Culture

Why I Wrote My 'Love Letter to the South'

Football Faith and Flannery O'Connor sq
If you’re even the least bit familiar with my writing here at PJ Media, you know that I write a lot about the culture of the South. And now I’m excited to announce that my first book, Football, Faith, And Flannery O’Connor: A Love Letter To The South, is available for purchase today!

I imagine that authors often hear the same question I’ve heard since I started promoting the book: how did you come up with the idea for your book? Actually, it began with a challenge. My friend and former PJ Media editor David Swindle challenged me to write a book about the culture of the South in the form of a travelogue and include both Christianity and Disney in my examination of the South. I racked my brain for several months trying to figure out the right way to frame such a book, and one day the answer came to me in the shower — as all good ideas do.

I determined I would take the route my family takes for our trips to Walt Disney World at least once a year and use different cities and towns along that journey to explore the culture of the South. I decided to cheat a little bit and extend the start of the journey about an hour north of me to include the hook on which to hang my discussion of Christianity as well as to include Athens and my alma mater, the University of Georgia.

I started out, as I’ve done so many times in the past, clearing up the many misconceptions that seem to linger when it comes to the South. I still believe that the South is the most misunderstood portion of the country, and I sought to clear up some of the misunderstandings. But throughout the writing process I realized that there was more for even a native son like me to discover.

As I worked my way down my route and researched the many facets of the culture of this region, I learned so much about the South — not just facts and figures, but also the backstories behind things I take for granted. Throughout the writing process, it became clear to me as I learned more and more about the area I call home, that one theme emerged in my writing: pride. I’ve always been proud of the South, but that pride grew exponentially as I wrote.

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This cross at a small church in Jackson County, Georgia, lights up in green neon at night, and it inspired my chapter on Christ in the South.

Pride of place has always been a big deal for Southerners. As I wrote in the introduction:

More than just about any other characteristic, Southerners embody pride. Some would call it stubbornness—and I’d often be inclined to agree—but true Southern pride indicates a pride of place, a soft spot for the region we call home.

This is a different attitude from the romantic notion of a South long gone; rather, it’s a genuine affection for the region that the South is today. The city, the small town, the woods, or open spaces don’t matter—if it’s in the South, it’s home, and it’s worth being proud of. The idea of Southern pride suggests a love of the South that anyone who understands will have in common, be he or she from Louisiana, North Carolina, or Texas.

Search Google for “Southern Pride” and you’ll find a ton of different things: a trucking company, a dog breeder, a company that makes BBQ smokers, a cheer squad, and the marching band at Georgia Southern University. (You’ll also find those haters who seek to equate Southern pride with racism, but they’re driven by an ideology that they’re unlikely to be swayed from.)

And then there are the shirts. In small shops all across Dixie, especially around college campuses, and on the web, you’ll find companies marketing t-shirts and other apparel centered on the theme of Southern pride—often with a component of pride in one’s specific state. Sure, the shirts promote a sort of idealized good life, the sort of life of leisure only a college student can live on a regular basis. But the sentiment of pride of place rings true for any true son or daughter of the South. And let’s face it: as wonderful as they may be, I have a hard time picturing college kids in other parts of the country sporting shirts that read, “Stay Northern.”

I expressed my love for the South in my book because I’m proud to be Southern. I’m proud to hail from the same region that birthed Al Green, Billy Graham, Tom Wolfe, Herschel Walker, Paula Deen, and Elvis Presley. I take great pride in coming from the same part of the country that gave the world shrimp & grits, Br’er Rabbit, “Sweet Home Alabama,” and the blues.

It’s this South — the one Flannery O’Connor called “the realm of poets and prophets” — a phrase which almost became the book’s title — that I want to share with the world. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s vibrant and exciting and wonderful and worth experiencing. And for me, it’s home. That’s why I love it so much.

Southerners, if you read Football, Faith, And Flannery O’Connor: A Love Letter To The South, I think you’ll agree with me that there’s plenty to love about the place we call home. You may even learn a thing or two, like I did. If you’re not from the South, I hope you’ll read my book and discover the beauty and wonder that we Southerners know by heart. And I hope it will inspire you to experience the South for yourself.