Towanda! My Favorite Female Authors
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