Whether you’re participating in our Read Around the USA Challenge or simply found your way to our website researching books set in the South Central states, you’ve come to the right place!
Below, you’ll find a list of highly-rated books featuring the South Central states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas. If you are looking for other books set in the South, you’ll find those on this booklist.
What Kind of Books Are Included On This List?
Our curated recommendations strike a good balance between historical fiction, contemporary novels, non-fiction, and memoirs. The list is broken down by state. You’ll also find a brief description of each state’s characteristics before the corresponding books.
Books Set in the South Central United States
BOOKS SET IN ARKANSAS
The area that is now Arkansas was originally inhabited by various Native American tribes, including the Quapaw, Osage, and Caddo. European exploration began in the 16th century when Spanish conquistadors arrived searching for gold. However, it wasn't until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 that Arkansas came under American control. Arkansas became a territory in 1819 and achieved statehood in 1836.
The state played a significant role in the Civil War as a Confederate state, with many battles fought on its soil. After the war, Arkansas, like the rest of the South, experienced the challenges of Reconstruction as it transitioned back into the Union. A century later, the Civil Rights Movement had a profound impact on the state, with the Little Rock Nine's integration of Central High School in 1957 gaining national attention.
Arkansas is renowned for its picturesque landscapes, including the Ozark Mountains, Hot Springs National Park, and the Buffalo National River. The state is also recognized for its rich cultural heritage. It has a deep-rooted music tradition, particularly in genres such as blues, country, and folk.
Located near the state's center, Little Rock is the largest city in Arkansas. It offers a blend of urban amenities, including a vibrant downtown area and a bustling riverfront. Northwest Arkansas, comprising cities such as Fayetteville (home to the University of Arkansas) and Bentonville (the home of Walmart), has experienced rapid growth in recent years due to its economic prosperity, natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and thriving cultural scene.
In rural areas of the state, however, poverty remains a significant issue. The state consistently ranks among the highest in terms of poverty rates in the United States - 17.2%, higher than the national average according to the 2020 census. Factors contributing to this problem include the state's economy relying heavily on low-wage industries, lack of infrastructure, and limited access to quality education. It is a complex issue, but efforts are being made to address poverty in Arkansas through various initiatives.
BOOKS SET IN LOUISIANA
Long before the arrival of Spanish and French explorers, Louisiana was home to the Chitimacha, Coushatta, Choctaw, and Tunica tribes. The 18th and 19th centuries were marked by territorial exchanges, culminating in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, wherein the US acquired a large part of North America from France, doubling its size overnight. Louisiana became a state in 1812 and later seceded from the Union in 1861 to join the Confederacy. Its location was strategically important during the Civil War, and it played an equally important role as a testing ground for many of Abraham Lincoln’s reconstruction policies.
Centuries after the French first settled in Louisiana, their influence remains palpable throughout the state. It is particularly evident in the state's unique blend of cultures, often termed "Creole" and "Cajun." Despite English being the official language, French and Louisiana Creole are spoken in many homes, particularly in the southern parishes. Louisiana's cuisine, renowned for its flavor and diversity, is also heavily French-inspired. Signature dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and etouffee all carry French names and cooking techniques. Even the legal system in Louisiana is based on the French Napoleonic Code, unlike the common law system followed in other US states.
New Orleans, the largest city in Louisiana, is globally renowned for its vibrant jazz and zydeco music scene, diverse cuisine, and cultural events like Mardi Gras. The French Quarter, the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans, showcases the city's French heritage through its distinctive architecture featuring cast-iron balconies and lush courtyards. Baton Rouge, the state capital, is home to many historic sites and educational institutions such as Louisiana State University. Shreveport, in the state's northwestern corner, is known for its riverfront casinos. At the same time, Lafayette, in the Acadiana region, celebrates Cajun and Creole cultures with a focus on music, food, and festivals.
The distinctive geography of Louisiana includes many swamps, marshes, and bayous. These slow-moving, marshy waterways are an iconic part of the state's landscape and culture. Louisiana hosts the largest area of coastal wetlands in the United States. The Atchafalaya Basin, which covers about 860,000 acres, is the largest swamp in the United States. The low-lying topography of the state makes it particularly susceptible to flooding during hurricanes, as was the case with Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Since then, significant efforts have been made to improve flood defenses and restore wetlands, but Louisiana remains vulnerable to powerful storms due to its geographic location and characteristics.
BOOKS SET IN MISSISSIPPI
Originally inhabited by Native American tribes like the Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw, Mississippi became a Spanish territory in the late 16th century, followed by French and British control. After the American Revolution, it was incorporated into the U.S. as part of the Mississippi Territory in 1798 and became a state in 1817. It played a key role in the Confederacy during the Civil War and endured significant conflict. Post-war, Mississippi struggled with racial tensions and segregation, yet it also influenced the civil rights movement.
Mississippi’s system of racial segregation and discrimination, particularly in voting rights, was a catalyst for the rise of powerful civil rights activism in the 1950s and 1960s. Despite the violence and oppression that activists faced, their courageous efforts resulted in monumental changes, notably in ending legal racial segregation and securing voting rights for Black Americans.
Boarded on the west by the Mississippi River, the waterway played a pivotal role in the state’s history and remains vital to Mississippi's socio-economic fabric. Historically, it served as a significant transportation route, paving the way for settlement and trade. The river's fertile plains became the backbone of Mississippi's agricultural economy, especially cotton production during the Antebellum era. Today, the river continues to support agriculture and is a popular tourist destination, especially among fishermen. It also continues to facilitate trade and transport, with goods moving domestically and internationally via numerous river ports.
Mississippi is recognized for its rich cultural heritage, particularly as the birthplace of blues music. Originating in the late 19th century among African American communities in the Mississippi Delta region, the blues communicated the hardships of rural life. Artists like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King, born in Mississippi, significantly shaped the genre. Today, the Mississippi Blues Trail honors this legacy, marking significant historical sites.
The state’s cuisine is deeply rooted in Southern culinary tradition, especially traditional comfort foods. Known for its farm-raised catfish, it leads the nation in catfish production. Other regional favorites include barbeque and Mississippi Mud Pie.
BOOKS SET IN OKLAHOMA
In 1889, the first "Oklahoma Land Run," in which the U.S. government opened up lands in the Indian Territory for settlement, led to an influx of non-native people into the region. In 1907, the territories of Oklahoma and Indian Territory were combined to form the 47th US state, Oklahoma.
Fueled by oil discoveries, the new state boomed in wealth and population in the 1910s & 1920s. Both newcomers and Indian tribal members in northeastern Oklahoma became extremely wealthy, almost overnight. However, it was also a period of tragedy. The new wealth led to crime and corruption, with rich Osage Indians targeted. Additionally, in 1921, the Tulsa Race Massacre resulted in the death of hundreds of African Americans and the burning of over 1200 homes and businesses. Before the Massacre, the Greenwood neighborhood was known as Black Wall Street because it was the home to many successful Black business owners.
Shortly after, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s hit western Oklahoma particularly hard, leading to mass unemployment and poverty when fertile plains became barren wastelands. It is estimated that approximately 440,000 residents, dubbed “Okies,” were forced to abandon their farms and migrate west in search of work.
Today, Oklahoma is home to 39 tribal nations, including those who were forcibly relocated from the eastern US in the 1800s, many as part of the tragic Trail of Tears. One of the relocated tribes, the Cherokee Nation, is now the largest Oklahoma tribe. Cherokee Nation businesses contribute $3.04 billion to the Oklahoma economy each year, while also providing important services like healthcare & education to their citizens.
Oklahoma is a leading agricultural and energy producer, including oil, natural gas, and wind power. The state is also a leader in country music, producing famed musicians like Woody Guthrie, Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, and more.
Notable attractions include the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, the iconic Route 66, and the Oklahoma City National Memorial, which is a tribute to the 168 lives lost in the 1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing. The $465 Million, 100-acre Gathering Place in Tulsa was imagined by local philanthropist George Kaiser and was the most significant private gift to a community park in U.S. history. It features free experiences for all ages and was voted USA Today's Best City Park in 2021.
BOOKS SET IN TEXAS
We’ve all heard the saying that everything is bigger in Texas. It’s the largest of the continental US states and the second largest overall (second only to Alaska). It also boasts the second largest population, behind only California. But beyond sheer size, this phrase captures the Texan spirit and cultural identity, reflecting a sense of pride, ambition, and grandiosity.
The Lone Star State was originally inhabited by the Caddo and Comanche tribes, among many others, and the Spanish were the first Europeans to occupy this land. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, American settlers were invited into Texas, leading to increased tensions. The Texas Revolution in 1835-36 resulted in Texas becoming an independent republic. Texas joined the United States as the 28th state, leading to the Mexican-American War, which began as a dispute over the border between Texas and Mexico. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 ended the war and secured US control of Texas as well as a vast portion of the American Southwest.
Almost as soon as Texas became a state, it seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy in the lead-up to the Civil War. And it was one of the last states to surrender following the conclusion of the war 1865.
Today, Texas celebrates a blend of Southern, Western, and Mexican influences, exemplified in its food, music, and festivals. Texas is famous for barbecue, Tex-Mex cuisine, and the iconic rodeo culture.
Each of Texas's major cities embodies a distinct cultural character, reflecting the state's vast geographic size and diverse population. The capital city of Austin is known for its vibrant music scene and robust tech industry. The city’s slogan, "Keep Austin Weird," encapsulates its eclectic and unconventional spirit. Houston, the state’s largest city, is a hub for the oil and gas industry and home to NASA's Johnson Space Center. Dallas is known for its strong business environment and has a vibrant arts district, boasting numerous museums and theaters. San Antonio, one of the oldest cities in Texas, is rich in Spanish colonial history. It's home to the Alamo and hosts the famous River Walk, a lively area full of restaurants and shops along the San Antonio River.
We hope you enjoyed this book list and found several books to add to your TBR (to be read list). If you’re choosing a book for our reading challenge, you are also welcome to read any other book that meets the challenge prompt.
If you have a suggestion for a book that you think would be a great addition to this list, please fill out this form.
Book Recommendations for Other Regions of the USA
If you’re participating in our 2024 Read Around the USA Challenge and reading one book per region, you can find links to every region below. If you’re doing the Challenge and reading books from every state and territory, you can get an alphabetical index here.
- Books Set in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin
- Books Set in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington DC
- Books Set in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota
- Books About Traveling Across America
- Books Set in California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington
- Books Set in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas
- Books Set in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware
- Books Set in Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Nebraska
- Books Set in the U.S. Territories
- Books Set in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee
- Books Set in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming
- Books Set in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont