“We were the Snopeses”: A Writer and Her Piedmont

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“We were the Snopeses”: A Writer and Her Piedmont

by Doris Betts
Southern Cultures, Vol. 5, No. 2: Summer 1999

"An unexpected kinship with Flannery O'Connor and an exploration of what it means to be a 'piedmonter.'"

The late C. Hugh Holman had been my undergraduate teacher at the University of North Carolina, so when in 1966 I returned to the English department as a lowly part-time lecturer, I took his every word the way Moses accepted every graven one handed to him on Sinai. Still, it was a surprise when he said, “You and Flannery O’Connor are both Piedmont writers.” I couldn’t see it. Milledgeville, Georgia, was not Statesville, North Carolina. Catholic was not Associate Reformed Presbyterian. Rural was not milltown. The closest I ever owned to a peacock was a crippled chicken that even in the hungry thirties nobody had the heart to behead and fry, whereas even a pullet would walk backwards for Miss O’Connor. Later, reading his critical essays, I realized Holman was merely resisting the simplistic notion of a monolithic South: Thomas Wolfe’s South was not Faulkner’s; Harriette Arnow’s was unlike Truman Capote’s, and Shelby Foote says even Mississippi has seven distinct areas. Holman had cut the Southeast into thirds and set O’Connor and me in the same slice geographically as well as temperamentally. Others have defined Piedmont (literally, the “foot of the mountains”) as that bigger geographical region stretching from New York’s Hudson River to central Alabama, the broad foothills of the Appalachians, averaging 125 miles wide up and down that rolling country with hurrying rivers that seem to have waited centuries for hydroelectric power to be invented.