Agee, James. A Death in the Family. New York: Vintage, 1998. First published in 1958, this is the story of a Knoxville family whose domestic happiness is disrupted by the sudden death of the father. The story is largely autobiographical, and features evocative descriptions of Knoxville in 1915. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Burton, Linda, ed. Stories from Tennessee. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1983. An anthology of Tennessee literature, the volume begins with a story by David Crockett on hunting in Tennessee and concludes with works by 20th-century authors such as Shelby Foote, Cormac McCarthy, and Robert Drake.
Cawood, Chris. Tennessee’s Coal Creek War: Another Fight for Freedom. Kingston, TN: Magnolia Hill Press, 1995. For 18 months in the late 19th century, the National Guard occupied Coal Creek, now known as Lake City, to prevent labor unrest among coal miners. This historical novel is set during this so-called “coal war” of 1891.
Grisham, John. The Firm. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992. Probably the most celebrated Memphis-set novel in recent years, especially following the success of the eponymous film. Mitchell McDeere takes on corrupt and criminal mob lawyers. It includes references to many city landmarks.
Haun, Mildred. The Hawk’s Done Gone and Other Stories. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968. A collection of stories set in the Smoky Mountains and told using dialect. This volume comes closer than any other to capturing the authentic language, culture, and way of life of East Tennessee’s mountain residents during the early 20th century.
Marshall, Catherine. Christy. New York: McGraw Hill, 1967. The fictional story of a young teacher, Christy Huddleston, who moves to the Smoky Mountains in 1912 to teach. The story is based on Catherine Marshall’s own experience in the mountains. It was adapted into a drama and spawned a television mini-series.
McCarthy, Cormac. Suttree. New York: Random House, 1979. Cornelius Suttree is a fisherman who lives in a houseboat in Knoxville during the 1950s. This novel possesses McCarthy’s typically clear language, robust characters, and tells a tale punctuated by violence and shocking events.
Neely, Jack. From the Shadow Side and Other Stories of Knoxville. Oak Ridge,TN: Tellico Books, 2003. Columnist for the Knoxville Metropulse, historian, and master storyteller Jack Neely has done more to preserve Knoxville history than any other. His most recent work builds on his previous volumes: Secret History and Secret History II, both of which are also worth seeking out.
Taylor, Peter. Summons to Memphis. New York: Knopf Publishing Group, 1986. Celebrated and award-winning Tennessee writer Peter Taylor won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for this novel in 1986. Phillip Carver returns home to Tennessee at the request of his three older sisters to talk his father out of remarrying. In so doing, he is forced to confront a troubling family history. This is a classic of American literature, set in a South that is fading away.
Wright, Richard. Black Boy. New York: Chelsea House, 2006. The 1945 memoir of African-American writer Richard Wright recounts several years of residency in Memphis. His portrayal of segregation and racism in Memphis and Mississippi are powerful still today.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition