Portraits of Southern Childhood
Edited with an introduction by Alex Harris
Published by University of North Carolina Press/CDS books, 1987
In 1985, photographer Alex Harris asked a number of Southern writers to “look at their own family photograph albums, and using these snapshots as a catalyst for memory, to tell the true story of their childhoods. The result is A World Unsuspected a remarkably powerful album of the visual and the verbal. The text of this book is a sampler of contemporary Southern Landscapes, literal and literary. The setting range from Bobbie Ann Mason’s Kentucky to Padgett Powell’s Florida, and the stories offer an impressive range of style and tone, from the informal cumulative memoir of T.R.Pearson, to the deeply troubled vignettes of James Alan McPherson. Together, they compose a memorable portrait of what it was like to grow up in the South from the late 1940s through the early 1960s.
“A World Unsuspected seems to me now a further exploration of the experience of learning from snapshots, of looking at the past and finding in a photograph the key to something missing, forgotten, or ignored, of seeing an image and gaining perspective, retrospective, of using a picture for reflection, to help throw light on the mystery of memory, which in the end was the mystery these eleven Southern writers were asked to explore. A World Unsuspected provides these fiction writers another kind of opportunity to take their place within the documentary tradition: to translate, record, distill, even embroider – to help create our collective memory. We have always looked to a special few to give meaning to our common experience, to carry forth from the past something we haven’t seen, could never have seen without first being shown, and having been shown could never see again without knowing, without remembering.”
– Alex Harris from the introduction