Southern Literary Trail

Southern Literary Trail The Southern Literary Trail (SLT) is the only multi-state literary trail in the United States, organized to recognize notable writers and their classic works and their connections to places in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. The SLT has attracted literary tourists from all over the world. In addition to maintaining a map of places on the trail, the SLT also creates traveling exhibits related to those writers and their works. Since 2020, the SLT has been headquartered at Mississippi State University (MSU) in Starkville. Currently, the SLT features 24 cities and towns associated with noted authors, including six in Alabama.

The Trail originated as a collaboration among supporters in each partner state. The idea first emerged during a meeting in fall 2004, when individuals who organized a celebration of playwright Lillian Hellman in Demopolis, Marengo County, met with planners of a tribute for playwright Tennessee Williams in nearby Columbus, Mississippi, to discuss and compare their planned respective programs. These discussions led participants to explore efforts in other similar communities throughout the Southeast, with the goal of documenting ties to celebrated authors and playwrights. The trail idea gained momentum with positive input from the Alabama Humanities Foundation (now the Alabama Humanities Alliance), the Mississippi Humanities Council, and the Georgia Humanities Council.

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum On April 25, 2005, the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Montgomery County, hosted the trail's first organizational meeting of museum directors, librarians, and archivists from Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi and advisors from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A second meeting followed on May 23, 2005, at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta. By early 2008, organizers had identified literary places for the trail that stretched from Natchez, hometown of Richard Wright, to Savannah, site of the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home museum.

In Mississippi, initial trail selections included William Faulkner's home, Rowan Oak, near Oxford and the Eudora Welty House in Jackson. Georgia destinations included O'Connor's Andalusia Farm in Milledgeville, the Carson McCullers Center in Columbus, Erskine Caldwell's "Little Manse" in Moreland, and Wren's Nest, the Atlanta home of writer Joel Chandler Harris.

To Kill A Mockingbird Play in Monroeville From the project's outset, the sites chosen by board members to represent Alabama were substantial. They now include the Scott and Zelda Fitgerald Museum in Montgomery; Monroeville, Monroe County, and its iconic courthouse for their association with Truman Capote's childhood and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird; and the surviving commercial buildings of Lillian Hellman's maternal family in Demopolis, which inspired settings and plot twists in her plays The Little Foxes and Another Part of the Forest. Other Alabama writers and locations honored on the trail are William Bradford Huie and his hometown of Hartselle, Morgan County; Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray and their connections to Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Macon County; and Albert Murray, William March, and Eugene Walter in Mobile, Mobile County. The importance of Murray's hometown of Mobile and Tuskegee University in his literary achievements merited his association with two Alabama places on the trail.

In 2008, organizers in the three states realized they had created a vehicle for shared literary programing through the SLT's network. In March 2009, the organization held its first "Trailfest" of events, which included the Oxford Conference on the Book at the University of Mississippi; the 100th birthday celebration of Eudora Welty in Jackson; performances of Lillian Hellman's The Autumn Garden by the Canebrake Players in Demopolis; and a Flannery O'Connor Conference sponsored by Georgia College in Milledgeville. The events attracted thousands of visitors.

Carnegie Visual Arts Center For the second Trailfest in spring 2011, the History Museum of Mobile initiated and curated a traveling exhibit of Eudora Welty's poignant photographs from Depression-era Mississippi, with support from the Alabama Humanities Foundation. Featuring 40 photos developed from Welty's original negatives, Eudora Welty, Exposures and Reflections attracted large crowds to its opening on September 2, 2010. The exhibit continued its popularity at successive host venues, including the Atlanta History Center, the Carnegie Visual Arts Center in Decatur, Morgan County, and the Gallery at the Mississippi University for Women (Welty's alma mater in Columbus).

Haywood Patterson With the success of Eudora Welty, Exposures and Reflections, the SLT became known as a significant source of programming for exhibits focusing on both trail writers and the unique cultural tapestries in southeastern states that inspired some of the most enduring and socially relevant writing in the world. The spring 2014 edition of Mosaic, the Alabama Humanities Alliance's magazine, published "Exhibiting Literature,"an article that reviewed the success of the Welty exhibit and examined the trail's subsequent collaboration with the Morgan County Archives in Decatur to produce the exhibit The Scottsboro Boys, Outside the Protective Circle of Humanity, with grant support from the Alliance.

Protective Circle brought to the public a dramatic and compelling archival collection of photographs from the 1933 trial of defendant Haywood Patterson. The exhibit officially opened to an overflow crowd at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center in Decatur on February 21, 2013, to coincide with the Alabama Legislature's passage of full pardons for all the falsely accused men. The powerful exhibit caught the attention of archivists at Tuskegee University, who sought to partner with the SLT's new leadership at MSU for a similar display of newly discovered photographs by Tuskegee's legendary photographer Prentice Herman "P. H." Polk.

Unframed Images, Photography from the Collection of P. H. Polk, debuted in galleries at MSU on March 4, 2019, featuring images of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Tuskegee Airwomen, among other Alabama subjects. The exhibit traveled to several other host sites, concluding with the University of Alabama Gallery in Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, the collection's last showing in January and February 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the shutdown of public spaces. When limited openings resumed in early 2021, the Mobile Public Library's West Regional Branch hosted the Polk exhibit in January and February and attracted almost 2,000 attendees. After Mobile, the collection traveled to additional museums and libraries in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, with logistical support from the trail's board and projects committee members.

In the fall of 2018, SLT organized an exhibition of typewriters associated with notable people owned by Los Angeles collector Steve Soboroff. Impressed by what he had read about the SLT's efforts, Soboroff requested that his collection travel to venues in the South under SLT auspices. Former users of the vintage machines included Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, and Maya Angelou. Typewriters used by musician John Lennon and actor Tom Hanks added star power beyond the literary world.

When the University of Alabama Gallery displayed the Soboroff collection in November 2018, with grant support of the Alabama Humanities Alliance, the gallery added an exclusive exhibit to the traveling show: the typewriter used by Harper Lee for To Kill a Mockingbird, on loan from Harper Lee LLC of Monroeville. Soboroff traveled from Los Angeles for the opportunity to see Truman Capote's typewriter on display beside that of Harper Lee.

Since its 2004 origins at a Tennessee Williams Tribute in Columbus, Mississippi, the Southern Literary Trail remains focused on its mission to celebrate the best of southern writing and the places that influenced it. Popular exhibits continue to enhance examinations of the culture that also gave life to the literature.

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P. H. Polk Portrait of Mildred Hansen Baker

Courtesy of the Tuskegee University Archives
P. H. Polk Portrait of Mildred Hansen Baker

Harper Lee and Truman Capote Typewriters

Courtesy of the University of Alabama
Harper Lee and Truman Capote Typewriters