10 Books by Southern Writers We Bet You Haven’t Read Yet
Still looking for summer reads? We’re revisiting our favorite Southern books from the past few years to recommend a few you may have missed. These page-turners are funny and heartfelt, moving and memorable, and if they’re not on your radar, they certainly should be. These books are set in the South—from the Everglades to the Appalachian foothills to East Texas—and they’re written by stellar Southern authors like Attica Locke, Kevin Wilson, and Karen Russell. They’ll transport you to Mobile Bay, World War II-era Mississippi, and a present-day utopian commune. This list is a mix of short story collections, novels, a book of essays, and a collection of poetry, any and all of which would be welcome additions to your bookshelf. Here are ten contemporary Southern books—stories that are either set in the South, written by a Southern author, or about Southern characters (though, admittedly, some are all of the above)—that belong at the top of your to-read pile.
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
This enthralling page-turner by Houston native Attica Locke takes place in East Texas, where a Texas Ranger named Darren Mathews returns home to the Lone Star State and encounters twisted webs of crime and justice.
Eveningland: Stories by Michael Knight
In this collection, Alabama-born Michael Knight weaves a set of superb tales set in and around his hometown on Mobile Bay. These stories are funny and moving and peopled by Southern characters grappling with privilege, tradition, and stasis.
Flight Behavior: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver’s Appalachaia-set seventh novel is about a young woman named Dellarobia Turnbow who considers the turns of her life while working to aid a colony of 15 million butterflies that have been blown off course and end up stranded in Feathertown, Tennessee.
Where the Line Bleeds: A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
You’ve likely already devoured copies of Jesmyn Ward’s stunning National Book Award-winning novels Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing, but if you haven’t also read Where the Line Bleeds, her 2008 novel about twins living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, allow us to nudge it to the top of your reading list.
Mudbound: A Novel by Hillary Jordan
First published in 2009, Hillary Jordan’s debut novel about two families living in World War II-era Mississippi and grappling with poverty, racism, tragedy, and hope received an award-winning film adaptation in 2017.
Also by Hillary Jordan: When She Woke: A Novel
Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson
In Kevin Wilson’s wonderful 2017 novel about families lost and found, a young woman named Izzy Poole finds herself living in a utopian ideal—a collective family experiment headed by child psychologist Dr. Preston Grind—but perfection is hard to attain, as Wilson explores with humor and heart.
Sunshine State: Essays by Sarah Gerard
Sarah Gerard’s debut essay collection explores the boundaries of memoir and draws on her childhood in Florida, turning a perceptive eye to the place and its people, the landscape and its ecology, traversing wide-ranging topics with a sense of their histories and a curiosity about their futures.
Also by Sarah Gerard: Binary Star: A Novel
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves: Stories by Karen Russell
Those who loved Karen Russell’s Pulitzer-nominated novel Swamplandia! should also pick up her debut collection, ten stories that will transport readers to the Florida Everglades in a fascinating mash-up of genres.
The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis
Phillip Lewis’ debut novel is a story of fathers and sons set in a rural North Carolina town that follows a young man named Henry Aster as he flees the world of his youth only to return again, years later, to face what still haunts him about his family, his history, and his home.
Thrall: Poems by Natasha Trethewey
The most recent collection of poetry by Natasha Trethewey, a former Poet Laureate of the state of Mississippi and the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States, is filled with verse to savor, page after page of essential work probing questions of identity, race, and history.
Also by Natasha Trethewey: Native Guard: Poems, Bellocq’s Ophelia: Poems, Domestic Work: Poems, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast