Essay Reviews  

Cathedrals of Kudzu:
A Personal Landscape of the South
by Hal Crowther
LSU Press, 2000
ISBN: 0-8071-2594-6

After reading Cathedrals of Kudzu, I am sure that I sit on the first pew of Hal Crowther’s church as his wife Lee Smith leads the singing. 

Essayist Hal Crowther takes a stand on his beliefs and presents evidence in such a way to make the reader think about the subject and likewise take a stand.  

Crowther addresses the PCing of southern literature.  There is actually a movement to change the words in classics by Eudora Welty to make them politically correct.  Forgetting that the works as written are an historical record of the culture of that period.  He also addresses the attacks some white authors – Janice Daugharty for one – have experience because they dared to write in the voice of a black character.  

The value of Erskine Caldwell to southern literature is called into question.  Caldwell created the southern stereotypes that Hollywood has used for stock characters in movies and television for decades.  Crowther’s most condemning note on Caldwell is when he uses a quote from Caldwell against him.  Erskine Caldwell is said to have said, he was “a writer, not a reader.”  Crowther concludes, “a writer who boasts that he doesn’t read is like a fish who boasts that he doesn’t need water.  It won’t be long before we’re holding our noses.” 

Crowther writes about Southerners who took up the sword.  He takes on the Civil War from Stonewall Jackson to the Ku Klux Klan.  In “The Twelve Apostles,” he addresses the Fugitives – Vanderbilt’s Agrarian poets – as trying to hold onto a romanticized past.  Crowther points out in “From Auschwitz to Alabama” that one of the most shameful abuses to black men was ordained by the U.S. government not the South.  

In a series of essays dealing with religion in the South, Crowther takes on snake-handling, radio preachers, and Elvis.  He ends the book with essays on North Carolina and his father. 

The illustrations by Steven Cragg add personality to the essays on James Dickey, Stonewall Jackson, Pat Robertson and Doc Watson.  Most of the essays first appeared in The Oxford American, and this collection makes a second reading a joy.  So, from the first pew -- AMEN. 

Joyce Dixon
Southern Scribe Reviews

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