Swinging in Place

Porch Life in Southern Culture

By Jocelyn Hazelwood Donlon

208 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 31 photos, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4977-4
    Published: November 2001
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7542-1
    Published: January 2003

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The front porch evokes cherished memories from across a lifetime for many southerners--recollections of childhood games, courtship, family visits, gossip with neighbors. In this book, Jocelyn Hazelwood Donlon offers an original appreciation of the significance of the porch to everyday life in the South. The porch, she reveals, is not a simple place after all, but a stage for many social dramas. She uses literature, folklore, oral histories, and photographs to show how southerners have used the porch to negotiate public and private boundaries--in ways so embedded in custom that they often go unrecognized. Her sources include writings by Dorothy Allison, William Faulkner, Ernest Gaines, Gloria Naylor, Zora Neale Hurston, and Lee Smith, as well as oral histories that provide varying racial, gender, class, and regional perspectives.

Originally derived from a number of ethnic traditions, the porch evolved in America into something both structurally and culturally unique. In this, the first serious study of the subject, Donlon shows how porch use and porch culture cross ethnic and cultural lines and discusses the transitional quality of the porch space--how it shifts back and forth, by need and function, between a place that is sometimes interior to the house, sometimes exterior.

About the Author

Jocelyn Hazelwood Donlon is a folklorist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
For more information about Jocelyn Hazelwood Donlon, visit the Author Page.


"An important addition to folklore and southern studies."--Journal of American Folklore

"A cultural commentary on the porch's role in regional consciousness. Donlon moves beyond material presence of the porch to its social signification."-Choice

"Swinging in Place: Porch Life in Southern Culture is a unique study of southern porch culture, combining formal scholarly research and analysis with field interviews and personal history and anecdotes. . . . Swinging in Place succeeds in providing a unique examination of the southern porch as cultural phenomenon. The author's complex marriage of the personal with the academic, the textual with the visual, the individual story with that of the collective South, yields a worthy contribution to southern cultural studies."--South Central Review

"Donlon conjures up memories of childhood, court-ship, and neighborly visits. She then explores the implied boundaries hinging on the porch's division of public and private space."--Doubletake

"Swinging in Place includes the history and tradition of porches, as well as the author's childhood memories. The Louisiana folklorist also spotlights people who, like herself, are hopeful that we will rediscover the value of porch time in our lives."--Southern Living