Mason English professor Eric Gary Anderson has always loved horror. He started reading horror fiction and watching old scary movies while still in elementary school. A few years ago he started “finding ways to connect my love of horror with my job—which I also love,” including a class on vampires in literature. It was at the 2012 Society for the Study of Southern Literature conference that he and coeditors Taylor Haygood of Florida Atlantic University and Daniel Cross Turner at Coastal Carolina University started hatching the idea for the anthology Undead Souths: The Gothic and Beyond in Southern Literature and Culture (LSU Press, 2015).
What inspired you to put together this book?
The undead continue to capture imaginations. When we started this project, the undead seemed to be everywhere in the South and beyond: in television shows like The Walking Dead and True Blood, as well as in all manner of movies, fiction, etc. We wondered what that meant, and especially why the undead in the South were so significant. As responses to our call for proposals rolled in, we realized there was something much bigger at work: a strain of undeadness running through all of southern literature and culture. Sometimes it was actually undead figures—ghosts, zombies, vampires, and such—but it could also take much more subtle forms. For example, one essay considers early photographic capturing of dead bodies on Civil War battlefields and the ways that the Old South basically died and then came roaring back to life as a cherished undead thing, the Lost Cause. Meanwhile, the dark legacy of slavery has given birth to all kinds of ghosts and hauntings. And so, too, has the trauma of the Indian removal crisis.
In the context of southern studies, we’re interested in transforming older notions of a more limited, predictable South into something much bigger and much more surprising. That’s probably one of our most exciting takeaways from doing this project: Undeadness in the South is much, much bigger than we thought! And much more unruly than older, more bounded notions of “southern gothic” suggested. In this, we join with many other Southern Studies scholars who are working, in a variety of ways, to understand the South as a bigger, more expansive, more volatile, and less bounded place than older generations of scholars had thought.
What do you write about in your chapter of the book?
My chapter offers a new reading of Poe’s classic short story “The Fall of the House of Usher.” I consider Poe’s story alongside African American writer Charles W. Chesnutt’s conjure story “Po’ Sandy,” another story about the eerie links between people and haunted houses. Poe and Chesnutt are rarely discussed together, so my chapter breaks new ground simply by connecting these two stories—and they connect beautifully. I also discuss a Lumbee [Native American Tribe] ghost story because Chesnutt lived in Lumbee country in North Carolina but doesn’t much acknowledge Lumbees in his conjure tales.