Diane Roberts’s most recent book is Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee and is currently at work on a series of essays on white women.
An essay originally published in the Oxford American’s Spring 2010 Southern Food issue, guest edited by John T. Edge.
I come from a family of cake fundamentalists. No mixes, no faux cream, no margarine, no imitation vanilla, no all-purpose flour. You should use Swans Down or some other cake flour: It’s made of soft winter wheat with a low protein content, which makes the cake finer and airier. If the recipe says fresh coconut, don’t you dare use that stuff in the bag. Suffering for your cake builds character.
A Points South essay from the Fall 2019 issue
We all hear them, nearly two thousand young women making a joyful noise and heading this way in a ritual officially known as “Bid Day,” but called “Squeal Day” by pretty much everyone. The sound is less a squeal than a soprano roar, high and triumphant, louder and louder as they round the corner, a delirium of girls in shorts and sneakers, cantering behind sisters bearing huge cut-out Greek letters.
I never thought I’d experience the likes of Rancho Grande in Monticello, a Deep South hamlet named for Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia manor (gleefully pronounced with a soft “c”) and about as cosmopolitan as a Baptist men’s prayer circle.
In Fred Hobson’s Tell About the South, he writes of a well-to-do white writer named Lillian Smith, born in Jasper, Florida, a mere eighty miles from my home in the hills of Leon County. I had never heard of her. Unlike her contemporaries W. J. Cash, author of The Mind of the South, and Clarence Cason, author of 90° in the Shade, Smith did not go the full Quentin Compson and commit suicide after publishing a poetic, guilt-laden jeremiad—but instead authored book after book laying bare the South’s transgressions. She was fearless, a rabble-rouser and rebel who integrated her life and art.
Once you could sit in a boat right over the spring source, hemisphere of sky above, hemisphere of water below, and it would be as if you hung suspended between the elements inside a perfect globe of morning-glory blue. Once, but not now, not anymore.
At some point in the late Gilded Age of America, rich white people decided winter would no longer be tolerated. The impertinence of cold, the incommodiousness of ice, the dirt of the coal fire, the gray of the sky—these were for ordinary people, not the titans who controlled the banks and the steel mills and the oil fields and the railroads and the bootlegging. They went to Florida.
The story of how two women, Clifton and Byrd Lewis—are fighting to save one of Frank Lloyd Wright's creations, Spring House. Wright never saw the house, but the son of the architect who worked on it says, "There's a spirit to this house, a sense of timelessness, permanence, truth, and beauty." The house, though still standing, needs at least $250,000 worth of repairs to keep it from crumbling.