in the way that they connect geographic, ethnic and historical factors. Tippen then proceeded to scan through a wide array of recent cookbooks using digital humanities tools, and materialized the most listed Southern locales using heat maps, examples of which included smaller Southern geographies like the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia or the Low Country, as well as urban city centers like Atlanta or New Orleans. As a result, Tippen argued that micro-regionalism is a way forward in Southern Studies, which makes it possible to recover interconnections within the broad South while being sensitive to what makes locales unique.

13Picking up on the topic in a paper entitled “Cooking Up the Mountains: Appalachian Cookbooks and the Heritage Turn,” Evangelia Kindinger (Humboldt-Universität, Germany) detailed the ways in which cookbooks participate in making Appalachia a distinct place, by means of gastroregionalism and the culinary heritage turn. Since the 1980s, cookbooks have been transforming Appalachian foodways into heritage in the way they have focused on stories of traditions and ancestors, and have promoted hyperregional, “forgotten” ingredients such as ramps. Appalachia has thus gone through a culinary revival in which local foodways were recovered in a reaction against internationalization. In general, Kindinger observes how a focus on a white mountain heritage has long overshadowed minorities’ cuisine. Native American food practices, for example, have been assimilated through settler-colonial narratives, while Affrilachian ones have been sidelined. Kindinger also warned that while the revival of local culinary trends was initially beneficial to local economies, they ultimately respond to broader supply and demand logics that undermine small scale locales.

Panel 4: Southern childhood

14In her presentation entitled “Translating Polysystems of Marginal Voices in Southern Literature: the French Translation of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers,” Camille Le Gall (Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, FR) explored the representation of marginality in McCullers’s 1940 novel, and whether the French translations of the novel have reflected this sense of Southern marginality in the characters’ voices, using the concept of polysystems in translation studies. After analyzing the French translations, it appeared that the translators focused on the African American voices without realizing the more implicit patterns of the other marginal voices (queer and disabled), giving way to inconsistent translations that do not account for the specific Southern marginality of the protagonists.

15Suzanne Bray (Université Catholique de Lille, FR) then discussed the notion of transformation in one of Madeleine L’Engle’s stories in her paper “The Witch Woman’s Revenge: Subverting Southern Gothic in Madeleine L’Engle’s ‘Poor Little Saturday’.” She emphasized “Poor Little Saturday’s” hopeful tone, finding potential in the South for growth and dynamism. Bray explained how L’Engle subverts the Southern Gothic by presenting a haunted plantation house as a place of hope, from which the curse can be lifted by marginal characters: a feminist witch, “lord and master” of her animals, and a sensitive, literate, young male narrator, portrayed and contrasted favorably with the more “typical,” dirty, insensitive Southern men.

16In “Transforming Southern Representation in Children’s Streaming Media: Lost Ollie, Tab Time and the U.S. South,” Rebecca Hains (Salem State University, US) explored the evolution of Southern representation in children’s media. In order to highlight this progression, Hains took a detailed look into two shows. Tab Time fits into the tradition of US pre-school shows and is hosted by Southern actress and social media personality Tabitha Brown. Lost Ollie, on the other hand, is a series about a lost stuffed rabbit created by Southerners, set in Louisiana and using themes of homecoming. She analyzed these shows in opposition to earlier representations of the South, marked by the absence of Black Southerners in children’s media throughout the twentieth century. She also exhibited the fact that Southern characters were never created or played by Southerners. These elements highlight the lack of nuance that Southern representations suffered from until media streamers came to disrupt the status quo.

An On-line Reading by Ron Rash

17American award-winning author Ron Rash delivered the first reading of the colloquium. The writer first read two excerpts from The Caretaker, published in September 2023. Set in 1951 in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, the novel revolves around Blackburn Grant, the lonely caretaker of the small Appalachian town. Jacob Hampton, his best and only friend, is eventually conscripted to serve in Korea, leaving Blackburn to take care of his young wife Naomi Clarke, another outcast. The Caretaker thus tells the story of the meeting of two marginal lives against the backdrop of the Korean War. The first extract read by Rash depicted Blackburn’s daily service at Blowing Rock’s cemetery, while the second one focused on Jacob’s dire experience of the Korean War. Rash also read a narrative poem entitled “Three AM and the Stars Were Out.” Published in Quadrant Magazine in 2004, the poem centers on a veterinarian’s night shift and on his perception of his mission and of his darkened surroundings. The reading allowed its listeners to visualize this night drive across the Southern countryside and they too “linger[ed] awhile/in the barn mouth watching stars/awake in their wide pasture,” to quote from Rash. Rash’s vibrant style turns solitude into a catalyst for the characters’ sensations, from the rendition of daily life to the experience of combat.

Day 2: September 22nd, 2023

Panel 5: Jesmyn Ward

18In a paper entitled “‘These characters feel flat to me’: Minority at Play in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing,” Stéphanie Eyrolles Suchet (Université Clermont Auvergne, FR) explored the dichotomy between the notions of minority and majority. Eyrolles Suchet came back to what French critics Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari called minor literature, and argued that Faulkner could actually be considered as a major writer thanks to the perspective given by Jesmyn Ward. Indeed, while his work might have been categorized as minor literature because it stemmed from the South, Faulkner still represents the majority for most African American women writers. Eyrolles Suchet’s presentation analyzed this double vision, “that of the margin, and that of the center,” and offered a reflection on the transformation of the South.

19Joanna Davis-McElligatt (University of North Texas) offered a critical and personal perspective on Jesmyn Ward’s term “respair” in a presentation entitled “Whither Suffering?: On Jesmyn Ward’s Respair.” Developed in her 2020 essay “Witness and Respair: Personal Tragedy Followed by a Pandemic,” Ward’s notion of “respair” points to the period of recovery after despair. According to Davis-McElligatt, black lives have been defined by suffering, and while pain is not a sharable feeling, it is crucial to acknowledge its existence to make it accessible and understandable. This presentation was very much a personal testimony as Davis-McElligatt spun her own experience into her discussion and insisted that “respair is an action verb,” thus emphasizing the importance of bearing witness to one’s suffering.

20Yesmina Khedir (University of Debrecen, Hungary), in “Dismal Ecologies: Re-visiting the History of the Maroon Communities in Jesmyn Ward’s ‘Mother Swamp’,” studied the relationship between the all-female maroon community of Ward’s short story and their physical environment, the Great Dismal Swamp – a large body of water stretching from Southern Virginia to northeast North Carolina. After a historical overview of the maroons, in other words groups of enslaved people who escaped bondage and sought shelter in mountains and swamps and built their own communities, Khedir focused on the symbolism behind the swamp. Referring to the ecological turn of the New Southern Studies, Khedir argued that the Great Dismal Swamp represents a complex and liminal space that embodies both Black bondage and Black resistance.

Panel 6: Inheritance/Heritage

21The final panel to take place in Amiens sought to look at how trans/formation informed notions of heritage and inheritance in the South. Lisa Hinrichsen (University of Arkansas) began by analyzing the ways in which Southern Studies and ecocriticism intersect under the mode of the elegy, in a paper entitled “Transforming Southern Space and Place in the Temporal Ecopoetics of Elegy.” Southern writers have frequently resorted to this mode, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy durably changing it into an anti-ecological and pro-individual term in 2016. Hinrichsen suggests we look at other elegies – bell hooks’ collection of poems Appalachian Elegy from 2012, and as far back as Clarence John Laughlin’s photograph “Elegy for Moss Land” from 1940 – where longing is directed not only to what was but also to what could have been and to what might yet be.

22Constante Gonzalez Groba (Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Spain) then turned our attention to recent fictional renditions of the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till that have kept the boy’s memory alive. With “‘Maybe the spirits are out for revenge’: Why Emmett Till will not stay dead,” Groba argued that, particularly in an era that witnesses the frequent killings of black Americans at the hands of police, Emmett Till continues to speak louder in death than he would have if he had lived. In Percival Everett’s 2021 The Trees, and in the 2022 film Till by Nigerian American film director Chinonye Chukwu, Groba locates the ghost of the fourteen-year-old boy still haunting the United States, confirming that lynching is indeed an American story, not just a Southern one.

23Marcel Arbeit (Palacky University Olomouc, Czech Republic) wrapped up the panel with a paper entitled “Self-Transformation through Parenthood: Lewis Nordan and Clyde Edgerton.” Reading Nordan’s autobiography Boy With a Loaded Gun (2000) and Edgerton’s Book for New Fathers: Advice to Dads of All Ages (2013) side by side, Arbeit sought to contrast two approaches to parenthood. Both writers, he argued, sought to reconcile the traditional role that Southern families play in shaping fatherhood with their own individual experience. Tone, however, clearly sets apart these two works of non-fiction: while Nordan’s transformative journey is defined by the deep regrets he experienced after the suicide of his only son, Edgerton’s is a mostly happy fatherhood, initiated late in life, after the age of sixty.

Panel 7: Changing Ideologies

24Attendees relocated to Arras for the latter half of the conference, after which the case of Father August Louis Thompson was introduced by Mark Newman (University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom). In his presentation entitled “Father August L. Thompson and the Struggle for Racial Justice in Louisiana and Catholicism,” Newman focused on the struggles of the African American priest in the South and in the Southern Catholic Church. Ordained in 1957, he suffered from segregation and racist discrimination inside the diocese, but chose to stay in his home state, Louisiana, and fought for racial justice in the South during the Civil Rights movement. Newman explained that Thompson’s activism and meaningful impact on the African American communities in Louisiana are proof of the involvement of the black Catholic clergy in the fight for black liberation extended into the South, not just the urban North.

25Christopher A. Cooper (Western Carolina University) then investigated North Carolina’s 11th congressional district as exemplary of a multi-factor story of partisan change in the South, in a paper entitled “The 11th: Politics, Polarization, and Partisan Change in a Southern Congressional District, 1972-2022.” In 1973, Democrats held 69% of all seats in the South, while 69% of Republicans hold these seats today – and in-between was a long period of turnstile elections. This sea-change is exemplified in the electoral history of the 11th district, which Cooper focused on as a way of highlighting the relevance of micro-level place-based studies to understand Southern political and cultural transformations, linked to questions of race, gender and religion, or the divide between rural and urban communities.

26In his presentation entitled “Monuments to Obsolescence, Trauma, and Hope: Living Among the South’s Post-Industrial Landscapes,” Robert Hunt Ferguson (Western Carolina University) gave us a heartfelt tour of his hometown of Eden, North Carolina. After a meteoric success, its textile industry collapsed in the early 2000s, leaving behind derelict factories as reminders of the promise of an industrial boom and of its eventual downfall. The town is now shaped by post-industrial landscape scars as monuments to trauma, nostalgia and resignation. However, Ferguson explored the notion of hope by interviewing Louise Price, historian and resident of Eden, former textile mill worker, who purchased a warehouse with her non-profit – and with it, new possibilities for the town’s life and dynamism.

Panel 8: Insights into Contemporary Southern Literature

27Stephanie Rountree (University of North Georgia, US) opened the eighth panel with her paper “Health and Home(land): Settler Capitalism & Public Health in Charles Chesnutt & Louise Erdrich.” Inspired by her current book project, Rountree’s presentation examined the un-homing of BIPOC characters in Charles Chesnutt’s “Po’ Sandy” (published in 1888 and set in North Carolina) and in Louise Erdrich’s Four Souls (published in 2004 and set in Minnesota). Set centuries and miles apart, these two literary works both depict the un-homing of BIPOC characters and, according to Rountree, highlight the persistence of antebellum policies in settler capitalism. Rountree’s presentation showed that citizenship mechanisms evicted indigenous (Erdrich) and black (Chesnutt) characters in order to secure white settler comfort.

28In her paper entitled “‘Everything I write comes right back to Georgia’: Delores Phillips, Oral History, and Recovering a Literary Legacy,” Delia Steverson (University of Alabama, US) shed light on Delores Phillips’s life and work. Steverson shared her findings on a discrete African American writer who published only one novel (The Darkest Child, 2004) and was a nurse for most of her life. A victim of medical malpractice, the author illustrates the systemic negligence towards people of color in the United States. Steverson’s presentation wove Phillips’s life and work together by expanding on her archive (interviews with her family). After years of investigating her life and hidden manuscripts – poems, short stories, unfinished novels – Steverson is now editing Stumbling Blocks and Other Unfinished Work (UGA Press), an upcoming collection of her work.

29Expanding on the concepts of intratextuality, architextuality and autotextuality, Christine Chollier (Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne, FR) studied the literary transformations at play in Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger in a paper entitled “Looping the Loop? Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger as Literary Airship.” Chollier notably analyzed the trajectory of Bobby Western – the main character of the novel – and argued that The Passenger was “a unidentified literary object,” building on European critical theory and drawing from Julia Kristeva, Gérard Genette, Jean Ricardou and Lucien Dällenbach. According to Chollier, the dynamics of time and place, physics and metaphysics, as well as McCarthy’s rewriting of the roman noir or chase thriller all turn The Passenger into a metaphysical dystopia.

Reading by Jill McCorkle

30North Carolina-born short story writer Jill McCorkle gave a reading from her latest collection entitled Old Crimes, to be published in 2024. She read her title story, “Old Crimes,” which focuses on a young couple of students going away for the weekend to a cabin in the countryside. The story is driven by the Proustian notion of memories linked to senses, with flashbacks and shifts in perspectives giving way to a fragmented narration dominated by trauma and masculine violence. The narrative voice focuses on the female protagonist, born in the Bible Belt and raised on feelings of guilt and lack of ambition. She nevertheless goes to college and finds solace in creative writing prompts and her teacher’s advice. In the narrative of her and her boyfriend’s weekend getaway, McCorkle describes the surprising irruption of an orphaned, abandoned, “savage” little girl who fell under the protection of unwilling locals. The reflection on rejection revolves around those two female characters and their short-lived, unexpected bonding.

31McCorkle’s reading took place in the university library at Université d’Artois, and was followed by a heartfelt homage to Southernist Michel Bandry by Gérald Preher and Bandry’s children, who donated a large amount of the late academic’s works to the library.

Day 3: September 23rd, 2023

Panel 9: Eudora Welty, Trans/formations, and Trans/gressions

32Harriet Pollack’s (College of Charleston, US) paper “Intersectionality in Eudora Welty’s Stories of the South” examined Welty’s focalizing middle-class daughters and expanded on Pollack’s Eudora Welty’s Fiction and Photography: The Body of the Other Woman (2016). In stories like “A Memory” (1937), “The Winds” (1942), “June Recital” (1947) and The Optimist’s Daughter (1972), such daughters are deeply unsettled by subject characters’ bodies. Whether they find these bodies attractive, repulsive or simply shocking, the Southern young women are faced with a fascinating self-exposing gesture from less privileged characters. These underclass characters transgress ladyhood, exposing Welty’s interest in the combination of trans/gression and trans/formation.

33In a talk entitled “Trans-corporeality and Coming of Age in Eudora Welty’s Fiction,” Sarah Gilbreath Ford (Baylor University, US) delved into the power of water in Welty’s work. By focusing on nine different submersion scenes, Gilbreath Ford showed that nature had a life-changing impact on young girls who come of age through this baptismal experience. In a society which turns unmarried women into outcasts (Clytie in the eponymous story, Miss Eckhart in “June Recital”), the enmeshment with nature has the potential to provide the characters with agency, thus transforming and writing against the social script these characters are expected to follow.

34In “Interracial Desire and Environmental Justice in Eudora Welty’s ‘Livvie’ and ‘Shower of Gold,’” Christin Marie Taylor (Shenandoah University, US) argued that “Livvie” (1942) and “Shower of Gold” (1949) epitomized Welty’s desire for cultural understanding. Drawing from her book Labor Pains: New Deal Fictions of Race Work and Sex in the South (2019), Taylor showed that Welty’s encounters with African American culture – through her photographs or her passing conversations – influenced her writing of Black characters and of their environments. Indeed, Welty connected African American characters and their cultural traditions with greenery: according to Taylor, this enviro-centric representation intersects with the urgencies of the Popular Front, highlighting Welty’s quest for environmental equity and justice.

35Rebecca Mark (Rutgers University, US) presented a paper entitled “‘It was a mixed train’: Trans/portations in Eudora Welty’s Fiction.” Mark posited that Welty uses trans/portation – driving, rowing, riding in trains, swimming, and walking – as a way to collapse male and female binaries. With a focus on “Moon Lake,” “Keela the Oucast Indian Maiden,” “Music from Spain,” and Delta Wedding, Mark showed the multiple ways in which Welty’s characters transport out of social and Southern binaries (master/belle) and symbolic binaries (sun as male, moon as female). In these stories, Welty creates a world of trans fluidity where gender opposites erotically interpenetrate.

Panel 10: The Transforming Power of Words and Images

36Eva Gourdoux (Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, FR) turned to the reception of Southern literature in “From Pen to Eye: Writing and Reading the South.” Drawing from European reception theory and Goodreads reviews on Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty’s works, Gourdoux argued that Southern stereotypes act as an entry point into the literature of the South. Indeed, readers tend to be influenced by their own “dixiephobia” or “dixiemania” and thus necessarily trans/form the Southern stories they are reading. However, according to Gourdoux, this trans/formation should not be feared insofar as stereotypes allow readers who are estranged from the South to make these foreign stories theirs, playing with what the author infused into the text on the one hand and their own interpretation on the other.

37CoreCivic prisons, a private carceral complex born in Tennessee, were Ashley Massey’s (University of North Alabama, US) main object of study in her presentation entitled “Transformations and Transgressions of the Prison Industrial Complex in the U.S. South.” Massey explored the presence of private prisons in the South and explained the hold that private prison companies have on small communities suffering from lack of employment opportunities, as they can transform a small town’s economy. However, Massey argued that such carceral systems harm small communities as shame is weaponized in order to keep ex-convicts from true rehabilitation. Massey illustrated her argument with the analysis of Southern Gothic writers like William Gay, who locates his fictional work in Tennessee and also explores the relationship between private prison and private citizen. 

38Ben Robbins (University of Innsbruck, Austria) presented a paper entitled “Southern Flight, Southern Return: Queer Mobilities in Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train (1950) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955).” Lesbian writer Patricia Highsmith, though she retained a Southern identity in her exile, described herself as “forever seeking.” During the twentieth century, exile was chosen by many queer US writers, who were considered a national security risk. Highsmith’s fiction is full of similar queer movements in and away from the US South. She explored queer migration through crime fiction as a way to subvert a male-dominated genre and the conventions of said genre by queering them. Robbins explained that Highsmith associates queerness and criminality as a meditation on the outlaw status of queer people in the US, infusing homoeroticism in Southernness.

Second Plenary: Tom Rankin, “‘Injuries of Time and Weather’: Photographs from a Changing American South.”

39Tom Rankin, photographer and Professor of the Practice of Art and Documentary Studies at Duke University, director of the MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts, was invited to give the second plenary talk of the conference, entitled “‘Injuries of Time and Weather’: Photographs from a Changing American South.”

40Echoing Michał Choiński’s plenary paper on homecoming, Rankin explained that, like home, photographic moments can never be quite returned to. The phrase “injuries of time and weather” was taken from William Henry Fox Talbot (1843), and Rankin demonstrated this aspect of his photographic work in his paper. By photographing the South through the years, he explained that, in the spirit of place-based studies, we should be looking at our own space with as much inquiry as we might look at other people’s places.

41Exhibiting injuries of time also comes with displaying social injuries and injustice, as shown in his highly symbolic picture of a cotton laborer who seems to be gobbled up by the cotton harvest tractor he is manipulating – representative of the transformation of cotton culture during the 1980s and -90s in the Mississippi Delta, and how these business realities affected the laborers.

42Rankin has often focused on capturing sacred places and their evolution through time: places made sacred by black communities and iconography, old gravestones under a cedar tree, a church in Mississippi he photographed every year for twenty-five years, the cemetery of which was wiped away by floods. The motif of rising water is important in his work as it has to do with places where the most limited communities were allowed to bury the dead. Rankin quoted Flannery O’Connor’s idea of attempting to track down the holy ghost through a tangle of human suffering.

43Showing a picture he took of a car with the confederate flag on it, Rankin also insisted on the importance of responsibility in photography, of the privilege to photograph what we do not like, wishing that something was not there.

44In conclusion, he displayed a picture of two cinder blocks with flowers on them, emphasizing the importance of context, as these cinder blocks were laid in front of the door to the store where Emmet Till went before being assassinated. Rankin eventually commented on Baldwin’s essay “The Creative Process” (1962), which focuses on the invisible part of reality and on “our action and achievement rest[ing] on things unseen,” by underlining the significance of all that is left out of a picture.

Panel 11: Transforming Regional Identities

45Gina Caison (Georgia State University) opened the penultimate panel by sharing the astonishment she felt, as a research fellow in Budapest, Hungary in 2020-21, at seeing so many Confederate flags around. In “‘Tears over fallen Hungary’: A Transnational Question of Region,” Caison explained her surprise at discovering the uncanny resonance that existed between Hungarian white nationalism and neo-confederate sentiment. In both instances, she discerned a similar language of ethno-nationalist beleaguerment, and pointed to the transatlantic visits of politicians like Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and U.S. conservative pundits Tucker Carlson and Steve Bannon. She thus insisted that both regions have served as illuminating foils for one another’s political identities and struggles.

46Elizabeth Hayes Turner (University of North Texas) kept up the discussion on identities by examining the role that Juneteenth celebrations have played in politicizing many black Americans in Texas and beyond. In “Juneteenth and the Meaning of Citizenship,” Hayes Turner retraced the history of this annual celebration of “the day of freedom’s arrival in Texas.” The lone-star state was the last to hold on to slavery until the federal government enforced emancipation on June 19, 1865. Turner showed that, unbeknownst to white Texans who did not attend the celebrations, freedpeople took advantage of Juneteenth to campaign for office and urge black citizens to vote. Over 150 years later in 2021, Juneteenth became a federal holiday under the Biden administration, and a Texas tradition suddenly became national.

47Clara Juncker (University of Southern Denmark, Odense) offered a third incursion into the topic of changing regional identities, with a paper entitled “Telling About the South: Clint Smith’s How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America (2021).” In this travel narrative, the New-Orleans-based writer re-centers American history on its real founding matrix, the practice of slavery. Juncker showed how the author’s latest book is a literary pilgrimage with an educational dimension, where characters move through landmarks such as the Louisiana State Penitentiary nicknamed Angola and Thomas Jefferson’s plantation at Monticello, Virginia. Smith’s work, ultimately, transforms the history of slavery and points to its continued relevance and resonance with contemporary conflicts and crises.

Panel 12: Performing Southernness

48In “Remapping Southern Visual Culture: From Charles W. Chesnutt’s Protest Novels to Black Lives Matter, Kehinde Wiley, and Lost Cause Monuments,” Susan V. Donaldson (College of William and Mary, US) offered a reflection on the tearing down of Confederate monuments – the statues of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, J. E. B. Stuart, Mathew Fontaine Maury and Robert E. Lee – between 2020 and 2021 in Richmond, Virginia. Donaldson underlined the transformation of the city’s visual culture and paralleled it with Charles Chesnutt’s critique of Confederate nostalgia – as exposed in The Marrow of Tradition (1898) and The Colonel’s Dream (2005) – and Kehinde Wiley’s sculpture “Rumors of War,” offering a counter-narrative to white supremacy.

49Entitled “White Women in the Darkroom: Transforming Mississippi Through Photography,” Annette Trefzer’s (University of Mississippi) presentation compared the photographic works of writers Eudora Welty and Florence Mars. Both photographed the Mississippian social scene, respectively the Depression years and the Civil Rights movement. Trefzer posited that the world had not much changed between these two periods of time, and that Welty’s photographs revealed a prophetic vision: the turmoil and the struggle for racial change captured by Mars was already perceptible in Welty’s visual work. This paper underlined both the similitudes in Mars and Welty’s frames as well as their power, arguing that, in fact, these witnesses sought to intervene in the politics of the Jim Crow South.

50Mikaël Toulza (Université de Lille, FR) concluded the final panel of the conference with a paper entitled “‘Who Will You Do Voodoo To?’: (Trans)Forming the Myth of the Voodoo Doll in Louisiana Voodoo Films and Series” in which he explored the audiovisual mythification of the voodoo doll. Following a process of simplification of actual voodoo practices, the Louisiana tourist industry gradually turned the voodoo doll into a product of consumption. This fantasized version of voodoo is perpetuated in movies and TV series such as Chloe, Love is Calling You (Neilan, 1934), American Horror Story: Coven (FX, 2013-2014) and Apocalypse (FX, 2018). Toulza sought to demonstrate that these productions’ setting in the contiguous United States has been instrumental in the trans/formation of the audiovisual lore associated with the voodoo doll.

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Gabriel Daveau, Eva Gourdoux et Camille Le Gall, « “Southern Trans/formations”: An International Gathering of the Southern Studies Forum »Transatlantica [En ligne], 2 | 2023, mis en ligne le 01 novembre 2023, consulté le 22 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Gabriel Daveau

Université de Lille, CECILLE

Eva Gourdoux

Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, CAS

Camille Le Gall

Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, CAS

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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