Towanda! My Favorite Female Authors

Photo Credit: Instagram @samanthagrander.

Southern women writing about the Southern things that all Southerners understand. Southern characters who bring memories and scents and nostalgia flooding to the surface of our recollections. What more can a person hope for, being a reader, than to be taken somewhere we’ve been before, a place we know and remember fondly? To return to a time and place when something so wonderful happened, with people we don’t think about nearly enough…well, that’s what makes a really good book.

I am partial to Southern female writers, but the authors I admire come from all over, and I am a better writer myself having read about places in America that I’m not familiar with. When I reflect on the kinds of books I love the most and the writers I most admire, I have worked it out quite simply…

I wish I could weave words and sentences together and craft perfect written thoughts like Elizabeth Gilbert, a Yankee writer whose sass and flair for profanity tell me she should have been born south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Our loss.  Her new book Big Magic comes out in September, and she is teasing me with her wisdom already when she offers up a snarky, “If people don’t like what you’re creating, just smile at them sweetly and tell them to make their own f*cking art.” I think I will, Liz.

I wish I could craft imagery like Zora Neale Hurston. When she said “…she starched and ironed her face, forming it into just what people wanted to see,” we all knew exactly what she meant, because we’d done that, too.  She even warned us, “You know if you pass someone and don’t speak tuh suit ’em dey got tuh go way back in yo life and see whut you ever done.  They know mo’ ’bout yuh than you do yo’self.  An envious heart makes a treacherous ear.” Indeed it does, Ms. Hurston, indeed it does.

I wish I could tell a timeless, epic story like Sue Monk Kidd complete with history, regional folklore and peanut field pondering about life and the simple things, like remembering what lightening bugs smell like. I wish I could channel her skill with description, recalling the warmth of a horse’s snort and the way your shoulders sting with sunburn after a day at the river. The way she rebuilds in our minds the particularly beautiful places we live, places we only notice when we stop and pay close attention.  She is the writer who reminds me to pay particular mind to the details.

I wish I could make people feel on the inside, in their hearts and guts, like Rebecca Wells characters make me feel when they are together, hurting and laughing and hurting some more…sharing their tears in the tear jar like Sidda and her mother did after Sidda finally forgave her in Divine Secrets of the Yaya Sisterhood. It is an image that comes to my mind even now, every time I’m sad or if I’m dwelling on sad things, because I won’t ever forget how I felt when I first read her Yaya books.

I wish I could make people hoot and holler like Jill Connor Browne does. The laughing tears flow when she’s on a roll, and her jokes and zingers have become part of my lexicon. I hear my younger, thirty-something friends use the term f*ck-me pumps, and although they do not know where that term comes from, I sure do.  The Sweet Potato Queens came up with that one.

And I wish I could become legendary at it all like Fannie Flagg, an enduring, lasting writer who has transcended generations of female readers. She is the Master Yaya, the crowning Sweet Potato Queen and the eldest of all the Boatwright sisters. Her strong female characters are timeless. It’s no exaggeration to say she is in large part responsible for the image of the iconic female powerhouse in the genre of Southern literature and movies. What respectable Southern woman doesn’t remember the female characters in Fried Green Tomatoes? To me, she is a goddess. Towanda!

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”
Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees




About Dawn Quarles

Dawn Quarles is a high school political science and American history teacher who moonlights as a blogger and writer. She lives on Pensacola Beach, Florida.


No Responses to “Towanda! My Favorite Female Authors”

  1. Stephany Schlenker says:

    I found this quote by one of my favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke, and it made me think of you & your endeavors. Hope you like it.

    “Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.

    This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose…

    …Describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty – describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. – And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.”

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