Julia (Mood) Peterkin Vernon Loggins - Essay

Vernon Loggins

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[There] have been in America many negro writers of exceptional skill and talent…. But as yet no negro writer has been able to detach himself from the problem of the color line and stand out boldly as an artist and nothing else. Racial discrimination has been his bar. When that bar is removed, he will write about his people as no white could possibly write about them. Of all the whites who have made the attempt, Julia Peterkin is the truest and the finest—not excepting Joel Chandler Harris, whose Uncle Remus tales are established classics, nor Dubose Heyward, whose Porgy ought to become a classic, nor Roark Bradford, who is the real creator of America's greatest folk-play, The Green Pastures (Marc Connelly's part in the authorship of this play was mere transcription). It was indignation at the way these writers and others dealt with the negro that spurred Mrs. Peterkin to write. She began with the passion to be sincere and fair and just, and she has retained it. (pp. 216-17)

Mrs. Peterkin created in Scarlet Sister Mary an important social document and a tale of the greatest charm. The book maintains throughout that closeness to reality and that unhesitating verity of detail which must characterize all valid regional writing. But the quiet mellowness of the language and the byplay of picturesque embellishment lift the book to the level of the highly imaginative poetic. (pp. 218-19)

While the three books she has published since Scarlet Sister Mary do not quite attain its full folk-epic scope, not one of them contains a dull or tedious page. The Gullah speaks in her every phrase—and the Gullah is always different, always interesting. (p. 219)

Vernon Loggins, "Regional Variations," in his I Hear America … Literature in the United States Since 1900, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, Publishers, 1937, pp. 195-224.∗