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Southern Gothic Writing: What is Southern Gothic?

Your all-in-one Southern Gothic LibGuide. Everything you need to know about the genre, and a whole lot more!

This LibGuide is all about the Southern Gothic genre.

Explore famous photography, quotes, movies, and even television shows based on Southern Gothic literature.

Click on the link below an author's photograph to view which of their works we have at MPL!


Many literary critics in the 19th and 20th-century did much to discredit the Gothic genre. Because Gothic authors, like Edgar Allan Poe, were writing works that didn't appeal to the masses, literary scholars and critics tried to cheapen the genre. Critics thought Gothic, "was an inferior genre incapable of high seriousness" and appealed to readers "of questionable tastes." 

Poe's, along with other Gothic writers' works, were exiled to the critics believed it belonged: the unenlightened South. But even scholars and critics of southern literature weren't impressed with what they found in Gothic works. "Aimless violence" and "dreadful" were the verdicts from some critics. 

T.S. Stribling, Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner, and Erskine Caldwell, well-established writers from the South were later labeled as "merchants of death, hell and the grave" and "horror-mongers in chief." by critic Gerald Johnson because of their work's subject matter. Johnson's article which included such excerpts was titled The Horrible South.

Tennessee Williams, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright from Mississippi whose work was inspired by his time in New Orleans lashed back at critics. In his introduction to Carson McCullers's Reflections in a Golden Eye, he responded to the critics who questioned the Southern Gothic subgenre. He, himself, asks "Why do they write about such dreadful things?" 

Williams responded: "The great difficulty of understanding, and communication, lies in the fact that we who are asked this question and those who ask it do not really inhabit the same universe." 

Southern Gothic has evolved through the years and has even branched out to subgenres of fiction such as: Southern Lit, Grit Lit, Appalachian Noir, Southern Paranormal, Country Noir, "White Trash" Lit, and many more. Just have a look for yourself. All that to say: Southern Gothic and Southern Literature in general has become widely accepted and even lauded. As more and more Southern-born writers hit the mainstream, the more exposure the subgenre will receive. 

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What is Southern Gothic?

According to the Oxford Research Encyclopedia, Southern Gothic, "is a mode or genre prevalent in literature from the early 19th century to this day. Characteristics of Southern Gothic include the presence of irrational, horrific, and transgressive thoughts, desires, and impulses; grotesque characters; dark humor, and an overall angst-ridden sense of alienation." 

Southern Gothic Authors

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”

Mark Twain (1835-1910)

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”

Ambrose Bierce (1842–c.1914)


“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)

“I love myself when I am laughing. . . and then again when I am looking mean and impressive.”

Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941)

“Dare to be strong and courageous. That is the road. Venture anything.”

William Faulkner (1897-1962)

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world...would do this, it would change the earth.”

Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987)

"I was not a writer to begin with; I was a listener."

Richard Wright (1908-1960)

“The artist must bow to the monster of his own imagination.”

Eudora Welty (1909-2001)


“All serious daring starts from within.”

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)

“I suppose I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge upon hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person. But these seemingly fragile people are the strong people really.”

Ralph Ellison (1914-1994)

“What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?”

Carson McCullers (1917-1967)


“We are torn between nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.”

Truman Capote (1924-1984)

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”

Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964)

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

Harper Lee (1926-2016)

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

Toni Morrison (1931-2019)


“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”

Cormac McCarthy (1933-     )

“You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.”

John Kennedy Toole (1937-1969)

“I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.”

William Gay (1939-2012)

“There’s folks you just don’t need. You’re better off without 'em. Your life is just a little better because they ain’t in it.”

Barry Hannah (1942-2010)

“You've got to lie to stay halfway interested in yourself.”

Larry Brown (1951-2004)

“I only had one life, and I'd be damned if I'd live it in a way that would make me unhappy and please somebody else. I had already lived that kind of life, too much of it already.”

Robert R. McCammon (1952-    )

“No one ever grows up. They may look grown-up, but it's just the clay of time. Men and women are still children deep in their hearts."

Ron Rash (1953-    )

“But nothing is solid and permanent. Our lives are raised on the shakiest foundations. You don't need to read history books to know that. You only have to know the history of your own life.”

Daniel Woodrell (1953-    )

“Never. Never ask for what ought to be offered.”

Donald Ray Pollock (1954-    )

“A lot of people get the wrong impression, think there's something romantic or tragic about hitting bottom.”

Greg Iles (1960-    )

“Any person who wants to govern the world is by definition the wrong person to do it.”

Tom Franklin (1963-    )

“Maybe Larry was wrong about the word friend, maybe he'd been shoved away from everybody for so long all he was was a sponge for the wrongs other people did.”

Ace Atkins (1970-    )

“The first thing you want to do after being shot is make sure you are not shot again.”

Silas House (1971-    )

“Sometimes just being still is the best thing you can do for yourself.”

Frank Bill (1974-    )

“We got no jobs, no money, no power, no nothin', nothin' to live for 'cept vice and indulgence. That's how they control us. But it's falling apart."

Jesmyn Ward (1977-    )

“Sorrow is food swallowed too quickly, caught in the throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe.”

David Joy (1983-    )

“There wasn’t any way out of that darkness but forward.”

Catherine Lacey (1985-    )

“I'm not a person who needs people, but I am the kind of person who needs to be near people who don't need me.”

Southern Gothic Settings

The Incredible Avenue

Clarence John Laughlin (1905-1985) is famous for his devotion to New Orleans and the American South.

White Against Gray

Besieging Wilderness - No. 3

The Ghostly Arch

The Phantasmal Cascades

Laughlin had a skill for photographing long-abandoned plantations in the South. Imagine 'Edgar Allan Poe with a camera.'

Moss Fingers

County seat of Hale County, Alabama

Walker Evans was a photojournalist best known for his Depression-era photos. The Museum of Modern Art, in New York, later wrote that his photos "individually evoke an incontrovertible sense of specific places, and collectively a sense of America,"

[Barber Shops, Vicksburg, Mississippi]

Breakfast Room at Belle Grove Plantation, White Chapel, Louisiana

New Orleans Houses

Tin False Front Building, Moundville, Alabama

Born on the Bayou

In Night of the Hunted, Matt Henry dissects the genre of Southern Gothic, and transforms modern America into a world of old. In looking back at these trialling times of racial inequality, gender stereotypes and political unrest, Henry turns the lens onto the current crisis in the same country decades on.

The Curse of Nanny Goat Island

Lone Stars