16 Southern Novelists You Have to Read

“The woods are full of regional writers, and it is the great horror of every serious Southern writer that he will become one of them.” ―Flannery O'Connor

books by southern writers

From the Southern Gothic to beloved stories like To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone With the Wind, the American South has long had a tradition of producing unique and unforgettable literature. In fact, the “father of American literature,” Mark Twain, was a Southern novelist—he hailed from Hannibal, Missouri, which provided the setting for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Who are the most famous Southern writers?

When people think of Southern writers, they think of William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Harper Lee, and Eudora Welty, to name a few. But there are hundreds of authors who write in the genre.

What defines Southern literature?

Any piece of work written about the American south or by a writer from that region can be considered Southern literature. Southern novelists tend to ruminate on family tensions, religion, racism, though not all Southern works share these themes—famous exceptions include Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire.

From the beginning of the 20th century to the present day, these 16 Southern novelists have produced a wide range of fiction, covering a host of themes and exploring many different walks of life. Encompassing stories of slave rebellions to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, nearly every aspect of Southern life is brought to light here, in prose that will keep you turning the pages.

Scarlet Sister Mary

Scarlet Sister Mary

By Julia Peterkin

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1929, this groundbreaking novel of a Black woman who lives life on her own terms in post-slavery South Carolina was also banned in Gaffney, South Carolina, where it was decried as obscene. 

However, the New York Times said that the book “all but cries with color, scent, sound, in a style that is a happy combination of solidity, brilliance, and pure beauty,” while the Boston Evening Transcript raved that, “Sentences in the text leap out to be market, to be read again and again and held in memory for all time.”


As I Lay Dying

By William Faulkner

Narrated in stream-of-consciousness style by some 15 different characters, William Faulkner’s vital and gripping Southern Gothic is widely considered one of the greatest and most important works of 20th century literature. 

In its story of a family’s bizarre trek across Mississippi to bury their matriarch—inspired partly by Homer’s Odyssey, from which it takes its title—it paints a portrait not only of its unforgettable characters, but of the American South itself as only Faulkner could write it.

Delta Wedding

Delta Wedding

By Eudora Welty

“Nothing short of wonderful.” That’s how The New Yorker described this one-of-a-kind novel from Pulitzer Prize winner Eudora Welty. Set in 1923, Delta Wedding tells the story of the Fairchilds, a big, noisy, and vivacious family who live on a plantation in the Mississippi delta. 

The wedding of the title is in the planning stages when a nine-year-old relative comes to visit – a child who is destined to kick off a series of revelations that will leave the family in an uproar in this book that “presents the essence of the Deep South and does it with infinite finesse” (Christian Science Monitor).

The Keepers of the House

The Keepers of the House

By Shirley Ann Grau

Another Pulitzer Prize winner from Shirley Ann GrauThe Keepers of the House tells the story of the Howland family, who fought alongside Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812 and became pillars of their Alabama community in the years since. 

However, when the truth about the family’s mixed-race heritage comes to light in the volatile 1960s, the family’s latest scion must defend her heritage as the community turns against her in this “novel of real magnitude” (Kirkus Reviews) that will keep you turning the pages.

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

By Carson McCullers

Author of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers is one of the most celebrated Southern writers, and among her most beloved tales is this “brilliant” (New York Times) novella of love and violence in a small Southern town. 

Originally published in 1951, The Ballad of the Sad Café has been adapted to the stage by Edward Albee and later onto the screen in a 1991 film starring Vanessa Redgrave and Keith Carradine. 

The Color Purple

The Color Purple

By Alice Walker

Adapted to the screen in 1985 by Steven Spielberg and again as a musical in 2023 with Spielberg as producer, The Color Purple is one of the best known and most beloved stories of the Black experience in the American South. 

The book won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award with its tale of sisters Celie and Nettie, the way their lives took them in different directions, and the strength and support they show to one another, and the other women in their lives.


A Confederacy of Dunces

By John Kennedy Toole

Hailed as an American comic masterpieces and a novel that “astonishes with its inventiveness” (The New York Times Book Review), A Confederacy of Dunces won author John Kennedy Toole a posthumous Pulitzer Prize when it was published after his death. 

Telling the story of an unforgettable character, Ignatius J. Reilly, a self-styled intellectual who is “a Don Quixote of the French Quarter” (Chicago Sun-Times), Toole’s novel has been praised for its humor, its scintillating and funny dialogue, and its depiction of life in New Orleans.

The Confessions of Nat Turner

The Confessions of Nat Turner

By William Styron

Published at the height of the Civil Rights movement, William Styron’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel takes as its jumping off point the true history of Nat Turner, who led a bloody slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831. 

Though the novel draws from the confessions given by the historical Nat Turner to his white lawyer, who was a slavery apologist, it does not purport to accurately portray the events of history, but rather to tell a story with modern resonances, showing a version of Turner “who is neither hero nor demon, but rather a man driven to exact vengeance for the centuries of injustice inflicted upon his people.”

their eyes were watching god

Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston

Now considered a classic of the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston’s novel of one Black woman’s experiences in southern Florida did not receive the same acclaim when it was first published in 1937. 

However, as time has passed, it has attained its rightful place as a classic of American letters and was named one of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923 by TIME magazine. To see why, you’ll just have to read this unforgettable book for yourself.

to kill a mockingbird by harper lee, an iconic 1960s book

To Kill a Mockingbird

By Harper Lee

No list of great American novelists—let alone great Southern novelists—would be complete with Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic. Many of us read To Kill a Mockingbird in school, and those who didn’t may be familiar with it from its 1962 film adaptation starring Gregory Peck, which won three Academy Awards. 

Told from the point of view of six-year-old Jean “Scout” Finch, the novel recounts the events as her father, Atticus, a widowed lawyer, defends a local Black man who has been accused of raping a white woman in 1930s Alabama.

The Prince of Tides: A Novel

The Prince of Tides: A Novel

By Pat Conroy

Made into the 1991 film starring Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand, Pat Conroy’s 1986 novel may take place in New York City, but it recounts the tragic upbringing of its main characters in South Carolina, and how that past has affected their present. 

Tom Wingo is a high school football coach with a wife and three daughters. When his haunted sister Savannah attempts suicide in New York, he goes there to try to help her, meeting her therapist and exploring the grim past that he and his sister share in an effort to heal their family in this “brilliant novel that ultimately affirms life, hope and the belief that one’s future need not be contaminated by a monstrous past” (Chicago Tribune).

Cold Mountain

Cold Mountain

By Charles Frazier

Winner of the National Book Award, Charles Frazier’s “stirring Civil War tale told with epic sweep” (People) was adapted into the 2003 film of the same name starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellweger, among others.

In a story inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, a wounded Confederate soldier, tired of fighting for a cause he never believed in, attempts to make his way home to Cold Mountain, North Carolina, where he hopes to reunite with the love of his life, who is there trying to survive on her family farm. This powerful novel alternates between their two narratives as it moves inexorably toward a stirring conclusion.

The Lost Saints of Tennessee

The Lost Saints of Tennessee

By Amy Franklin-Willis

Hailed by Pat Conroy, author of Prince of Tides, as a “riveting, hardscrabble book on the rough, hardscrabble south,” this “powerful” Southern novel (Bookpage) follows four generations of the Cooper family, from Tennessee to the Virginia horse country. 

As they confront tragedies and triumphs, they grow closer together and farther apart, all anchored by the soulful and genuine voices of the book’s characters, including Zeke Cooper and his mother Lilian, who must each find ways to keep their family going and find their own way forward in this book about the fault lines that can divide a family – or bring them together.

summer horror novels

Salvage the Bones

By Jesmyn Ward

Winner of the National Book Award in 2011, Jesmyn Ward’s “masterful” novel which “has the aura of a classic about it” (Washington Post) tells the story of one family’s experience leading up to and then immediately following Hurricane Katrina. 

Salvage the Bones expands our understanding of Katrina’s devastation, beyond the pictures of choked rooftops in New Orleans and toward the washed-out, feral landscapes elsewhere along the coast” (New Yorker).



By Dot Jackson

A nominee for the Pulitzer Prize, “Dot Jackson is a true Southern voice, a master storyteller and an Appalachian treasure,” according to Dori Sanders, author of Clover and Her Own Place

In this “intensely readable” book (Sanders again), Jackson introduces readers to Mary Seneca Steele, who leaves her abusive husband and her privileged life in Charleston, South Carolina behind and embarks with her children on a pilgrimage into the Appalachian Mountains, where she will grapple with her own legacy and find a way forward for herself and her family.

Victory Over Japan

Victory Over Japan

By Ellen Gilchrist

The National Book Award winner of 1984, this collection of short stories cemented Ellen Gilchrist as a revered voice in Southern fiction. Drawing comparisons to writers such as Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty, the stories follow a group of Southern women in their varied attempts to find happiness—or at least, some satisfaction.