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.
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.
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