“Saving the Life That Is Your Own”

Southern Women Writers’ Great Migrations

Illustration by Natale Nelson

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“Saving the Life That Is Your Own”

Southern Women Writers’ Great Migrations

by Keira V. Williams
Southern Cultures, Vol. 26, No. 3: The Women’s Issue

“‘In order to be able to live at all in America I must be unafraid to live anywhere in it.’”

Zora Neale Hurston, Margaret Walker, Flannery O’Connor, Beth Henley, Alice Walker, Mary Karr, Jesmyn Ward. Women writers in every generation have left southern states in search of opportunities and in defiance of racial, economic, sexual, and gender-based oppression. Within the decades-long Great Migration of African Americans out of the region (and now back into it), there is a less storied tradition of women joining the “southern diaspora.” In the wake of the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation Movements, many southern women writers left the South to escape its intersectional injuries, and even more recently, some writers have returned. These literal and literary migrations have enabled women writers to address regional inequities in their texts and, for those who return, in their southern communities. Leaving, for some, has been the price of their work; returning, for others, is a personal and political act that has become a part of their writing and a means for understanding the region, their concepts of home, and themselves.

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