The Southern Literary Trail is the only tri-state literary trail in the United States, organized by collaborators within its three partner states of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. The Trail's principal theme is the influence of "place" on the work of southern writers. Accordingly, each city or town on the Trail must be home to a discernible place that influenced a writer of a well-known work of fiction. The governing board of the Southern Literary Trail nominates and selects the writers and places honored by the project. The board officially passed and adopted its by-laws on April 6, 2010, after years of preliminary project-building and organization. The board consists of a project director, secretary, and treasurer as well as two co-directors and two academic advisors from each of the three partner states.
In Alabama, the original Trail towns and places included the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald House Museum in Montgomery; the Old Monroe County Courthouse of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird; and the surviving commercial buildings of Lillian Hellman's family in Demopolis that inspired the settings and plot twists of her plays The Little Foxes and Another Part of the Forest. Other Alabama writers and locations honored by the Trail are William Bradford Huie and his hometown Hartselle; Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray and Tuskegee University; Truman Capote and Monroeville; and Albert Murray, William March, and Eugene Walter and Mobile. Murray's writings are influenced by both Mobile, his birthplace, and Tuskegee University, where he attended college and developed a lifelong friendship with Ellison.
Author Borden Deal, who was born and raised in New Albany, Mississippi, was recently added to the Trail by vote of its board members on July 20, 2012. Though a Mississippi native, Deal earned a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa; in 1981, he was named a Sesquicentennial Scholar by the University of Alabama when the college celebrated its one hundred and fiftieth anniversaries. Deal's novel Dunbar's Cove was blended with William Bradford Huie's Mud on the Stars for the script of the 1960 film Wild River, which dramatized the Tennessee Valley Authority's encroachment on the property of poor rural landowners.
The concept for the Southern Literary Trail originated in fall 2004, when organizers of Lillian Hellman celebrations in Demopolis met with planners of Tennessee Williams Tribute festivals in nearby Columbus, Mississippi (his birthplace), to discuss and compare their respective literary programs. During the discussions, it was determined that the groups would reach out to similar communities in the Southeast that recognize their ties to fiction writers and playwrights.
The initial planning phase for the Southern Literary Trail was launched on April 25, 2005, when the Fitzgerald House Museum in Montgomery hosted the project's first organizational meeting of museum directors, librarians, archivists and National Trust advisors from Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. Attendees defined standards for membership in the Trail that required sites to have influenced southern fiction writers or dramatists of the early to mid-twentieth century. The project's organizers also sought input from each state's tourism agency and from advisors to the Alabama Humanities Foundation, the Mississippi Humanities Council, and the Georgia Humanities Council.
A second organizational meeting for the Trail was hosted by the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 23, 2005. The meeting attracted potential organizers in Georgia to the burgeoning Trail project and included a discussion of possible additional member states. It was determined in Atlanta to limit participating states, at least initially, to Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. By early 2008, a route had emerged for the Southern Literary Trail that stretched from Natchez to Savannah. Organizers sought to establish its reputation with a signature event and devised a tri-state "Trailfest" celebration to combine literary conferences, tours, performances, and readings into one collective biennial festival calendar. With grant support from the humanities councils of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi under the general auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Southern Literary Trail premiered the inaugural Trailfest in March 2009.
Featured events included the Oxford Conference on the Book; the Mississippi Delta Literary Tour; the one hundredth birthday celebration of Eudora Welty; performances of Lillian Hellman's The Autumn Garden by the Canebrake Players in Demopolis; a Carson McCullers Festival in Columbus, Georgia; and a Flannery O'Connor Conference in Milledgeville. Thousands of participants attended the events.
With the success of Trailfest 2009, the Trail's board expanded Trailfest 2011 to three months, officially beginning in Columbus, Georgia, with the birthday of writer Carson McCullers (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter) on February 19, 2012, and concluding with the annual production of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird in Monroeville. During the interim, literary festivals, plays, readings, school assemblies about the writers, and film screenings highlighted the calendar of events. Of special note, a traveling exhibition of Eudora Welty's photographs from Depression-era Mississippi proved the potential for arts and humanities programs organized by the Southern Literary Trail. Curated by the Museum of Mobile with support from the Alabama Humanities Foundation, the Trail's network of collaborators enabled a collection of the writer's poignant photographs from the Depression to be compiled for the exhibit, Eudora Welty, Exposures and Reflections. The exhibit of 40 photographs developed from Welty's original negatives attracted large crowds to the Museum of Mobile, the Atlanta History Center, the Carnegie Arts Center in Decatur, Alabama, and the Gallery at Mississippi University for Women. Subsequently the exhibit was mounted at the Main Branch of the Birmingham Public Library during summer 2012.
The Southern Literary Trail added the Byron Herbert Reece Farm and Heritage Center (Blairsville, Georgia) to its member sites with an official induction on September 14, 2012. The Appalachian poet and novelist Byron Herbert Reece taught at Young Harris College. By vote of the Trail's board, it was determined that Reece exemplified a classic southern writer whose art is influenced by place, notably a working family farm in North Georgia occupied by the 40-year-old author at the time of his death in 1958. Additional sites will continue to be explored and added in the coming years.