In an earlier generation, an anthology of Southern literature might have pictured on its cover a decaying antebellum mansion, its avenue of rusty cedars overgrown with wild honeysuckle, slave cabins falling into ruin in the background. On the cover of the new Norton anthology called The Literature of the American South, we see Nell Choate Jones’s attractive 1946 painting “Georgia Red Clay.”[1] Two large trees tower over a modest bungalow, past the front gate of which curves a red-dirt road. Plowed fields stretch to the horizon. Down the road, in the distance, one can just make out the back or side of a larger residence, probably the “big house.”

Someone has chosen the cover art carefully, because this anthology sets out to efface the classic literature written—largely in this century—by white Southerners, and to replace it with a new,...


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