Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 113 / Number 2
"An Experiment in Southern Letters": Reconsidering the Role of The Reviewer in the Southern Renaissance
- Benjamin E. Wise, pp. 146–78
The Southern Literary Renaissance is commonly dated from the publication William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury in 1929 and is often explained by referring to the peculiar "historical consciousness" of this generation of writers. This article suggests that well before 1929 writers in the South were asking fundamental questions about race, sex, history, and identity in their work, and that The Reviewer was an early forum in which these questions were posed.
The Reviewer was published in Richmond from 1921 to 1924, and in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, during 1925. The writing it published was variously experimental and sentimental, progressive and traditional, and as such it provides a unique portrait of a historical era during which southern writers were working towards a new artistic sensibility. Abstract terms like "historical consciousness" take on tangible form in the pages of this magazine as we witness a literary negotiation of sorts in which writers struggle to make sense of the past and its relationship to the present.
This article argues that the canon of southern literature should continue to expand and emphasizes the role of 1920s writers such as Frances Newman, Julia Peterkin, Gerald Johnson, Paul Green, Sara Haardt, Benjamin Brawley, and Olive Tilford Dargan in the reshaping of southern literature. In addition, it suggests that the concept of the Southern Renaissance be understood not merely as a period during which Faulkner and others published "great" literature, but as one in which an entire artistic community engaged in a reworking of the place and purpose of literature in southern society.