Contemporary Southern Writers To Read Right Now
We’re always in the middle of a new book, how about you? Browse our bookshelves, and you’ll find volumes spanning the genres. We love revisiting perennial favorites and the classics, but we’re perhaps most excited about reading new books by contemporary Southern authors. Today’s writers are reshaping the landscape of Southern literature and filling our bookshelves with important new stories that live in our minds long after we've turned the last pages. What follows is a list of a few of the authors we always look forward to reading, though this is just a small selection of the many dynamic writers working today who are associated with the South. Read on to learn a little about these writers, and you’ll also find a big collection of novels, short stories, and poetry collections to add to your reading list.
Novelist and short story writer Ann Beattie was born in Washington, D.C, and grew up in the Chevy Chase area. Her most recent work includes the collections The State We’re In: Maine Stories (2015) and The Accomplished Guest (2017). Her latest novel, A Wonderful Stroke of Luck was published in 2019. Beattie’s work has been included in several O. Henry Prize Story Collections as well as The Best American Short Stories of the Century.
A Wonderful Stroke of Luck: A Novel (SHOP: $17, bookshop.org)
Wendell Berry, a prolific poet, essayist, novelist, and farmer, explores the intersections between agriculture and the individual. Berry’s popular Port William novels are located in a fictional Kentucky town and include The Memory of Old Jack (1974), Jayber Crow (2000), and Hannah Coulter (2004), among others. Berry was born in Henry County, Kentucky, and still lives in his home state.
The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry (SHOP: $26, bookshop.org)
Sarah M. Broom
Sarah M. Broom’s first book, The Yellow House (2019), is a sweeping memoir tracing her family’s history in the yellow New Orleans East house they called home. The book was awarded the 2019 National Book Award for Nonfiction. Broom, a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, divides her time between New York and New Orleans.
The Yellow House (SHOP: $26, bookshop.org)
Jericho Brown is a poet and writer from Shreveport, Louisiana. His most recent collection, The Tradition 2019), was a National Book Award Finalist in 2019 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2020. His earlier work includes Please (2008), The New Testament (2014). He is currently an associate professor of English at Emory University and is also the director of the institution's creative writing program.
The Tradition (SHOP: $17, bookshop.org)
Casey Cep grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where a piece she reported unearthed the story that would become her first book, Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee (2019). The book examines Harper Lee’s life in the context of an Alabama trial that took place in the 1970s—long after the best-selling debut that came with 1960’s To Kill a Mockingbird—and was a story Lee struggled for years to write.
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee (SHOP: $26, bookshop.org)
The writer Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and grew up in Huntsville, Alabama. She published her acclaimed debut novel, Homegoing, in 2016, and won the National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Award, the PEN/Hemingway Award, and the American Book Award. She was also named one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 in 2016. Her most recent novel, Transcendent Kingdom, was published in 2020.
Transcendent Kingdom: A Novel (SHOP: $27.95, bookshop.org)
Born in Columbia, South Carolina, poet Terrance Hayes is the author of the collection Lighthead (2010), which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2010. His recent books, How to Be Drawn (2015) and American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (2018), were both finalists as well. Hayes is currently a professor on the faculty at New York University.
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (SHOP: $18, bookshop.org)
Brandon Hobson’s most recent book, Where the Dead Sit Talking (2018), was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award for Fiction. Set in Oklahoma in the 1980s, the book tells the story of a Cherokee teenager navigating the foster care system. Hobson’s other books include The Removed (2013), Deep Ellum (2014), and Desolation of Avenues Untold (2015). Hobson, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation Tribe of Oklahoma, teaches creative writing at New Mexico State University and is a writing mentor at the Institute of American Indian Arts.
Where the Dead Sit Talking (SHOP: $16, bookshop.org)
A native of Laurel County, Kentucky, Silas House set his first few novels in fictional Crow County. He was a mail carrier before he began publishing his novels, the first of which was Clay’s Quilt (2001), followed by A Parchment of Leaves (2003) and others. House’s recent novel, Southernmost, was published in 2018. His literary work also includes nonfiction, short stories, essays, and plays. He lives in Kentucky.
Southernmost: A Novel (SHOP: $15.95, bookshop.org)
Tayari Jones, who was born in Atlanta and still calls the city home, wrote the novels Leaving Atlanta (2002), The Untelling (2005), Silver Sparrow (2011), and An American Marriage (2018), which was published to wide acclaim and won the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Jones is on the English and creative writing faculty at Emory University and is also an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University.
An American Marriage: A Novel (SHOP: $16.95, bookshop.org)
Born in Annapolis, Maryland, and raised in rural Kentucky, Barbara Kingsolver traveled the world before moving to southwestern Virginia, where she now lives. Her work includes poetry, essays, and novels, including the bestsellers The Poisonwood Bible (1998), Prodigal Summer (2000), Flight Behavior (2012), and Unsheltered (2018).
Unsheltered: A Novel (SHOP: $17.99, bookshop.org)
Kiese Laymon was born in Jackson, Mississippi. He is the author of a novel, Long Division: A Novel (2013); a collection of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: Essays (2013); and a memoir, Heavy: An American Memoir (2018), which won the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. Laymon is currently the Hubert H. McAlexander Chair of English at the University of Mississippi, and he is the recipient of a 2020-2021 Radcliffe Fellowship.
Heavy: An American Memoir (SHOP: $16, bookshop.org)
Texas-born writer and producer Attica Locke has written an array of page-turning crime thrillers set in and around the South, including Black Water Rising (2009); Bluebird, Bluebird (2017); and Heaven, My Home (2019). As a television and film writer, she has also brought many popular projects to the screen, including Empire, When They See Us, and Little Fires Everywhere.
Heaven, My Home: A Highway 59 Novel (SHOP: $27, bookshop.org)
Mesha Maren is from Alderson, West Virginia, and her debut novel, Sugar Run, is set in a fictionalized county in her home state. Her short stories and essays have been published widely, including in Tin House, The Oxford American, The Guardian, and The Southern Review. Maren is currently an Assistant Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Duke University, and she lives between North Carolina and West Virginia, where she is a National Endowment of the Arts Writing Fellow at the federal prison camp in her hometown.
Sugar Run: A Novel (SHOP: $15.95, bookshop.org)
Bobbie Ann Mason
Bobbie Ann Mason was raised on a dairy farm in Mayfield, Kentucky, and many of her stories are set in western Kentucky. Her work spans the genres, and her 1999 memoir, Clear Springs, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Most recently, Patchwork: A Bobbie Ann Mason Reader (2018) was published in celebration of her life’s work so far.
Patchwork: A Bobbie Ann Mason Reader (SHOP: $35, bookshop.org)
Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Mary Miller is the author of two short story collections, Big World (2009) and Always Happy Hour (2017), and two novels, The Last Days of California (2014) and Biloxi (2019). Her work has appeared in The Paris Review and Oxford American. She currently lives in Mississippi.
Biloxi: A Novel (SHOP: $24.95, bookshop.org)
Mary Laura Philpott
Nashville-based writer Mary Laura Philpott’s most recent book, I Miss You When I Blink (2019), is
a memoir in essays and was a finalist for the 2019 Southern Book Prize in Nonfiction. Philpott’s work appears both on the page and on the airwaves; she is the cohost of A Word on Words, a Nashville Public Television program in which she interviews writers and has conversations about books. Her forthcoming collection of essays is called Bomb Shelter (2022).
I Miss You When I Blink: Essays (SHOP: $26, bookshop.org)
The novelist Ron Rash was born in South Carolina and grew up in North Carolina, where he still lives. Rash is currently a professor in Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, as well as the author of novels, books of short stories, and poetry collections. His novels, many of which are set in southern Appalachia, include The Risen (2016), Above the Waterfall (2015), The Cove (2012), and Serena (2008), among others.
In the Valley: Stories and a Novella (SHOP: $26.95, bookshop.org)
Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Born and raised in New Orleans, Maurice Carlos Ruffin published his debut novel, the Southern-set satire We Cast a Shadow, in 2019. It was a finalist for The PEN/Open Book Award and was long-listed for The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Ruffin is an assistant professor of creative writing at Louisiana State University, and he is also the 2020-2021 John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence at The University of Mississippi.
We Cast a Shadow: A Novel (SHOP: $17, bookshop.org)
The short story collection Orange World and Other Stories (2019), is suffused with the strange and the fantastic—elements which can be found Karen Russell’s earlier story collections St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (2006) and Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Other Stories (2013). Swamplandia! (2011), a novel about alligator wrestlers living off the Florida coast, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. Russell grew up in Miami, Florida, and now lives in Oregon.
Orange World and Other Stories (SHOP: $25.95, bookshop.org)
Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
Margaret Wilkerson Sexton grew up in New Orleans and made her literary debut in 2017 with the National Book Award-nominated novel A Kind of Freedom. The story spans three generations in a New Orleans family during the second half of the 20th century. Her second book, The Revisioners, was published in 2019.
The Revisioners: A Novel (SHOP: $25, bookshop.org)
Lee Smith was born in the mountains of Grundy, Virginia, and incorporates the landscape of her childhood into much of her work. Her books include a memoir, Dimestore: A Writer’s Life (2016); short story collections; and the novels Guests on Earth (2013), On Agate Hill (2006), The Last Girls (2002), and Fair and Tender Ladies (1988), among others. Smith currently lives in North Carolina.
Blue Marlin (SHOP: $15.95, bookshop.org)
Michael Farris Smith
Novelist Michael Farris Smith’s books include The Hands of Strangers (2011), Rivers (2013), Desperation Road (2017), The Fighter (2018), and most recently, Blackwood (2020), which takes place in the fictional rural Mississippi town of Red Bluff. Smith was born in Mississippi, and he has set his last four novels in and around the state. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Bitter Southerner, and elsewhere.
Blackwood: A Novel (SHOP: $27, bookshop.org)
Laurel Snyder is a poet and children’s book author from Baltimore, Maryland. She is the author of many children’s books, including My Jasper June (2019), Bigger Than a Bread Box (2011), and Penny Dreadful (2010). Her 2017 book, Orphan Island, was longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Snyder currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
My Jasper June (SHOP: $16.99, bookshop.org)
Acclaimed poet Natasha Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi. She served as the Poet Laureate of Mississippi and was appointed United States Poet Laureate in 2012 and 2013. Trethewey won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in recognition of her 2006 collection Native Guard. Her most recent publication is a memoir entitled Memorial Drive, which was published in 2020.
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir (SHOP: $27.99, bookshop.org)
Anne Tyler was born in Minnesota, grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and now lives in Baltimore, Maryland. A prolific novelist, Tyler has written more than 20 novels, many of which are set in and around Maryland, including A Spool of Blue Thread (2015), which was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, and Breathing Lessons (1988), which won the Pulitzer Prize.
Clock Dance: A Novel (SHOP: $16.95, bookshop.org)
Jesmyn Ward was born in California and grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi. Her novels include Where the Line Bleeds (2008); Salvage the Bones (2011); and Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017). Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing were awarded the National Book Award for Fiction in 2011 and 2017, respectively. Ward also published the memoir Men We Reaped and edited the 2016 collection The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race. Ward is currently on the faculty at Tulane University.
Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel (SHOP: $17, bookshop.org)
Bryan Washington’s first book, Lot: Stories (2019), explores Houston, Texas, his hometown. He was recognized as one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 in 2019 and has written for The New Yorker and The Paris Review. Washington’s second book, a novel entitled Memorial, will be published in October.
Memorial: A Novel (SHOP: $27, bookshop.org)
Mississippi native Nick White published his debut collection of Southern-set short stories, Sweet & Low, in 2018. White’s work also includes the novel How to Survive a Summer (2017), and pieces published in The Kenyon Review, Guernica, and LitHub, among other outlets. He is currently on the creative writing faculty at The Ohio State University.
Sweet & Low: Stories (SHOP: $25, indiebound.org)
John Edgar Wideman
A writer whose career has spanned genres and decades, John Edgar Wideman was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His work includes novels as well as memoirs, short stories, and essays. Wideman’s most recent book is American Histories, a collection of short stories about history, loss, and the legacy of slavery in America. Among Wideman’s many honors is the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, a prize the writer won twice, and multiple O. Henry Awards.
American Histories: Stories (SHOP: $16, bookshop.org)
Sewanee writer Kevin Wilson’s books include the story collections Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (2009) and Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine (2018) and the novels The Family Fang (2011), which was adapted into a 2015 film; Perfect Little World (2017); and Nothing To See Here (2019). Wilson currently teaches creative writing at Sewanee: The University of the South.
Nothing To See Here (SHOP: $26.99, bookshop.org)