One Whole Year

Today, level:deepsouth marks its first full year online. I started the project early in 2020 and got the site online on March 1. The first submission, “Camp Earl Wallace” by Elena Vale Wahl, was published in the summer. Since then, the anthology has added thirteen long form works, three shorter pieces, four book reviews, and a variety of images.

level:deepsouth is a project that I considered for years before getting off my butt and starting on it. As a writer and editor who grew up in the 1980s and ’90s in Alabama, I had seen no forum or venue or publication dedicated to Generation X in the Deep South. For all of the stuff on the internet – the obviously great, the truly wonderful, the simply terrible, the totally offensive – why was there no hub devoted to this set of experiences?

Sure, there are Southern writers now in their 40s and 50s who are working and publishing – some of them making sure we know how Southern they are – but that’s not what I’m talking about. What I am talking about is an effort to collect and document an eclectic group of experiences that are difficult and confusing and don’t necessarily make sense together. Unlike other Southern-focused publications and websites, level:deepsouth is only concerned with Deep Southern, Generation X experiences from the last three decades of the twentieth century. And the project does not mix its content with commentaries on obscure old blues records, features about out-of-the-way restaurants, and ads for block-lettered graphic tees. level:deepsouth is about one thing: the formative years of my generation in the region where I grew up. That’s all. Being young in the weird, mixed-up, and constantly changing 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s in the the heart of the old Confederacy, the heart of the Bible Belt, the heart of Dixie.

In addition to the twenty works that are already in the anthology and available to read, the call for submissions remains wide open in year two. There is no deadline to submit, and works will be considered year-round. If you grew up in this place and during that time, consider adding your story to the project. There’s no way that this anthology could ever be diverse enough.

An editor’s reblog: “When Reading Meant Everything”

The following was originally published on editor Foster Dickson’s website in August 2019.


All of the books pictured here came into my life between ages 14 to 20, during the years 1989 through 1994, while I was in high school or the first two years of college, and each of them changed my life in its own way. It was a bleak time for me; my parents got divorced, my older brother got married and moved out, and my father remarried quickly, all in 1990, and once high school was done in ’92, our inability to afford much in the way of college meant that I would continue to live at home and attend a local school while working full-time. I was tethered to a life I didn’t want to lead in a place I didn’t want to be, and books (and music and movies, too) were my gateway to something greater than what I saw around me.

Though, as a young kid, I was something like the bullied Bastian in The Neverending Story who escaped from the world through books, what I have found in books and magazines (and music and movies) since then is expansion. By high school, I was no longer reading to get away from the world— I was reading to know it better, to see and to know more of it, to glimpse ways of life I hadn’t imagined, even when I couldn’t physically leave where I was.

Beyond the fantasy works of JRR Tolkien, Ursula K LeGuin, and Madeleine L’Engle that I enjoyed when I was young, the first book that truly changed my life was Albert Camus’ The Stranger, a work I never would have chosen for myself but which was assigned by Mrs. Brock in ninth-grade English. In this mid-century French novel, a man named Meursault’s passive refusal to participate in aspects of life that he doesn’t care about causes him to be taken for a sociopath when he stabs and kills a man in an altercation that results from a misunderstanding. At fourteen, what I saw in Meursault was not a heartless murderer who deserved the death penalty, but a man who was utterly exasperated with having a life he didn’t want being crammed down his throat.

That same year, I borrowed another book that I had seen on a friend’s shelf, knowing nothing more about it than its intriguing title: Beyond Good and Evil. This work of philosophy by 19th-century German existentialist Friedrich Nietszche, was wayover my head, though I did manage to finish it, urged forward by having people constantly say that I had no business reading such things. They had thrown down the gauntlet, issued a challenge, and I wouldn’t be bested. I’ll admit freely that I only understood parts of what I read, but for me, it was like Rocky’s goal in the first movie: I wanted go the distance. I knew I couldn’t beat Beyond Good and Evil, but I also wouldn’t be able to hold my head up in the neighborhood if I got knocked out by it. Some teenagers wanted a high ACT score or a sports championship, I wanted to read and understand books that no one around me read.

Later in high school, two other vastly dissimilar books moved my understanding of literature and reading forward again: Edgar Lee Master’s poetry collection Spoon River Anthologyand Danny Sugerman’s No One Here Gets Out Alive, a tell-all biography of Jim Morrison. Though I don’t remember when I encountered that latter book, Spoon Rivercame to me through a theatrical adaptation we put on when I was a junior in high school. (The book, published in 1915, contains interconnected monologues spoken from the grave by the town’s dead citizens.) After the show was over, I went out and bought the book to read all of the poems, and this experience led me to two realizations: that people carry things inside themselves that the rest of us never know, and that I loved poetry. Where The Stranger was the first literary work that made me look deeply and critically at the world outside, Spoon River made me look deeply and critically at the world inside. By contrast, that second work – a mass-market paperback about hippie-era Los Angeles – taught me something that neither Camus, nor Nietzsche, nor Masters could: that writing could be cool, and that nonfiction could be, too. Books didn’t have to be dull and droll— they could be about rock stars.

After high school, reading became a way of life. Working, attending a commuter college, and living at home with my mother severely limited “the college experience” for me, which led me regularly and often into the arms of literature. Reading Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, Dharma Bums, and The Subterraneans one after the other at age eighteen fertilized the seed that was planted by No One Here Gets Out Alive— a life lived on the edge could be a writer’s material. Discovering the Beats then led me to Henry Miller’s lurid and wild Tropic of Cancerand to Richard Brautigan’s quirky novels Trout Fishing in America, The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, and In Watermelon Sugar. My affection for Kerouac also led me to his literary idol Thomas Wolfe, whose florid and sprawling Look Homeward, Angel is heartbreakingly sad and beautiful. Somewhere in there, Walt Whitman came into my purview via Allen Ginsberg, and along the way, possibly via Camus, I found Alain-Fournier’s The Wanderer (Le Gran Meaulnes), which is still my favorite coming-of-age novel.

Stranded in pre-internet Alabama, reading meant everything. These were the years between the release of Nirvana’s Bleach and the suicide of Kurt Cobain; during the years that REM put out Green, Out of Time, Automatic for the People, and Monster; in the five-year span that started with Say Anything and ended with Reality Bites. . . And it makes me sad that I don’t see young people reading like I used to, for the reasons I used to. And don’t tell me that anything on the internet is even a remote parallel, and don’t compare the books I just listed to Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. These literary idols of mine didn’t offer readily available screen adaptations or collectible merchandise to garner revenue from my isolated and desperate teenage sense that there absolutely must be something more out there, something more than what was at arm’s length. Back then, there were only the words on the pages, words were so masterfully strung together that nothing else was necessary. Not followers or subscribers, not clicks or likes, not trending or sales ranking, not chat rooms or fan conventions . . . just the words on the page. And, with reading, that’s the way it ought to be.

A mid-winter Deep Southern Gen X sampler, from “the lists”

The section in level:deepsouth called “the lists” is for collecting and sharing articles, sound files, videos, and images from Generation X’s early years in the Deep South and from today. Below is a sampler.

The Moreland Hometown Heritage Museum in Moreland, Georgia

This site is a tribute to the hornery and peculiar Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Lewis Grizzard, whose distinctly Southern commentary and humor was loved by some and offensive to others. Grizzard died of a heart attack in 1994. 

“Tie a Rope to the Back of the Bus” by Superchunk, from No Pocky for Kitty (1991)

Based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Superchunk was staple of indie music in the 1990s. This video for a song on their second album shows them both goofing off and playing live.

South of Haunted Dreams: A Ride through Slavery’s Old Backyard by Eddy L. Harris (1993)

Eddy Harris was relatively well-known from his 1988 book Mississippi Solo and 1992’s Native Stranger when he published this book about driving a BMW motorcycle across the South to figure out what it meant to him as a black man.