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From the set of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Porch: A Place of Literary Prominence

Aug 8, 2006 (All Things Considered)

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In American literature, the porch is a stage where the symbolism is often as thick as the summer air — a transitional space between the cocoon of home and the cacophony of the outside world.

Out on the Porch, a slim picture book, collects photographs and memorable literary passages about porches by authors such as Toni Morrison, Eudora Welty and William Faulkner.

The idea for the book began in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Algonquin Books editor Shannon Ravenel's own front porch.

The book, published originally in 1992, proved so popular that it's still in print and has led to an annual porch calendar.

Ravenel says that when many people think of a "Southern porch," the image that springs to mind is from Gone With The Wind.

But any discussion about Southern porches would be incomplete without mention of the porch from Harper Lee's Pulitzer-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird. A young tomboy, Jean Louise "Scout" Finch, narrates the story of racism and injustice in a small Alabama town.

"Conversations on Southern porches back in those days were between adults, and the children were supposed to be seen but not heard," says Ravenel. "But they listened and heard everything, and in Scout's case, acted on things."

"The porch wasn't quite in the house and yet it wasn't out in the yard," says Ravenel. In the Deep South, when workers came to the house to speak to the boss, they would usually stay on the porch rather than come inside the house.

As result, "the porch has been the place where a great deal happens, where there are complications or conflicts or confrontation between characters," Ravenel says. But it's also a place that evokes many peaceful memories.

Ravenel says that even for the new generation of Southern writers, the porch is still an important place, citing authors such as Michael Parker, Jill McCorkle and Lee Smith. For example, McCorkle, who has lived in Boston for years, still writes about screened-in sleeping porches.

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