For nearly four centuries, the American South has been home to a vital literary tradition.
Writing from his experience as a professor of American and English literature at the University of Kentucky, Bryant has compiled here a thorough guidehe calls it a "primer"to the literary output of 20th-century Southerners. From this premise, Bryant is able to include writers like Ralph Ellison, James Agee and William Styron who migrated north but whose works nonetheless both inform and are informed by the regional experience of the South. In more or less chronological order, Bryant leads the reader from the early plantation fiction with its idealized notions of the Old South, through the various movements centered around Vanderbilt Universitythe Fugitives, the Agrarians and the New Criticismall of which contributed greatly to the mid-century "Southern Renaissance," and beyond to a broad discussion of postmodern and contemporary writers. Special attention is given to major writers such as Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Shelby Foote and Robert Penn Warren, whom Bryant designates as "the supreme summary figure of the century," but the book also incorporates and draws connections between lesser-known writers or those whose one-time significance has since faded. Well organized with subchapters devoted to African American writers, women writers, playwrights, poets and critics, the book includes a good deal of background and biographical information. What the book offers in breadth of scope, however, it lacks in details such as quotations from the literature discussed or Bryant's own insights. Nonetheless, for the reader interested in a bird's-eye view of the major figures and trends in Southern literature, this work will be a welcome resource. (Nov.) FYI: Also due in October are Southern Writers with photos by David G. Spielman, text by William W. Starr (Univ. of S. Carolina $24.95 160p ISBN 1-57003-224-6; Oct.) and The Literature of the American South: Vol. II (Norton, $29.95 1060p ISBN 0-393-31671-8)