Written By Stephanie Hunt
Image credits below
Bookstore displays featuring local authors are getting crowded these days, thanks to an abundance of Lowcountry talent. From breezy beach reads to historical fiction, from YA to essays to short stories and children’s books, no matter your reading tastes, there’s a Charleston writer to match. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a start should you want to venture beyond—but definitely include!—Pat Conroy in building your Lowcountry canon.
A. Bernard Cornwell: From his Tradd Street home, Cornwell pens prolific and wildly popular historical fiction, taking readers from the Napoleonic Wars to early Saxon times to the Civil War. Start with his famed Richard Sharpe series and work your way to The Last Kingdom (now a Netflix series).
B. Josephine Humphreys: Charleston native and PEN/Hemingway Award winner beloved for her lyrical prose, Humphrey’s first three novels are set in the Lowcountry: Dreams of Sleep, Rich in Love (made into a feature film), and Fireman’s Fair. Her most recent, Nowhere Else on Earth, is historical fiction set in North Carolina.
C. Mary Alice Monroe: An IOP resident and New York Times best-selling author of 27 books, Monroe’s many accolades include the International Book Award for Green Fiction and the Southern Book Prize. Environmental themes entwine with relationship/family sagas for delightful beach reads, including “The Beach House” series and its latest title, The Summer of Lost and Found.
D. Signe Pike: A former acquisitions editor for Random House and Penguin, Pike delves deep into the castled history and legends of Scotland and Ireland for her Celtic-themed historical fiction, including The Forgotten Kingdom and The Lost Queen, as well as the travel memoir Faery Tale.
E. Gervais Hagerty: Hagerty’s debut novel, In Polite Company, published last year, quickly made a splash. The Charleston native mixes shrewd social commentary with polished prose and humor. With a second novel in the works, she’s a next-gen Dorothea Benton Frank (her mentor).
F. Stacy Willingham: A former copywriter with an MFA from SCAD, Willingham’s debut thriller, A Flicker in the Dark, was an instant New York Times best seller and big flicker indeed, sparking a forthcoming HBO series. Her follow-up, All the Dangerous Things, comes out in January 2023.
■ Malinda McCollum: You’ll find this Iowa Writers’ Workshop grad, Plimpton Prize-winner, and CofC creative writing professor’s work in major literary journals, including The Paris Review, McSweeney’s, and StoryQuarterly. Her short story collection, The Surprising Place, won the Juniper Prize for Fiction in 2017.
■ Ryan Graudin: An award-winning author of eight novels, including the Carnegie-nominated Wolf by Wolf, Invictus, The Walled City, and “The World Between Blinks” series, Graudin grew up in Charleston, sports green hair, and garners writing inspo from her love of travel.
G. Corrie Wang: Co-owner of popular eateries Jack Rabbit Filly and the new King BBQ, Wang also cooks up fiction when she’s not “consistently in the weeds” (as her website confesses). Author of The Takedown and City of Beasts, her heroines are “girls unapologetically conquering scenarios they should have little control over.”
H. Cinelle Barnes: A formerly undocumented immigrant from the Philippines, Barnes turns painful family history into a beautiful memoir in Monsoon Mansion, named a Best Nonfiction Book by Bustle (2018). Other books include her essay collection, Malaya: Essays on Freedom, and the anthology A Measure of Belonging: 21 Writers of Color on the New American South, named a New York Times “New & Noteworthy” book (2020).
■ Richard Gergel: All rise! Judge Gergel, a United States District Judge in Charleston, delivers manuscripts as well as verdicts. He is coauthor of In Pursuit of the Tree of Life: A History of the Early Jews of Columbia, South Carolina, with his wife, Dr. Belinda Gergel, and the author of Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring.
■ James Scott: This Nieman Fellow and former investigative reporter with The Post and Courier has turned his gumshoe expertise into award-winning narratives on WWII, including Rampage—named one of the Best Books of 2018 by editors at Amazon, Kirkus, and Military Times—and Target Tokyo, a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist. His just-released Black Snow recounts the firebombing of Tokyo.
I. Richard Garcia: James Island resident and beloved guru of the Long Table Poets (an ongoing group/workshop that he leads), Garcia has been writing verse since the 1970s. He’s published eight volumes, including The Other Odyssey, winner of the 2012 American Poetry Journal Book Prize, and The Chair, named best book of 2015 by the editor of Poetry magazine. A Pushcart Prize winner and fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts, Garcia teaches at various MFA programs and privately.
J. Gary Jackson: On faculty at the College of Charleston’s MFA program and associate poetry editor of Crazyhorse, Jackson hails from Kansas, has lived in Korea, and is the author of Missing You, Metropolis, winner of the 2009 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in numerous prestigious journals, including Callaloo, Tin House, and Crab Orchard Review.
K. Marjory Wentworth: During her 14-year (yep, that’s right!) tenure as South Carolina’s Poet Laureate (2003-2017), Wentworth wrote poems for inaugurations, celebrations, and tragedies—wielding the power of words to help make sense of things like the Mother Emanuel shootings. She’s a teacher and mentor, social justice advocate, and seven-time Pushcart Prize nominee; her books include Out of Wonder, Poems Celebrating Poets (with Kwame Alexander and Chris Colderley), Noticing Eden, Despite Gravity, and The Endless Repetition of an Ordinary Miracle.
Photographs by (Cornwell) Andrew Cebulka, (Monroe) Anne Rhett, (Pike) Tiffany Mizzell Photography, (Willingham) Mary Hannah Harte, (Barnes) Joshua Garcia, & (Garcia) Sarah Poe Photography & Courtesy of (Jackson) College of Charleston, (4) the authors, & (Book covers-11) the publishers