Sarah Gardner discusses interpreting the South through literature

literary manhattan

Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20)

Sofia Henderson

Staff Writer


Professor Sarah Gardner of Mercer University recently delivered a lecture entitled “Literary Manhattan, Modern Press, and Southern Literature.” Gardner’s lecture drew an enthusiastic audience that included a broad variety of students, professors, and community members.


Gardner discussed the portrayal of the American South in literature, the impact of editors and publishers on depictions of the South in literature, and the Southern Renaissance. Gardner has worked with Sewanee’s May semester in Beaufort, South Carolina, and was a visiting professor at Sewanee in spring of 2017. Gardner emphasized, when introducing the topic of the Southern Renaissance, that “renaissances cannot last forever; that is why they are called renaissances.”


Students Helen Pfaff (C’18) and Kate Longaker (C’18) made their way to the front rows of Gailor Auditorium on November 15 to hear Gardner’s lecture. They explained that they took Gardner’s class last semester and really enjoyed it, so they were eager to show their support.


Gardner’s work on the American South in literature is more than just an abstract concept to the people at the University of the South. History is an ongoing process, and Sewanee forms a part of a University and a region with a complex and often troublesome history.


“We don’t just claim to be the University of the South, which is certainly a bold claim to make. But because of the Sewanee Review and so many of those agrarians that Sarah mentioned in her talk spent time here [Sewanee], to a large extent, the Southern Renaissance lived here as much as it lived anywhere,” explained Professor John Grammer.


Grammer is the director of the School of Letters, which co-sponsored Gardner’s lecture with the department of American Studies and the University Lectures Committee. “It seemed kind of natural,” said Grammer when asked about his department’s decision to sponsor the lecture. “Sarah’s topic, which is about the creation of Southern literature, is integral to the literary life of Sewanee. Sewanee is kind of central to the project of Southern literature as well.”


Gardner fielded a range of questions from her audience, including inquiries regarding the future of the publishing industry and book reviews as well as the number of books being bought in various regions of the country.


Gardner explained that portrayal of the American South in literature affects not only residents of the South but also citizens living in other regions. Grammer echoed Gardner’s sentiment as he explained that the most captivating part of Gardner’s lecture, for him, was “the idea that the shape of the Southern Renaissance, its beginning and its ending, were to a large degree dictated by realities of the publishing world.”


Gardner’s lecture gave the Sewanee community a fascinating and important glimpse into the Southern Renaissance and its deep connections with literature. We are perhaps left to ponder: what is the future of American Southern literature?

Gardner’s work as one of the leading historians in the South is marked by her popular books Blood and Irony: Southern White Women’s Narratives of the Civil War, 1861-1937, and most recently Reviewing the South: The Literary Marketplace and the Southern Renaissance, 1920-1941.