I've sometimes wondered why I called this venture Southern Bookman, since that implies the regionalism and provincialism I deplore. In my literary interests, I consider myself a member of the Republic of Letters, the historical and enduring fellowship explored by Princeton historian Anthony Grafton in his recent book "Worlds Made by Words: Scholarship and Community in the Modern West."
While I have an international, open-minded outlook, I instinctively and without much thought decided to use the title "Southern Bookman." I am a Southerner, irrevocably stamped by my upbringing in Southern Louisiana, in many ways different from the rest of the South because of its French and Catholic heritage. While I lack much patience for neo-Confederate Romanticism, or the Southern boosterism espoused by the Oxford American, I am in profound ways a provincial Southerner.
As an LSU graduate, I am deeply proud of the university's literary heritage, fostered by Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks in the original incarnation of the Southern Review, and nurtured today with the continued excellence of the literary journal, and the LSU Press. I love the South's literary tradition, rooted in William Faulkner, but contributed to by so many others: Eudora Welty, Kate Chopin, Flannery O'Connor, Roy Blount, Barry Hannah, Tom Franklin, Donald Barthelme, Larry McMurtry, Allen Tate, Caroline Gordon and on and on. Among my favorite writers, the quintessential Yankee, Robert Lowell, was strongly stamped by his association with Southerners and his time in the Deep South.
I consider myself as adding to the tradtion of Southern liberalism/progressism, with various branches reaching to Huey and Earl Long, William Faulkner, Ralph McGill, Eugene Patterson, Walker and William Percy, Hodding Carter (a bitter Long foe in his Louisiana Days), Wendell Berrry and so many others. Like Berry, I respect the Agrarians, rejecting their racism, but seeing much of value in their espousal of tradition and criticism of modern, monolithic capitalism.
While I revere Lincoln and the Union cause, I have a deeply engrained emotional bond with the soldiers of the South and military leaders like Lee and Jackson. I am an irrational and emotional partisan of LSU football and other sports, although for many years I tried to deny that tribal attachment.
For better or worse, I am a Southerner, a Louisianian, and I suppose, a Georgian, although I've resisted the latter attachement despite living in Georgia for now more than 30 years. I've had allegiances to Sewanee, Emory and the University of Florida. Along with other intellectual Southerners, I deplore the South's poverty, religious fundamentalism, suspicion of outsiders and fresh ideas, violence, self-destructive eating and drinking, and defensiveness, traces of all of which I possess like minerals in my bloodstream. I love the South's colorful language, storytelling, loyalty, sense of honor, love of nature and beauty, romanticism, family consciousness and love of eating, drinking, celebration and ceremony. As these conflicting statements indicate, the best and worst of the South are sides of the same cracked mirror, through which a clear image can be difficult to discern.
I'm not sure why I felt compelled to write this type of essay now, so many months into Southern Bookman. For some reason, I felt the need to orient myself to the site's mission, and give some insight into its purpose and outlook.
I've enjoyed doing the site's interviews with a variety of writers, and look forward to continuing this in 2010. I also look ahead to renewing my efforts to cover American and global writing and thinking. As a new year arrives, I am grateful for the many readers and supporters of this effort and happily anticipate the journey continuing.