An Illustrated Companion to Dining and Driving in the American South
University of Texas Press 2019
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in ArtNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in FoodNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Popular CultureNew Books in the American South July 24, 2020 Carrie Helms Tippen
In this this interview, Carrie Tippen talks with Emily Wallace, author and illustrator of the new book Road Sides: An Illustrated Companion to Dining and Driving in the American South (University of Texas Press, 2019).
Road Sides pays homage to popular travel guides with its short chapters, one for each letter of the alphabet containing a brief contextualizing essay followed by a feature of a specific location, business, or product. “A” is for Architecture, a tribute to buildings in the shape of foods one might find on the highway; “B” is for Billboards, their ubiquity and creativity and sometimes, as in the case of the “South of the Border” billboards, racial insensitivity.
Road Sides is clearly aimed at a general audience of readers with its journalistic style of participant observation and whimsical illustrations, but Wallace makes use of her folklore training and scholarly connections in both the historical contextualizing of automobile culture and the critical lens with which she points out the good, the bad, and the ugly of Southern history and practice.
While Road Sides is certainly a celebration of Southern foodways, it is not without criticism. A thread runs throughout the book that there is not a single story of Southern road travel. Wallace is careful to remind readers that before the civil rights era, there are two very distinct experiences for black and white Southerners, and after the ostensible end of racial segregation in public spaces, a third story emerges that changes the experience for all travelers.
Wallace addresses these disparate narratives most directly in “D” for Directions, focusing on the Negro Motorist Green-Book that ran counter to the Official Automobile Blue Book for white travelers, and in V for Vacancy, about the black-owned hotels that catered to black travelers.
Similarly, in a chapter about the crossroads general store, Wallace reminds readers that Emmett Till was murdered after an encounter with white people in such a store. What emerges from this wide-ranging investigation is an story of innovation, both technological and entrepreneurial, about the creative minds who came up with a new product or process or marketing strategy to adapt to a world that is changed irrevocably by car travel.
Emily Wallace is a writer and illustrator with a masters in folklore who serves as art director & deputy editor of Southern Cultures Quarterly at UNC-Chapel Hill, and has written and illustrated work for other publications including The Washington Post, Southern Living, The Oxford American, and GOOD. In 2015, Wallace was nominated for a James Beard Award in humor writing.
Carrie Helms Tippen is Assistant Professor of English at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA, where she teaches courses in American Literature. Her 2018 book, Inventing Authenticity: How Cookbook Writers Redefine Southern Identity (University of Arkansas Press), examines the rhetorical strategies that writers use to prove the authenticity of their recipes in the narrative headnotes of contemporary cookbooks. Her academic work has been published in Gastronomica, Food and Foodways, American Studies, Southern Quarterly, and Food, Culture, and Society.
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