American Corner Innsbruck

    Lecture by Prof. Waldemar Zacharasiewicz

    Consumption and Communion in a Changing South: Food and Feasting in the Fiction of Thomas Wolfe, Eudora Welty and Writers of the Next Generations

    May 26, 2010, 7.00 p.m., SR 50109/ Seminarraum 3 (Bruno-Sander-Haus, 1st floor)

    [download invitation - pdf]



    The American Corner Innsbruck was proud to welcome Prof. Waldemar Zacharasiewicz, full professor of American Studies at the University of Vienna, whose many sojourns in the American South provided the ideal background to look at regional writers like Thomas Wolfe or Eudora Welty and their perspectives on food.

    However, Prof. Zacharasiewicz did not only present the fascinating results of his more than thirty years of academic interest in fictional southern food, but also garnished his creative approach to the above-mentioned authors with numerous carefully selected quotes from works such as Losing Battles or Look Homeward, Angel, which gave the audience a more than palatable insight into the culinary aspects of these works and their interpretation. A very central phenomenon Prof. Zacharasiewicz discovered in writers like Eudora Welty, for example, is the ritual of family reunions, which is still a central feature of southern families. He explained furthermore that food assumes another layer of meaning in Welty’s fiction as a quasi-sacramental ritual guaranteeing solidarity in times of need. This harmonious perspective on the soothing and stabilizing effects of food prepared and eaten at family reunions stands in stark contrast to Thomas Wolfe’s take on the subject. Critics have often commented on the somewhat regressive tendency in his approach to food and have identified his gargantuan appetite as a consequence of the author’s early loss of a stable home. This has given way to an excessive desire to consume everything, a craving he transferred onto his fictional characters who are often ravenously hungry and make ample use of unvarnished stereotypes.

    In conclusion, Prof. Zacharasiewicz also shed light on the culinary tendencies of the contemporary American South, whose traditional structures he considers to be endangered by the increasing number of fast food restaurants dotting the region. However, he also argued that while partaking of fast food and also foreign cuisine, many people in the South still feel the need for traditional, homegrown, and homemade food, and nostalgia for the authentic taste and quality of southern food continues to inspire contemporary writers like Anne Tyler or Bobbie Ann Mason. Prof. Zacharasiewicz’s presentation on food and feasting in the fiction of Wolfe, Welty, and writers of the next generations turned out to be a genuine cornucopia of innovative ideas concerning traditional southern food and what is communicated by it. Plus, it certainly wetted the audience members’ appetite to such an extent that upon leaving they, to use the words of Thomas Wolfe, could not stop thinking “lusciously of mysterious and succulent food.”

    (text: Andreas Leisner)



    The lecture will consider significant differences in the extensive descriptions of food eaten in the fiction of Thomas Wolfe and Eudora Welty. It will relate the contrast between individual or communal consumption to formative experiences in their youths. It will interpret their renditions of individual or collective enjoyment of regional foods as tributes to eating habits and culinary practices which are today under severe threat by the spread of fast food restaurants in the South. Wolfe’s and Welty’s retrospective renditions of home-made dishes and delicacies is also correlated to the nostalgic or critical recovery of regional culinary arts and rituals in the fiction of Southern women writers of subsequent generations (for instance, Anne Tyler, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Gail Godwin).


    Univ.-Prof. Dr. Waldemar Zacharasiewicz
    Univ.-Prof. Dr. Waldemar Zacharasiewicz is a professor of American Studies and director of the Canadian Studies Centre at the University of Vienna, a member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and vice president of the International Society of Travel Writing. His research areas include the literature and culture of the American South, imagology and travel literature, Canadian fiction, and ethnic voices in North America. He has numerous publications in this field, one of the more recent ones is Transatlantic Exchanges: The American South in Europe – Europe in the American South (2007) co-edited by him.


    American Corner Innsbruck
    Department of American Studies
    Herzog Friedrich Straße 3, 1. Stock (Altstadt, Claudiana)
    6020 Innsbruck

    T +43 512 507-7064, F +43 512 507-2879,