Tuesday, March 11th, 2008 by

Thoughts from our author Gerald Duff on a recent conference:

I’m just back from the On the Brink conference at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, a wonderful experience. This year’s theme statement was “Maybe I can explain your devil to you,” a quotation from Flannery O’Connor. I was there with several other writers, including Carolyn Jourdan, Wayne Caldwell and Ravi Howard.

After I had done my reading from my collection of short stories, Fire Ants, a question came from a member of the audience. “What is a signifier of Southern literature?” she asked. “What marks a work of literature as Southern?”

I answered by saying that among other things, a work of Southern literature typically deals with what characters express through silence, misinformation, subterfuge, and subtext. My growing up in the South, in East Texas in particular, taught me that when someone makes a statement or asserts a judgment that I had to be careful. What is said on the surface is seldom all that is meant. When something is not spoken of, when silence reigns, that does not mean communication is not taking place. When someone, particularly one of my female relatives, said for example, “I just saw Lucille and she seemed not as spry as usual. Bless her heart,” my relative didn’t mean she was sorry Lucille was ailing. She was glad.

When a thing is said, the saying of it means it ain’t necessarily so. When a subject is avoided, it isn’t because it’s unimportant. It’s crucial. When someone tells you that all is well, we’re talking deathbed status for the subject in question.

Carolyn Jourdan, author of the wonderfully funny and wonderfully Southern memoir Heart in the Right Place, emailed me the day after the conference to say “Your analysis of what is the hallmark or signifier of Southern literature knocked my socks off. Silence … misinformation … subterfuge … and subtext … Man, a world of hurt is contained in that. What a great and healing insight your summation brings to the life of anyone raised in the South.”

I appreciated what Carolyn said, I’m honored to have her say it, and I’m not speaking subtextually when I say that! Thanks, Carolyn. I mean it!

Gerald Duff’s Fire Ants is available directly from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite local or online book retailer.