(WHNT) — Famous authors stem from all parts of the world, but some of the best known books were written by authors in our own backyard.
Alabama hasn’t just been the setting for great novels throughout history, it’s also proven to be a place to start for writers who want to craft stories about issues like race, crime, and even the paranormal. Some of the novels listed below are obvious inclusions like Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird,” but they are essential to any conversation surrounding Alabama authors, nonetheless.
Here are the some of the most famous novels written by Alabama authors:
“Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson
The 2019 film “Just Mercy” became a box office hit and garnered a Screen Actors Guild nomination for star Jamie Foxx, but the book it was based on was already a huge hit before the story hit cinemas. The memoir, also titled “Just Mercy,” was written by Delaware native turned Montgomery resident Bryan Stevenson.
Stevenson, a Harvard-educated lawyer and social justice activist, wrote the story based on his experiences with Walter McMillan, an Alabama inmate who was convicted of murder and spent months on death row. While leading the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson was able to discredit the prosecution’s case against McMillan, who was exonerated and released from jail in 1993.
According to a profile by The New Yorker, Stevenson has saved 125 men from the death penalty.
“Alabama Moon” by Watt Key
Watt Key and Albert Key are both pen names for Albert Watkins Key, Jr., an author born in Tuscaloosa. No matter what name he’s using, Key is best known for his young adult survival series, and his debut novel “Alabama Moon,” is likely the book that audiences will know the most.
The novel, published in 2006, follows a young boy named Moon Blake who is forced from his forest shelter home into an Alabama institution after his father’s death. A film adaptation of the novel came in 2009. The book earned numerous awards, including a 2006 Parents’ Choice Award and won the 2007 E.B. White Red-Aloud Award.
Key originally worked as a computer programmer before he published his first novel at 34. He now lives with his wife and three children in Mobile.
“Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” by Fannie Flagg
Fannie Flagg isn’t just known for her acting and appearances on “Match Game,” she’s probably best known for writing one of the most well-received Southern novels in recent memory. That novel is obviously, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.”
The 1987 novel follows a pair of women, one a middle-aged housewife and the other an elderly woman in a nursing home, visiting one another and trading stories. Specifically, the elderly woman, Ninny Threadgoode, tells stories about her life as a girl in Whistle Stop, Ala., where her sister-in-law and friend ran a cafe.
The book spent 36 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller List. It also spawned a 1991 film starring Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy that was nominated for two Academy Awards.
Flagg, who was born Patricia Neal, was born in Birmingham, but now splits here time between Alabama and California.
“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi
Award-winning author Yaa Gyasi might’ve been born in Ghana, but she was raised from the age of 10 right here in the Rocket City. Gyasi’s father, Kwaku Gyasi, is a professor of French, world languages, and cultures, at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Gyasi’s debut novel, “Homegoing,” is a historical fiction chronicling the descendants of an Asante woman named Maame. The novel starts with Maame’s daughters separated by circumstance before trickling down into their children and the generations that follow.
The 2016 novel won Gyasi numerous awards. It was selected as one of 2016’s “5 Under 35” by the National Book Foundation, won the John Leonard Award for best first book from the National Book Critics Circle. In 2017, it was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and received the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, an American Book Award, and the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature.
“To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
You can’t make a list of Alabama authors without mentioning Harper Lee and “To Kill A Mockingbird,” the novel that most people associate with the State of Alabama. The book won Lee the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and became an instant classic.
“Mockingbird” is based on Lee’s upbringing in Monroeville, Ala., most notably around the time she was 10. The book spawned an Academy Award-winning film in 1962 with Gregory Peck in the lead role of Atticus Finch, while a young Robert Duvall took on the role of the novel’s mysterious “Boo Radley.”
A sequel to “Mockingbird” was ultimately published in 2015. “Go Set A Watchman” was never intended to be published, and generated some controversy when it first came out; ultimately, the sequel set a record for one-day sales for an adult novel at Barnes & Noble.
“13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey” by Kathryn Tucker Windham & Margaret Gillis Figh
Born in Selma and raised in Thomasville, author Kathryn Tucker Windham is Alabama through and through. Windham wrote for her entire life, earning her first job at 12 before going to work at places like the Alabama Journal, The Birmingham News, and The Selma Times-Journal. She passed away at 93 in 2011.
Her most famous novel in the state was “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey,” a collaboration with Margaret Gillis Figh, a fellow lover of folklore. In the 1969 book, both women discuss how they became interested in ghost stories with the “Jeffrey” reference in the title referring to a ghost that allegedly haunted Windham’s home.
“The Prince of Frogtown” by Rick Bragg
You might know Piedmont native and former New York Times reporter Rick Bragg for his life as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. However, if you’ve stopped at any Alabama bookstore, it’s almost a guarantee that you have seen one of the several non-fiction books he’s penned during his long career in writing.
Bragg’s 2008 novel “The Prince of Frogtown” takes a step back in time to the author’s youth, his father’s coming-of-age as a charming hustler, and a 100-year-old Jacksonville mill. In addition to taking a look at his father’s life, Bragg also touches on his own journey to fatherhood with honestly and poise.
“The Ex Hex” by Erin Sterling
Erin Sterling, a pen name for author Rachel Hawkins, published her “debut novel” last year with the paranormal romance, “The Ex Hex.”
Despite being born in Virginia, Hawkins – err, Sterling – moved to Dothan at an early age. She graduated from Auburn University in 2002 and began writing her first novel, “Hex Hall” while working as an English teacher at Sparkman High School, right here in the Tennessee Valley. She now lives in Auburn with her family.
“The Ex Hex” itself follows a magical young woman who, while nursing a broken heart, casts a spell on her ex-boyfriend, a descendant of their southern town’s ancestors. Once he returns home, the ex-boyfriend begins to notice disaster after disaster as the curse sets in. The novel was selected one of October 2021’s Books of the Month from bookofthemonth.com.
“An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” by Hank Green
Hank Green, and his fellow novelist brother John Green, might’ve been raised in several states during their childhood, but his birthplace was Alabama’s Steel City of Birmingham.
In 2018, Green released his debut novel “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” to positive reviews. The book’s sequel, “A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor,” hit bookshelves two years later as part of Green’s two-book deal with Dutton Books.
The initial sci-fi novel follows a young woman who discovers a large robotic statue in Midtown Manhattan, which she films, and then goes viral, catapulting her to online success overnight. This comes as identical structures pop up at exactly the same time across major cities in the world.
Writing novels isn’t all Green is good at. Since developing an online career in 2007, he has ventured into vlogging, science, various businesses, and music. He currently lives in Montana with wife and child.
“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote
Truman Capote wasn’t just known for his lifelong friendship with fellow Alabama novelist, but was a gifted writer even ahead of the debut of Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.” His most famous novels being 1958’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and the novel featured here, “In Cold Blood.”
Described as a “non-fiction” novel, “In Cold Blood” follows the 1959 murders of a Kansas family. It took Capote six years to write the novel after a visit to Holcomb, Kan., where the murders happened, and many, many interviews alongside Lee. The novel was first published as a four-part series in The New Yorker.
Capote was born as Truman Streckfus Persons in New Orleans in 1924; however, his family made a quick move to Monroeville when his parents divorced at age 2. During his career, many of his works were adapted for the big screen, including the aforementioned “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which gave Audrey Hepburn the defining role of her career. Capote died in 1984.
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston
In January of 1891, Zora Neale Hurston was born in the tiny town of Notasulga, Ala., situated in Lee and Macon counties. Despite being whisked away to grow up in Florida, Hurston is known to be one of Alabama’s most prolific writers.
During her career, she wrote four novels, though her best known work was “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” The novel was first published in 1937 and is considered part of the Harlem Renaissance.
The novel follows a forty-something woman named Janie Crawford who recounts her life from her teenage years living with her grandmother, Nanny, to modern-day. While it was initially poorly, history has been kind to “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” crediting the novel with influencing women’s and African-American literature for the 20th century.
Did we miss any Alabama authors that you love? There are plenty more than named on this list, and certainly, there are more out there just waiting to publish their first novel. Send any Alabama authors we missed that you love to firstname.lastname@example.org.