I recently updated STR’s profile on the Poets and Writers website. In the “Tips from the Editor” section I wrote, “We don’t want traditional Southern lit. We want literary and experimental work that touches on themes of interest to Southerners. Interpret that however you like, but don’t assume this limits you to talking about trailers, hunting/fishing, fried food, and race relations. In fact, avoid talking about those things unless you have something really original to say about them.”
It seemed necessary to clarify this. We get a lot of submissions from people who think they are sending us something “Southern” because their story takes place in a trailer park. This is bothersome for somewhat obvious reasons. Conversely, there are many writers from the South who go well out of their way to remove any trace of Southern identity from their work. This often results in generic writing with flat characters and no sense of “place.”
This latter issue is particularly problematic for young Southern writers who equate “being Southern” with a distant past for which they have no affection. It’s not surprising that writers who happen to be born in a certain geographic area would resist being associated with racism, extreme religiosity, and cultural backwardness. And in fact, many younger writers have little experience of that past. The youth of today are increasingly “citizens of the world,” a world where the internet and suburban sprawl have a tendency to equalize experience no matter where you happen to grow up.
Of course, I don’t want to be associated with those terrible things either. In fact, I would very much like to show the world a South that has made strides in moving past these embarrassments, even if it has not erased them completely. But that is just part of my own personal and political agenda, not necessarily the agenda of Steel Toe Review.
Here at STR, Southern identity is only one of our pet interests. We have published and will continue to publish all sorts of things by all sorts of people.
One of our short stories for this month is by and about an Indian-American woman who lives in San Diego—a far cry, some would say, from the interests of most Southerners. However, we might point out that in this story, there is a strong sense of character and a strong sense of place, two qualities associated with traditional Southern writing. Moreover, the character and the place are somewhat at odds with one another in that story. There is an inherent struggle of identity between the place she is from and the place where she is.