Eric Been at JSTOR Daily:
Southern contained multitudes: He was a first-rate screenwriter, novelist, essayist, cultural tastemaker, critic, craftsman of the weird short-story, and a devotee of letter-writing (a mode he once called “the purest form of writing there is… because it’s writing to an audience of one”). One of Southern’s touchstones was the notion of the grotesque—he wanted to examine what disturbed people, pushing a macabre-showing mirror back in his audience’s face, and to muck through the modern American “freak show” at large.
Born in the cotton-farming town of Alvarado, Texas, in 1924, Southern went on to become a U.S. Army demolitions expert in World War II. After earning an English degree at Northwestern University, he subsequently studied philosophy in Paris at the Sorbonne, via the G.I. Bill. In France, after finishing up at school in the early fifties, Southern stayed in the Latin Quarter for a stint—enticed by existentialism, the city’s jazz scene, and the literary crowd he fell into.