The Southern Grotesque in Early America


Panel Organizer: Mary M. Balkun, Seton Hall University


The southern grotesque is one of the most recognized and written-about forms of the grotesque in American literature, associated with such authors as William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, and Cormac McCarthy.  However, the modern and contemporary southern grotesque has its roots in much earlier cultural and literary productions in the region.  It can be traced backwards through writers as diverse as Twain, Jacobs, Poe (who is often considered a southern author), Simms, and Byrd, and strains of the grotesque can even be seen in the earliest southern writing, such as Smith’s account of the founding of Jamestown.  If the grotesque is indeed, as Donald Ross claimed in “The Grotesque: A Speculation”, “a unique and unalloyed mode of human expression,” then it is not necessary to think of it only in terms of deliberately grotesque productions.  Instead, it is possible to examine strains of and tendencies toward the grotesque in language, imagery, and experience in order to more fully understand the development of this mode in American literature and culture.  The grotesque engages matters of race, class, and gender formation; it is transatlantic and transcultural; it informs discourses of the body, the environment, foodways, and religion, among others.  The goal of this session is to explore the roots of the southern grotesque in early texts that are not necessarily engaging it in a deliberate way, but rather reveal the development of an increasingly grotesque sensibility.  For this panel, I am looking for papers that examine any aspect of the early southern grotesque.  I am especially interested in interdisciplinary approaches and those that suggest lines of continuity to later southern literature.  


Send your 250-word paper abstract to Mary M. Balkun at by Friday, September 7, 2012.