Campus News

Eubanks discusses identity of the South, future of Southern letters, during Signature Lecture

It was at a gallery exhibition that W. Ralph Eubanks first heard of the Margravate of Azilia, a proposed buffer colony in the early 1700s.

Artist Cathy Fussell’s quilted re-creation, labeled “Margravate of Azilia,” reminded Eubanks of his own lineage and connection to Georgia and the broader American South. Here, he began to ponder his connection to the South and the evolution of Southern writing.

The UGA Libraries and The Georgia Review celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame with one of the university’s Signature Lectures—titled “Georgia’s Literary Past and the Future of Southern Letters”—with Eubanks as the featured speaker. The lecture was part of the 2020 Spotlight on the Arts Festival and took place virtually on Nov. 8.

After an introduction from Gerald Maa, the editor-in-chief of The Georgia Review, Eubanks delved into examples and elements of other Southern writers, including Jean Toomer, Flannery O’Connor and Édouard Glissant. Through the lens and words of these Southern writers, Eubanks painted a picture of the past and present identity of the South and the future of Southern letters.

What is the future of Southern letters, and what does that look like? According to Eubanks, it’s the idea of “embracing narratives from outside the South and making them part of the story of the region.”

“It is the job of the Southern writer to both explain how the least appealing aspects of Southern culture are weaponized outside its borders, while also seeking to create a new narrative that overshadows and eclipses the older one,” he said.

The South that shaped many writers in the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame is distinctly different from the South we live in today, Eubanks said. It’s less rural, more urban and suburban, and more ethnically and racially diverse. He refers to this concept as “the changing South” and said he thinks it’ll be the greatest influence on the next generation of Southern writers and will redefine Southern letters.

“My South is one that is both haunted and haunting,” Eubanks said. “While there are many unsettled spirits hovering over the Southern landscape, the next generation will be defined less by the ghost of race and violence that cast a shadow over the consciousness of my generation.”

It’s the next generation who Eubanks believes will redefine and reimagine what it means to be a Southern writer.

“Part of that reimagining will be to be less defined by the destiny of geography and more defined by connections with the rest of the world that lie beyond the artificial and ancient demarcation mapped by the Mason-Dixon Line,” he said.

Eubanks is the author of titles such as “Ever Is a Long Time: A Journey into Mississippi’s Dark Past” and “The House at the End of the Road: The Story of Three Generations of an Interracial Family in the American South.” His essays have been published in a plethora of publications, such as The Georgia Review, The New Yorker and The American Scholar. Eubanks is also a 2007 Guggenheim Fellow and a visiting professor at the University of Mississippi.