by Steve Yarbrough
Anytime I do an interview, I know the question will come up. "Are you a Southern writer?" If I still lived in Mississippi, of course, nobody would ask. The oddity is that I last lived there more than twenty-five years ago and have in fact lived in California since 1988. All my novels, however, are set in the Mississippi Delta where I grew up. And the novels are by and large what people are thinking of when they pose the question. Because the truth is that my short fiction and my essays deal with many different locations: California, the East Coast, Poland, Italy, Hungary, to name a few. I think I've gone further afield in stories because stories work by implication and omission, whereas most novels depend on accumulation. You can be only slightly familiar with a place and set a short story there, but a novel is a much trickier question. As a novelist, I've always needed to feel that I was knee-deep in my material, and for me that means returning to the same Delta soil time after time.
The tag "Southern Writer" is both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because it's a great tradition to come out of, and a curse because it can limit readership. I don't ponder the question too much when I'm out walking around my back yard here in Fresno. Like most writers, I am what I am and I write what I write, and I write it as well as I can.