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Are you looking for some of the best Southern books and writers? Find classic and contemporary Southern novels, historical fiction, romance, literature, and so much more.
As a native New Englander who moved to Florida and then North Carolina, I could not imagine a better way to acclimate myself with the South than through Southern books.
Actually, first, I ate all of the deep-fried pickles and fried green tomatoes. Hushpuppies are Southern too, right? Then, I read the most famous Southern authors and their books about the South. I wanted to know: what is the South really about?
I asked friends, librarians, teachers, bookstagrammers, and other bloggers for the best Southern authors and writers who would transport me across the South and teach me even more.
Equally, what were their favorite or best Southern books of all time? Please remember that “best” books about the South are also subjective.
Below, find Southern novels including romances, nonfiction, indie, YA, thrillers, and mysteries. Discover books about Southern culture, and find historical and gothic fiction that will transport you to a different time in history.
P.S. Find some of these books about the South here:
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Most Talked About Contemporary Southern Books
One of the best books of 2020, The Vanishing Half follows the lives of two Black sisters growing up in the Deep South. The Vignes twins each choose a different path based on the color of their skin, embracing or denying who they are.
An intensely poignant and authentic novel about race and racism — set in Louisiana and California in the 1950s to 1990s — readers see just how deeply these mothers’ choices and feelings affect their lives and influence their children. Read more→
If you are looking for fictional books set in the south that read like nonfiction, don’t skip Transcendent Kingdom. A book about racism, mental health, and science versus faith and religion, follow a family of Ghanaian immigrants living in Alabama.
Their lives are filled with depression and prescription pill addiction. A med student at Stanford, Gifty studies addiction within mice hoping to help her mother. She also tries to reconcile her belief in God.
One of the most talked-about southern books of 2018, Where The Crawdads Sing topped all of the bestselling book charts.
Set in rural North Carolina, follow along with this coming of age story and shocking southern murder mystery.
Kya Clark, the “marsh girl,” is accused of the murder of Chase Andrews. However, not everything is as it seems. Discover the meaning of love and how to overcome a prejudiced society and the loneliness from that isolation. Read More→
Don’t miss our Where The Crawdads Sing-Inspired Blackberry Smash.
An Oprah Book Club suggestion, readers follow along with newly married Celestial and Roy. Unfortunately, the honeymoon ends early. Arrested and sent to jail for a crime he did not commit, Celestial loses her husband for what could be over a decade.
During that time, Celestial seeks comfort in Roy’s best man just as his sentence is suddenly shortened. When circumstances are out of our hands, will the institution of marriage, love, and vows prevail?
Reminiscent of Little Fires Everywhere meets Romeo and Juliet, the wealthy and white Whitman family moves into close-knit Oak Knoll, North Carolina, destroying the neighborhood. The war waged is about way more than killing Valerie’s beloved tree, though.
Find one of the most gripping and heartbreaking Southern novels about racism, corruption, and men abusing power. A Good Neighborhood is also perfect for book clubs. Read more→
Don’t miss all of our Favorite Books Set In North Carolina.
Southern book recommendation from Lindsey from To Make Much of Time
Winner of the National Book Award in 2017, Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward explores one Gulf Coast Mississippi family’s struggle to survive.
The world is working against this family in many aspects: The socio-economic challenges of the rural south, racism, drug abuse, and the gaping maw left by absentee fathers.
Thirteen-year-old Jojo is at the epicenter of all of these factors. Trying to make sense of the world as he comes of age, he fears the impending loss of his grandmother.
The characters are heartbreakingly real, and Ward adds a fascinating dimension of magical realism through the inclusion of deceased characters and other supernatural events.
Southern book submission from bookstagrammer, Jennia
The unconventional Bigtrees are as much of an attraction as their moldering, gator-centered, family-run amusement park. The clan soon faces an uncertain future, both for themselves and their beloved park when star-of-the-show and mother Hilola succumbs to ovarian cancer.
The three adolescent children and their father scatter like seeds in the wind, each one embarking on an implausible journey filled with struggle and revelation. Read More→
Do you love reading around the United States? Don’t miss these Best Books Set In Every State.
Southern books submission from Rachel of Never Enough Novels
The Almost Sisters is a quirky southern novel featuring deep family ties, race relations, nerd culture, and an unsolved murder.
Leia returns to Alabama to take care of her aging grandmother and tell her family about her unexpected pregnancy. When she discovers a family secret hidden in the attic, the discovery unleashes a torrent of consequences for the whole town.
The Almost Sisters has a multitude of storylines, but Jackson does an incredible job tying them all together. It’s humorous, thought-provoking, and ultimately a novel you’ll want to read more than once.
One of the hardest Southern books to digest on this reading list, meet 5 different women in Odessa, Texas in the mid-1970s.
All of these women are deeply affected by the brutal attack of Gloria, a young Mexican girl. Watch poverty, racism, abandonment, and a failed justice system at its worst. Read more→
A somber and moving 2021 book release set in Oklahoma, Hobson weaves a tale of Cherokee folklore and family in a powerful story about family, addiction, home, and grief. Readers also get a glimpse into the painful and brutal ‘removal’ and murder of Cherokee families from their homes by white soldiers.
When a racist police officer kills Ray-Ray, the Echota family is never the same. With a father who battles Alzheimer’s, they take in a foster child while their own adult children are lost in and to the world. Book Information→
Historical Fiction Set In The South
Thanks to award-winning writer, Cat Michaels, for this recommendation
Guests on Earth is one of the southern books on this list inspired by a true story. Dr. Robert S. Carroll ran Highlands Hospital for Nervous Disorders, built in Asheville, NC, in the early 1900s. Highlands removed patients’ chains and straight jackets and instead, offered them fresh air, exercise, and creative arts along with counseling.
F. Scott Fitzgerald spent much of his time in residence at Asheville’s nearby Grove Park Inn. Highlands treated Fitzgerald’s beautiful Zelda, a brilliant creative who likely was bipolar.
No spoiler here because of historical fact: Zelda was one of nine women who perished when the hospital burned to the ground in 1948. Told by a young woman who enters as a patient and later became an instructor at Highlands, Smith seamlessly weaves fact with fiction.
A 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction award-winner, The Nickel Boys is based loosely on a true story about the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida.
Elwood Curtis, an ambitious and talented young Black man, battles growing up in a racist society filled with racist policies. When he is unfairly sent to the ‘reform’ school, his life and promising future of higher education are over — no matter how hard he tries. Sadly, the surprise ending isn’t a surprise in this society. Book Information→
Thanks to Sheere of Keeping Up With The Penguins for this recommendation
Hailed as “the definitive novel about American politics” by the New York Times, All The King’s Men is a long and intense exploration of power and masculinity in the 1930s American South.
Jack Burden, a former history student turned political aide, witnesses and documents the rise of Governor Willie “The Boss” Stark. Rumored to be based on the career of real-life Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long (a claim Robert Penn Warren always denied), this southern novel charts a remarkably similar fall from grace for the fictional protagonist, against the beautiful backdrop of an unnamed Southern state.
While the absence of women and people of color from the narrative is frustrating, the story remains startlingly resonant in today’s populist political climate. See the full review of All The King’s Men on KUWTP→
Book recommendation from Tori of Tori-Leigh.
Freedom and the power of voice. Sue Monk Kidd – author of The Secret Life of Bees (another southern favorite) – brings us this masterpiece of historical fiction.
On her eleventh birthday, Sarah Grimke is uncomfortably gifted Hetty, a slave in the Grimke household. Kidd, a master at emotional storytelling, never once romanticizes the deep south. Rather, she channels the sorrow into an opportunity to introduce that people are capable of something better.
The Invention of Wings follows the two women over the next few decades as they both experience love, loss, guilt, betrayal, and hope. Despite their many setbacks, both women strive to find purpose in their lives and discover their inner voice.
Sarah’s character is based on her historical counterpart, a true abolitionist and catalyst for the women’s rights movement. Themes of hope, freedom, storytelling, and discovering the power of using just one, small voice are seamlessly woven into this heartbreaking and empowering story.
Southern books submission from Lindsey from To Make Much of Time
Fair and Tender Ladies, published in 1988, is an epistolary novel that follows Ivy Rowe from childhood through life’s milestones.
This masterpiece accentuates Ivy’s hardships, challenges, and culture unique to her Appalachian upbringing during the middle part of the 20th century. Lee Smith grew up in such a community near Grundy, Virginia (near the Kentucky border).
Southern Romance Books
Recommendation from CJ of A Well-Read Tart
Glory Road follows three generations of women as they navigate life and love in their sleepy Alabama town.
Denton’s relaxed and evocative writing draws readers into a deliciously slow, Southern summer. The days seem to stretch on forever and anything seems possible, making this book the perfect escape read.
Glory Road is brimming with long-lost love, budding new romances, and comfortable, small-town charm. At the heart of it all is a message about taking chances and counting on the people you care about.
Flower buffs will love the gardening tips at the beginning of each chapter. Foodies will love the Southern treats Gus bakes up, several of which inspired this mouth-watering Peach Cobbler Pound Cake.
Books set in the south submission from CJ of A Well-Read Tart
First Frost, the second book in the Waverley Family series, is set in the Southern town of Bascom, North Carolina.
This enchanting southern novel steeped in magical realism is a food lover’s delight; the story follows the culinary adventures of candy-maker and caterer Claire, who can magically inspire people with the delicious food she makes.
What would any charmingly sweet story be without a little romance, both for Claire and her teenage daughter, Bey, who starts falling for the wrong-but-oh-so-right boy.
First Frost also brings all the cozy, seasonal vibes as Bascom prepares to throw its annual “First Frost” festival to celebrate the fall season.
Be sure to check out Claire’s signature fig and pepper bread recipe, which it’s apparently not First Frost without.
Thrillers And Mystery Books Set In The South
A 2020 psychological thriller set in small-town North Carolina, follow Rachel Krall, a true-crime podcaster. Recruited into the coverage of a new trial as well as an unsolved murder case, deadly drama finds Rachel. Can she solve the case before it’s too late? Read more→
Southern mystery submission from Kal of Reader Voracious.
Twenty-four-year-old Rose Gardner has lived a pretty sheltered life. Afraid of her “curse” — premonitions — she foreshadows her death. She is determined not to die before crossing off items on her bucket list – 28 and a half wishes for her life – all the while trying to uncover the mystery of her demise.
This first-in-series tale is one of first love, personal growth, and exploration, with a side of cozy sleuthing vibes. Set in Fenton County, Alabama, Rose uncovers just how seedy the criminal underground is…and the more she digs, the more in danger she becomes.
Southern mystery and thriller from Lauren Elena of Literary Dates
Set in Atlanta, Iris and Will seem to have the perfect marriage until Will goes on a business trip to Orlando.
However, now Iris learns that Will was instead on a flight to Seattle that crashed with no survivors. Presumed dead, is Will actually alive?
In Iris’s search for answers, she goes down a rabbit hole into Will’s past. What she discovers may shock her and the reader. I stayed awake many nights as I tore through the pages while Iris uncovered new layers. I love a good psychological thriller and this one definitely delivers.
Classic Southern Books
Set across Florida, if you are looking for one of the best classic love stories and infamous southern novels of all time, you cannot miss Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Janie Crawford is a firecracker with her own goals and dreams–and desire for love. In and out of relationships and eventually marriages, Janie finds herself trapped in the town gossip and as arm candy, a politician’s wife, and eventually an alleged murderer.
Watch Janie battle not only a hurricane but also the men, prejudices, and circumstances of her time. Read More→
Winner of the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize, The Color Purple is one of the most famous contemporary classic books about the south.
The story follows Celie’s impossibly hard life over the course of 40 years and focuses on the bigotry and prejudice of the time in rural Georgia and later Tennessee.
Celie is only 14-years-old when the story begins. Her mother dies, and her father constantly beats and rapes her. Forced into a loveless marriage, readers watch as Celie finds love elsewhere while reconciling a relationship with her sister who she thought had died years ago. Can Celie come out on top after years of abuse and tragedy? Book Information→
Named as The Great American Read and a Pulitzer Prize winner, Lee is truly one of the most well-known southern writers with her famous novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.
Scout Finch lives in Maycomb, Alabama with her brother and father, Atticus. Atticus is a lawyer during the Great Depression and an extremely racist time in American history. Even more trying, Atticus is representing a black man accused of raping a white woman. Atticus is truly and innately good.
Through it all, Scout learns about overcoming prejudice, empathy, and that love prevails over hate. Book Information→
Book recommendation from Lori of Southerner Says. Check out her boozy travel post if you are headed to Georgia.
You simply cannot have a list of books set in the south and not include Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Set in Georgia’s coastal crown jewel, Savannah, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil tells a tale of gossip, intrigue, and yes, murder.
Full of eccentric personalities and secret insights on how southerners fill those humid nights, you’ll pack your bag and buy a ticket before you even finish it.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was published in 1994 by John Berendt and spent a whopping 216 weeks on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. Further proof it’s a must-read for anyone who wants to get to know the south.
Published in 1929, Look Homeward, Angel is the most gossipy of classic Southern books on this reading list. While a fictional account of a young man growing up in Asheville, NC, Wolfe infamously bases his characters on real people.
Initially poorly received — no one likes having their dirty laundry aired — once the townspeople (and more so Wolfe) became famous, Asheville took pride in their young author.
Look Homeward, Angel is a coming of age story about a passionate young boy struck with restlessness and wanderlust. Wolfe is also famous for later noting that “you can never go home again.”
Indie Southern Novels You Don’t Want To Miss
One of my favorite southern indie novels of 2018, Meant To Be Broken captures the essence of small-town South Carolina. You cannot even buy off-brand Mayo without someone taking notice.
Rayne is different than the other girls at school yet somehow manages to catch the heart of Preston, high school jock, sweetheart, and cutie pie. Preston has an equally hunky black sheep and bad boy brother, Gage, who accidentally begins to build a strong friendship with Rayne.
Do we see where this story is going?
Caught in a love triangle, Rayne must figure out who she loves amidst the lies, secrets, and angsty teen emotions. Meant To Be Broken is the perfect YA book set in the south as well as a deep-fried summer romance. See the full TUL book review of Meant To Be Broken→
Looking for new southern writers? Check out New Orleans resident, Joy E. Rancatore, and her September 2019 indie press release, Any Good Thing.
One tragic night of drag racing changes the course of Jack Calhoun’s life forever. He remains alive while four other teens will never see adulthood. Like his now-estranged dad, Jack takes to the bottle.
Just when Jack has risen above the guilt and booze through rehab, another accident derails his life. Jack must escape the suffocating and condemning town that blames him for everything gone wrong.
A coming of age story, Jack heads off to Iraq to find redemption and make the ultimate sacrifice.
Nonfiction Books About The South
Another southern classic as well as a true-crime story, Capote investigates the gruesome murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas.
In 1959, Hickock and Smith rob and murder all four members of the Clutters, baffling police. Eventually caught, Capote tries to reconstruct what happened on that fateful day while trying to pry into the mind of two murderers. Read More Here→
One of my favorite nonfiction southern books set in Asheville, Kiernan tackles the Biltmore Estate, the largest house in the US.
The Last Castle isn’t just your MTV cribs type of story, though. There is romance, financial hardship, and of course, a plethora of births and pre-mature deaths. Kiernan wants readers to understand the true trials and tribulations behind the Biltmore.
Edith and George invested in their North Carolina community, including areas such as forestry, education, and politics. They and members of their families shared their wealth and aimed to make society better with their progressive values.
Although this is a nonfiction book set in the south, catch a glimpse of New York socialites, Newport homes, and Parisian life. Read More→
One of the most famous contemporary Southern books and nonfiction classics, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings takes place in the 1930s and ’40s in the midst of the Great Depression and World War 2.
As Maya Angelou’s autobiography, she talks about being raised by her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. This coming-of-age story showcases the story of a promising young woman overcoming racism, abuse, and poverty.
Southern Books For Teens
If you are looking for contemporary books about the South, head to Atlanta in Dear Martin. This YA novel emphasizes the Black Lives Matter movement and is a must-read book about racism.
Justyce writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King; he is trying to navigate his life as a young Black man in a very white private school system. Time and time again, Justyce witnesses firsthand racist police brutality and even murder. How can he rise up in a system so determined to maintain white supremacy? Book Information→
The sequel to Dear Martin, Quan finds himself trapped in the juvenile (in)justice system as a young Black man growing up in Atlanta, Georgia.
The story begins with Quan in jail. Police are accusing him of killing the police officer who had previously profiled Justyce. Read more→
Southern books submission from J.R. of Eternity Books
The Downstairs Girl is a YA southern novel about a young Chinese woman’s journey to finding herself in the midst of a Reconstruction Era Georgia.
Fired from her job as a milliner because of her race, Jo begins to secretly write a column for a newspaper challenging society’s ideals. She becomes the voice of the modern independent woman in the South.
This story is also about Jo’s journey of finding herself, learning about her past, and sticking by her family and what she believes, no matter the consequences.
Head to Houston, Texas with LGBTQ+ romance, The Gravity Of Us. Cal dreams of becoming a famous journalist and is about to start his upcoming BuzzFeed internship.
Unfortunately, Cal’s parents thwart his social media dreams, moving the family from Brooklyn to Houston to work on a NASA Mars mission. In Texas, Cal finds himself falling head over heels for an astronaut’s son and with a new story to share with millions of young followers.
More Famous Southern Authors & Writers
I couldn’t include every Southern book and/or Southern author on this reading list. There are just too many However, you may also want to check out these extremely popular southern writers, as well:
Head over to our sister site, Uncorked Asheville, to read all about Asheville’s Famous Authors.
Which Southern Books Will You Read Next?
Which of these books set in the South will you read next? Are we missing some of your favorite Southern authors and their novels? Are there any Southern novels that you didn’t enjoy on this list?
We originally posted this Southern reading list on September 21, 2019 and have updated with even more Southern novels for 2021.