Cathedrals of Kudzu: A Personal Landscape of the South

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Forword by Fred Hobson and illustrations by Steven Cragg. Hal Crowther prides himself on being one of the last generalists in a profession of specialists. His eloquent essays on culture, history, politics, religion, arts, and literature have established him as one of the most influential Southern journalists of his generation. Cathedrals of Kudzu represents his ambition to "cover" the South- "its writers, politicians, geniuses, saints, villains, and eccentric folkways-with other words, from a judicious distance, ...
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Overview

Forword by Fred Hobson and illustrations by Steven Cragg. Hal Crowther prides himself on being one of the last generalists in a profession of specialists. His eloquent essays on culture, history, politics, religion, arts, and literature have established him as one of the most influential Southern journalists of his generation. Cathedrals of Kudzu represents his ambition to "cover" the South- "its writers, politicians, geniuses, saints, villains, and eccentric folkways-with other words, from a judicious distance, but with the ironical bite of his own not inconsiderable prejudices. "Like Mencken," reads Crowther's citation for the 1992 H. L. Mencken writing Award,"Hal Crowther has narrowed pupil of a sharpshooter, the hairy ear of a heavy artilleryman, and the ballistic rifling of an implacable anathematist."

In these superb essays, most of them first published in , he sorts out a whole warehouse of Southern idiosyncrasy and iconography, including the Southern belle, Faulkner, James Dickey, Stonewall Jackson, Cormac McCarthy, Walker Percy, Erskine Caldwell, guns, dogs, fathers, trees, George Wallace, Elvis, Doc Watson, the decline of poetry, and the return of chain gangs. Unlike Mencken, who was incorrigibly cynical about his subjects, Crowther is capable of affectionate, even sentimental, concessions-even to some of the most dubious players who cross his stage.

These are very personal essays, though they include a wealth of reporting and research. They're conversations with the reader, who is invited to bring his or her experience and prejudice to the topic at hand. There's no quarter given, but no ideological orthodoxies to reassure one faction or alienate another. Crowther is an intellectual free agent. In his essays, the book page and the editorial page find common ground. Taken as a whole, Hal Crowther's pieces offer a portrait of the modern South with a rich backdrop of its history and its classic literature. More personally, they present a vivid intellectual self-portrait of the man Kirkpatrick Sale has called "the best essayist working in journalism today.

A former editor and critic for Time and Newsweek, a screenwriter, on weekdays a prize-winning syndicated columnist, Hal Crowther devotes his essays in the Oxford American to southern manners and letters. He lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and is married to novelist Lee Smith.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In his foreword Fred Hobson dubs North Carolinian Crowther "a throwback" who resembles the best literary journalists of the early 1900s more than contemporary essayists. Indeed the self-described "born Luddite, anchorite, forest hermit, destroyer of telephones" is an uncommon essayist: a moralist, a widely read generalist, a modern-day Mencken who never hesitates to offend when extolling the virtues or probing the flaws of his favorite subject, the South. These 29 essays (many first published in the Oxford American) skillfully blend the personal and the polemical, experience and reportage, high culture and low, the spiritual and the secular. Crowther's range is best displayed in "God's Holy Fire," which takes to task no less an impressive cast than novelist Reynolds Price, Martin Luther, Kierkegaard, God and the New York Times Book Review. In "The King and I," his uncertain regard for Elvis becomes a touchstone for exploring what's wrong with contemporary America (a recurring theme). Even bemoaning our sorry state, Crowther writes with saving wit and flair, deploring "the Graceland Cult as the state religion of the degenerate `voodoo republic' that is replacing Mr. Jefferson's dignified democracy." Crowther brings both native insight and objective detachment to his analysis of the South's writers (James Dickey, William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy), heroes (Stonewall Jackson, George Wallace and Wallace's nemesis, Judge Frank Johnson) and icons (belles, yahoos, radio evangelists). "We'll soon be anachronisms, subjects like me," he allows. But if Crowther is a throwback, he's also a keeper--and likely the best essayist you've never heard of. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Crowther, a former editor and critic for Time and Newsweek, as well as a screenwriter, prize-winning syndicated newspaper columnist, and contributor to the bimonthly Oxford American (in which many of the works included here were originally published), here collects his essays on Southern life. The author includes essays on the literature of William Faulkner, James Dickey, Cormac McCarthy, Erskine Caldwell, and Walker Percy; the politics of George Wallace and Frank Johnson; the Civil War, the Klan, and the Civil Rights Movement; and such cultural icons and features as Doc Watson, Elvis Presley, fathers, dogs, and guns. Crowther blends an erudite style with good-ol'-boy populism and biting humor to create a well-crafted sense of place and time (the contemporary American South, with a particular emphasis on Oxford, MI, and the Chapel Hill, NC, areas). Recommended for public and academic libraries and collections specializing in Southern literature and Southern studies.--Pam Kingsbury, Alabama Humanities Foundation, Florence Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807125946
  • Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2000
  • Pages: 177
  • Product dimensions: 5.78 (w) x 8.83 (h) x 0.87 (d)

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