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Reconteurs in Homespun

As the South has never lacked story materials, so it has never lacked storytellers, audiences and occasions for storytelling.  On farmhouse and countryhomespun store porches, in the parlor and the nursery, at religious and political gathers, on courthouse steps and benches, at picnics and barbecues, around the campfire, on the job – wherever people came together for sociability and entertaining or persuasive talk, there have been tongues to tell and ears to hear the inherited repertoire.

In addition to the universal themes and motifs of yarns and tall tales and historical and local traditions, the South has a rich source of anecdote and story in the characters and doings of kinfolk, friends and neighbors, who are all the more readily assimilated to folk tradition by reason of the Southern code of personal ethics, which regards them first of all as human beings and individuals.

Besides the inherited themes there are the inherited techniques; and the art of casual narrative flourishes where life is causal, leisurely, and informal, paced to the relaxed tempo of Southern living.  In an environment where people “do not like books so well, but…like to remember and memorize many things that [they] do love,” according to Bascom Lamar Lunsford, book-say is close to folk-say; and literate and non-literate reconteurs alike are caught up in the same stream of oral memory and “torrential re-collectiveness”.

In the mid 1800’s, some of the best and tallest tale-tellers who ever got into print were recruited from the rank of Southern lawyers, judges, ministers, editors and sportsmen.  The newspaper became an important link in the story-telling chain, folklore and local color were the soil from which sprang the broad humor, the racy idiom, the anecdotal verve and the gorgeous yarn spinning of later humorists.