Fannie Flagg’s Southern Stories Connect All Around the World

FF2 is proud to celebrate the achievements of author Fannie Flagg on this day, the seventeenth anniversary of her publishing Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven. Though the author of almost a dozen acclaimed books, Fannie will always be remembered for her beloved classic, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Fannie grew up heavily involved in the arts. At only ten years old Fannie wrote a play, and a few years later as a teenager, won a scholarship to an acting school in the Miss Alabama pageant. 

To pursue this dream of show business as an adult, Fannie left Birmingham behind and moved to New York City, where she wrote skits for the nightclub Upstairs at the Downstairs. It was there that Fannie was discovered by Allen Funt, creator of the television show Candid Camera, and invited to become a writer and performer on his show. Fannie made several television and film appearances as well as stints on Broadway during her acting career. She performed in the original Broadway production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas as well as the cult classic film Grease, and worked as a regular on The New Dick Van Dyke Show.

Even with a flourishing acting career, Fannie continued to nurture her talent for writing.

Even with a flourishing acting career, Fannie continued to nurture her talent for writing. In 1978, Fannie penned a short story which ended up winning first place at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. After expanding on the story for three years, in 1981, she published her first full-length novel, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man. The New York Times bestseller follows an eleven-year old girl’s tense childhood in Mississippi; Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man introduced audiences to the comforting yet addictive prose of Fannie Flagg, and cemented Fannie as one of the premier Southern voices for modern times. Though her words drip with the accent and setting of William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, or Harper Lee, Fannie, alongside other contemporary Southern writers such as Alice Walker, grabbed hold of all of America’s attention with modern stories bursting with the grit and beauty of the American South.

In 1987, Fannie published her next book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe to immediate critical success. Fried Green Tomatoes stayed on The New York Times bestseller list for thirty-six weeks, and was instantly picked up for a film adaptation, for which Fannie co-wrote the screenplay. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. The story of Fried Green Tomatoes follows the foul-mouthed, rebellious, overtly queer-coded Idgie Threadgoode and what the small town of Whistle Stop, Alabama has to offer to her: violence, love, and fresh tomatoes.

Earlier this summer, I revisited Fried Green Tomatoes while homesick for the accents and flavors of the South. After renting the movie, I sat back and prepared myself for two hours of nostalgic fluff sprinkled with action and frosted with the killer acting of Kathy Bates.

Within twenty minutes I realized I had seriously misremembered the plot of Fried Green Tomatoes (other than that part about Kathy Bates, she was, obviously, as incredible as I had remembered.) I ended the movie in tears with a sudden and overwhelming urge to call my best friend, who was most likely at the moment blissfully asleep in Birmingham and not wanting to be woken up by my sobbing into the phone about girlhood. 

In FF2 contributor Dayna Hagewood’s review of the film, and contributor Katusha Jin’s review of the book, they both raise an excellent point about the politics of Fannie’s story. Both the film and book, though often handling issues of gender with delicacy, fall flat in their depiction of race. This is seen in the portrayal of the Black characters in the story’s 1920s timeline, who appear caricaturized rather than complete—as all the story’s white characters are given room to be.  It is important that any readers who have not yet seen or read Fried Green Tomatoes know this when approaching the story. Its flaws are a reminder of the time and place in which it was written, and though that does not excuse the issues we have with the story, as Katusha Jin beautifully writes, “It serves as…a reminder of how far we have come and how far we still have to go.”

Fannie has gone on to write several novels since Fried Green Tomatoes, including 2006’s Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, and her newest work, The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop. Published in 2020, The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop features some of the same characters as Fried Green Tomatoes, building on its already illustrious legacy. 

The beauty of Fried Green Tomatoes is the kindness with which it treats its characters.

The beauty of Fried Green Tomatoes is the kindness with which it treats its characters. Though all the women who inhabit Fannie’s story are incredibly different from one another, she shows each to the reader in a light of respect and admiration. Through the way she writes—the folklorish, sweet as tea words that feel they could have just as easily been told by one’s own grandmother as Fannie Flagg—the book and film both end up not being so much a celebration of these female characters, but of women everywhere. Fried Green Tomatoes is a story of the strength of women in tough situations, or, the kind of situations that women seem constantly thrust into. Its re-readability (and rewatchability) and praise by audiences decades later is a testament to the strength of the story, and its storyteller, Fannie Flagg.

© Reese Alexander (7/31/23) FF2 Media


Read Katusha Jin’s review of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe here.

Read Dayna Hagewood’s review of Fried Green Tomatoes here.

Visit Fannie Flagg’s Wikipedia page here.


Featured Photo: Author Fannie Flagg (center) surrounded by primary female cast members of Fried Green Tomatoes (clockwise from bottom left)  Kathy Bates, Cicely Tyson, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, & Jessica Tandy. Photo Credit: Richard Felber (1991) Photo 12 / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: R2G1C1

Middle: Fried Green Tomatoes BluRay Cover.

Bottom: Fried Green Tomatoes Paperback.

Tags: Candid Camera, Cicely Tyson, Fannie Flagg, Fried Green Tomatoes, Fried Green Tomatoes (film), Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Grease, Jessica Tandy, Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop

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Reese Alexander is currently a student at Barnard College, where she studies English literature, creative writing, and French. Reese enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published in multiple campus publications, including Quarto, Echoes, The Barnard Bulletin, and The Columbia Federalist. Reese is most passionate about medieval literature, as she believes it illustrates the contributions of women artists throughout the centuries.
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