Arts & Culture

Five Minutes With: Professor Jan Nordby Gretlund

Professor Jan Nordby Gretlund specializes in Southern literature at a Southern college. But the college is the University of Southern Denmark. And he specializes in the literature of the American South.

Gretlund, the chairman of the Center for American Studies at Southern Denmark, is a visiting professor at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. The USC Press recently published his "Still in Print: The Southern Novel Today," a collection of criticism of 18 Southern novels from the past 23 years.

He'll be the moderator of "Celebrating the South Carolina Novel Today" Nov. 19 at the University of South Carolina Beaufort's location in Bluffton.

Gretlund describes his fascination with the American South.

Question. How popular is Southern literature in Europe?

Answer. It's all over Europe. For example, we have the European Southern Studies Forum that meets every year and has a monthly newsletter. It's in every county in the European Union. This is very popular.

Q. Why?

A. The reason differs from country to country. Some countries love Flannery O'Connor. It could be about her faith, like in Spain or Italy. In other countries, it's in the history about the country falling apart, the war. The Danes just love the humor with Flannery O'Connor. They love the grotesque situations that no one can predict. Eudora Welty. William Faulkner. Many books on Southern literature come out every year.

Q. How long have you been coming to the South?

A. When I was young, I had a choice. I was 19 and emigrated to not do the Danish (military) service time. They didn't do much of anything and had a lot of nonsensical discipline things. I joined the American army instead in 1962 in Biloxi, Miss. Back in those days you had to be sponsored and my father's aunt's daughter had married someone who was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base.

When I got back in 1965, I knew the language fairly well and I thought the easy way to have a job was to teach the language and the literature. I got my (master's degree) from (University of) Virginia and my Danish doctorate on Eudora Welty.

I've taught at Vanderbilt, Southern Mississippi, University of South Carolina and spoken elsewhere. I've been down here to Beaufort a few times, as well. It's my job to keep up with who's writing and who's good.