The Modern Southern Gothic Revival

By: Ilya LeVangie

November 28, 2023

The past few years have seen a renewed interest in the social and political climate of the South, leading to a resurgence in the Southern Gothic. In the early days, authors such as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Zora Neale Hurston defined the Southern Gothic as what it is today—a genre that explores the dark and taboo, with a focus on complicated social and political realities, illuminating the myths and fictions of the pre-Civil War South. However, the South is no longer the South of Faulkner’s day, and new artists have taken up the legacy, redefining it into the modern South.

In May 2022, Ethel Cain made waves with her album “Preacher’s Daughter,” which received critical acclaim and widespread success. Ethel Cain is a character and stage persona created by Hayden Anhedönia, a trans woman, young musician and artist from Florida. “Preacher’s Daughter” is about Ethel Cain, the daughter of an Alabama preacher, and her life story from childhood to death. American Teenager, a song that received both viral and critical success, is an indictment of the American military and its recruitment tactics promising the American dream to unassuming high schoolers.

Anhedönia is not the only one creating modern Southern Gothic art. With movies such as Bones and All and the 2022 TV revival of Interview with the Vampire, there is a desire to see these dark Southern stories.

Bones and All, reminiscent of “Preacher’s Daughter,” explores themes of abuse, family and cannibalism. In AMC’s Interview with the Vampire, based on Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, the story has been adapted with Louis as a Black man, whereas his book counterpart is a white slave-owner. This has allowed the show to explore similar themes from the books with a different lens, such as the position of a Black business owner in 1910s New Orleans.

The South is a region with a fraught history, one defined by slavery and the Jim Crow era, leading to the current political climate. Although more than half of the US’s Black population lives in the South, the common perception is of a region dominated by whiteness, which comes down to the continued legal discrimination.

Southern states, in particular, have taken up the anti-trans and critical race theory moral panics. Florida has notably enacted some of the harshest laws, banning the use of “gay” and pronouns that “do not match a person’s assigned sex.” 

With book bans running rampant and the censorship of diverse, complex and taboo media taking center stage in American politics, the modern Southern Gothic revival allows new figures to shine a light on the darkness and the complexities of the realities of their lives living in the South.

Ilya LeVangie is a senior majoring in English and Professional and Public Writing, with minors in Music and Russian. They are planning to go to grad school for an MFA in creative writing, and teach English at a community college afterwards. His free time is spent making art and people watching.