Allan Gurganus gets an eensy bit agitated if you refer to him as a regional writer. Even though all his books—from his 1989 best-selling debut, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, to today—take place primarily in the South, he rejects the idea that he's a Southern writer.
"I don't wake up in the morning," he said during an interview last week at Elliott Bay Book Company, putting on a sarcastic cotillion drawl, "and think, 'What a beautiful Southern morning,' and eat a beautiful piece of Southern fried ham, and then get a Southern mammy to come in here and wash the dishes."
All the stories in his new collection of novellas, Local Souls, take place in the same fictional town of Falls, North Carolina (population 6,000), but Gurganus doesn't see himself as following in the footsteps of William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, and Donald Harington. (To my surprise, Gurganus has never even read Harington, though he does dearly love Faulkner's Light in August, saying, "I think he was 35 when he wrote that, which makes me quite cross.")
Instead, he defines himself as a writer taking advantage of the fertile ground of his childhood, which happened to take place in racially charged, born-again communities in North Carolina. "I think of myself as someone who's born in a region and whose fiction has international implications. Not just local color." He slyly added, "The fact that I'm reading in Seattle, Washington, a sophisticated city, indicates that."