"Lost Classics" of Alabama Literature

Celebrate Alabama's bicentennial by exploring the byways of "lost classics" in Alabama literature. These books are our lost byways; taking us to less-explored corners of our heritage and creativity as we build up to the 12th Alabama Book Festival on April 22, 2017. Over the next six months we're taking a journey with a dozen or so books we like to think of as lost classics. We hope you'll join us!

Stay Hungry, by Charles Gaines
Our first exploration takes us to 1970s Birmingham, with Charles Gaines's novel Stay Hungry. Although the movie based on the novel is Arnold Schwarzenegger's third film appearance, the film is the first time his signature Austrian accent was heard by moviegoers; his first film was dubbed with another actor's voice, and his second role was a deaf-mute.

Explore 1970s Birmingham, with Charles Gaines's novel Stay Hungry.


With the Old Breed, by E. B. Sledge

Young soldiers' experiences in World War II are vividly described in what Tom Hanks calls "arguably the best memoir of combat anywhere," E. B. Sledge's With the Old Breed was written from notes Sledge kept during the war and was meant simply as documentation of his experiences for his family. He didn't publish the book until 36 years after the war. As with Gaine's novel Stay Hungry, a film adaptation of the book was made, the HBO mini-series The Pacific. While Sledge's book is all true, the mini-series takes some dramatic license with the story lines of the main characters. 

Learn more about WWII in the Pacific and the 1st Marine Division, the Old Breed, in E.B. Sledge's With the Old Breed.

Southern Discomfort, by Rita Mae Brown

Montgomery is the next byway in our literary journey through "lost" classics. Southern Discomfort is Rita Mae Brown's third novel, and her choice of Montgomery for the setting is a mystery given that she was born in Pennsylvania, was raised in Florida, spent time in New York City and then settled in Virginia. But the denizens of Montgomery's early 20th-century red-light district provide rich fodder for Brown's exploration into hypocrisy and denial in a saucy read that starts with an author note: "If you don't like my book, write your own. If you don't think you can write a novel, that ought to tell you something."

Dig into 1918 Montgomery and its mix of upper and lower classes, race, sexuality, and pretense in Rita Mae Brown's Southern Discomfort.

Jubilee by Margaret Walker

Although much of this epic 1966 Civil War and Reconstruction-era slave narrative is set in Georgia, it also contains significant scenes set in Troy, Luverne, and Selma, Alabama. How many novels can boast they contain scenes that take place in Luverne? While Jubilee is considered a classic of African-American literature, it was overshadowed in its day by the success of Alex Haley's Roots ... so much so that the Birmingham-born Walker sued her rival author for "unfair competition." The suit tainted the reputation of Jubilee for a brief while, but academic critics since the 1980s have argued that its richly textured historical research into everyday history and black folklore make its an important novel, even if it was never adapted into a famous mini-series.

Explore Margaret Walker's classic tale of her grandmother's emancipation from slavery into tenuous freedom, a novel so intricate and richly researched that it took thirty years to write. 

Fourth and Long Gone by Pepper Rodgers

An iconoclastic coach writes a roman a clef about college football. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, former University of Kansas coach Pepper Rodgers must have had a death wish in 1984 to satirize Alabama's pigskin obsessions only a year after the death of the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant. Add to that a sympathetic protagonist with echoes of Pat Dye or Bobby Bowdin---a protegee trying to make his own mark in the game, in other words---and you wonder why this novel wasn't burned the way Beatles' records in the 1960s were in Birmingham for being blasphemous. But Fourth and Long Gone is actually quite point-on in its critique of the backstabbing and undermining that goes on during recruiting season. Throw in a pseudo-Herschel Walker star playing and you have a recipe for an SEC parody. This is a novel that lives up to its author's nickname: it's a peppery as a sports spoof gets.

Explore Pepper Rodgers's hilarious satire of SEC football, featuring a rivalry between the "bear"ish coaching legend Buddy Shavers and his former assistant, the "dye"-hard upstart Buck Lee.