The Best Southern Books of the Year 2018
2018 will be remembered as a year filled with exciting new books, and now that it’s coming to a close, we’re taking a look back at some of our favorites. That’s right: It’s time for our annual roundup of the best Southern books of the year. These are the best of the best of the region; each has a connection to the South, from Texas to Georgia to Oklahoma to Maryland and plenty of states in between. Whether they’re set in the South, peopled with Southern characters, or told by Southern voices, these books—mostly fiction, with some compelling nonfiction and stunning poetry included too—contribute to the ever-changing landscape of Southern literature.
These great new books come to us from every genre imaginable, and they’re already becoming favorite literary residents of shelves across the region. They have brought us some of our favorite new Southern writers, and they have told us stories we won’t soon forget. Some are already bestsellers. They’re all brilliant reads. Read on for the best Southern books of 2018, and pick up your favorites at your local bookstore. Also be sure to check out last year’s Southern Books of the Year as well as The Best New Books Coming Out Winter 2019. Your end-of-year reading list is filling up already.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
An American Marriage is Atlanta author Tayari Jones’ unforgettable fourth novel. It tells a poignant story about love, loss, and the aftershocks of a wrongful conviction, which has life-altering impacts for Celestial and Roy, a young couple with lives full of possibility before them.
Also by Tayari Jones: Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, Silver Sparrow
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes
This essential collection from South Carolina-born poet Terrance Hayes reckons with deep personal, political, and moral realities through poetry that rings with the languages of love and grief.
Also by Terrance Hayes: Lighthead, How to be Drawn, Wind in a Box, Hip Logic, Muscular Music
Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine: Stories by Kevin Wilson
These engrossing stories by Tennessee writer Kevin Wilson are bursting with humor and heart, including the title tale, which is about a narcissistic rock star who moves home after an unexpected career development, and “Wildfire Johnny,” which involves a time-traveling razor.
Also by Kevin Wilson: The Family Fang, Perfect Little World, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth: Stories
Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston
In this important, previously unpublished work, the late writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston travels to Plateau, Alabama, in 1927 to interview Cudjo Lewis, the last living survivor of the Atlantic slave trade.
Also by Zora Neale Hurston: Their Eyes Were Watching God, Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica, Mules and Men, Seraph on the Suwanee
Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin
Boom Town by Sam Anderson
Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis is an entertaining and kaleidoscopic look at the history of Oklahoma City, from the ups and downs of the city’s Thunder basketball team to the area’s unpredictable weather to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Certain American States: Stories by Catherine Lacey
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler
Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance is set in Baltimore, Maryland, where Willa Drake finds herself taking care of a stranger, a nine-year-old, and a dog, while simultaneously finding a second chance at the family she’s always wanted.
Also by Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread, Vinegar Girl, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Breathing Lessons
Double Vision: The Unerring Eye of Art World Avatars Dominique and John de Menil by William Middleton
This new book is the first dual biography of Houston-based art collectors Dominique and John de Menil, who traveled the world collecting art and championing artists, and whose legacy includes such storied institutions as the Menil Collection and the Rothko Chapel.
Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original, edited by Sara B. Franklin
This dynamic collection is a tribute to celebrated chef and author Edna Lewis, who published some of the country’s most-loved cookbooks and who helped defined Southern cooking as we know it. The book is edited by Sara B. Franklin and is comprised of essays by Mashama Bailey, Patricia E. Clark, John T. Edge, John T. Hill, Alice Waters, Caroline Randall Williams, and many more.
Florida by Lauren Groff
Lauren Groff’s latest is a marvelous collection of stories that takes its name from the state where the author resides. It’s composed of complex tales that flicker with wonder, danger, insight, and surprise.
Also by Lauren Groff: Fates and Furies, The Monsters of Templeton, Arcadia, Delicate Edible Birds: Stories
Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro
Gun Love by Jennifer Clement
From poet and novelist Jennifer Clement comes the inventive, evocative new book Gun Love. It’s set in Central Florida, where a single mother and her daughter become dangerously familiar with the world of guns, gun violence, and gun trafficking.
Also by Jennifer Clement: Prayers for the Stolen, Widow Basquiat
Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
Mississippi writer Kiese Laymon’s lyrical, layered new memoir delves deeply into the complexities of his experience and explores the myriad ways that family, love, violence, weight, race, and grief have touched and shaped his life.
Also by Kiese Laymon: Long Division, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America
Monument: Poems New and Selected by Natasha Trethewey
In Monument, poet Natasha Trethewey—former U.S. Poet Laureate and former Poet Laureate of Mississippi—has written a powerful new collection that's also her first retrospective. It investigates memory, history, and the ways in which remembering—or choosing to forget—shapes individual experience as well as wider cultural narratives.
Also by Natasha Trethewey: Native Guard, Congregation, Bellocq’s Ophelia, Thrall, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast
Southernmost by Silas House
An urgent road trip from Tennessee to Key West is at the heart of this hopeful novel by Kentucky writer Silas House. It’s a story about faith, morality, and acceptance that finds life changing rapidly for an evangelical preacher named Asher Sharp and his son, Justin.
Also by Silas House: Eli the Good, The Coal Tattoo, A Parchment of Leaves
Sweet & Low: Stories by Nick White
The Fighter by Michael Farris Smith
This new novel from Mississippi author Michael Farris Smith is set in the delta of his home, where a bare-knuckle fighter named Jack struggles to settle his scores, pay his debts, and find redemption in an unforgiving landscape.
Also by Michael Farris Smith: Desperation Road, Rivers, The Hands of Strangers
The Line That Held Us by David Joy
North Carolina writer David Joy sets his propulsive new novel The Line That Held Us in his home state. It’s the suspenseful story of a hunting accident, a cover-up, and a subsequent quest for revenge that puts friends Darl Moody and Calvin Hooper in grave danger.
Also by David Joy: Where All Light Tends to Go, The Weight of This World
The Lost Country by William Gay
Tennessee writer William Gay’s posthumous novel is a wonder of Southern Gothic storytelling; it follows Billy Edgewater as he hitchhikes home to East Tennessee, encounters a dangerous cast of characters, and navigates the perils of the road at every mile.
Also by William Gay: I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, Provinces of Night, Twilight, The Long Home, Little Sister Death
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
In Unsheltered Barbara Kingsolver, a prolific writer born in Kentucky and now based in southern Appalachia, weaves a captivating dual narrative that connects two families through the home they share at different, but not dissimilar, moments in the precarious turns of history.
Also by Barbara Kingsolver: The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees, Flight Behavior, Prodigal Summer, The Lacuna, Homeland and Other Stories
Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard
Hannah Pittard’s Visible Empire is a fictionalized account of a true event, the 1962 Air France aviation disaster at Orly, which caused the deaths of many Georgians and which left its mark on the city of Atlanta.
Also by Hannah Pittard: Listen to Me, The Fates Will Find Their Way, Reunion
Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson
Brandon Hobson’s Where the Dead Sit Talking is an absorbing novel set in the 1980s in rural Oklahoma, where a Cherokee teenager named Sequoyah is placed in foster care and forms a deep bond with Rosemary, a Native American teenager with a past as troubled as his own.
Also by Brandon Hobson: Desolation of Avenues Untold, Deep Ellum
Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith
This moving debut novel from Kentucky native Leesa Cross-Smith is told through three distinct voices. It’s set in present-day Louisville, where the lives of three people—Evi; Eamon, her husband; and Dalton, his adopted brother—are forever changed by a tragic loss.
Also by Leesa Cross-Smith: Every Kiss a War