A story by Jesmyn Ward, the third and final excerpt from her forthcoming novel  Sing, Unburied, Sing. The officer is young, young as me, young as Michael. He’s skinny and his hat seems too big for him, and when he… by Jesmyn Ward | Sep, 2017

Take Sturgill Simpson. Sturgill (can I call you Sturgill?) is a Kentucky rascal, born in the heart of the Appalachian mountains. Jackson—population around twenty-one hundred. He comes from a family of coal miners. He was in the Navy. He worked… by Leesa Cross-Smith | Nov, 2017

A girl was singing in one of the houses we passed. The sound rose up on the wind and out of the brownstone and out of the window down to us on the air. This girl behind that fluttering window… by Crystal Wilkinson | Nov, 2017

A Kentucky Music Issue web-exclusive liner note.   For some twenty-five years I’ve maintained an obsession with four specific seconds in all the history of rock & roll. Four seconds of a single guitar ripping a hot lick, the opening salvo to a… by Kirby Gann | Dec, 2017

In 1966, Loretta Lynn was anything but little. She had already released eight solo studio albums. Just one year later she would be the first woman in country music to achieve a certified gold album for Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’… by Marianne Worthington | Nov, 2017

It was 1995, the year Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” was released, the end of my eighth-grade year, in rural Kentucky where homophobia was—and continues to be—rampant. My secret boyfriend and I—the one I had kissed in darkened classrooms after… by Jason Howard | Nov, 2017

Interviews with Dwight—at least mine—always occurred on Dwight Time and largely in Dwight Space. About two hours before that first phone interview, Dwight called to apologize and say his day was crazy. Could we reschedule? I said sure, we set… by Ronni Lundy | Nov, 2017

The Old Regular Baptists and the joyful sound. The Old Regulars sing loud. “You can’t whisper it, it needs to have zip,” one told me. Another: “If you can’t shout down here, what are you gonna do when you get to… by David Ramsey | Nov, 2017

Notes on the songs from our 19th Southern Music Issue CD featuring Kentucky. This faculty, to be attuned to one’s surroundings and the ways in which they’re unique, to be rooted in the local, to be of a certain place—no matter if… by Oxford American | Nov, 2017

The By and By

The By and By

Weekly dispatches on OxfordAmerican.org


The Oxford American is a creature of print, a magazine to sit down with, flip through, read forward and back, pitch across the table to a friend, take along, set upon the shelf. We publish quarterly, we like to say, to give readers just enough time to digest each issue before the next one appears. But three months is a while, and, always, more stories want to be told than will fit into four issues—really good ones, too. Stories bind us together; they are the way communities have found their form for centuries. And in the South, they are the way neighbors have loved and laughed and forgiven each other, each night, on that open air stoop.

A weekly online series, The By and By will feature essays by some of the South’s most gifted and promising talents. Tift Merritt, Sandra Gutierrez, Matthew Neill Null, Will Stephenson, and Ronni Lundy will regularly publish dispatches covering cultural beats from unique Southern perspectives. The By and By will also inaugurate an exciting new editorial partnership between Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies and the Oxford American

Grammy-nominated Americana musician Tift Merritt will share the road life of a musician who is also a first-time mother; Smithsonian-honored food writer Sandra Gutierrez will cover the Nuevo-South food scene; Matthew Neill Null, a West Virginia fiction writer and recipient of the Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, will send “Redneck Letters from Rome”; regular OA contributor and Georgia-native Will Stephenson will offer an archaeology of the South’s odd sounds; and Ronni Lundy, a James Beard Award-nominated food writer and expert on Appalachian cuisine, will deliver twenty-first century traditions with a feminist edge.

The Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) will showcase work by its faculty, students, and affiliated artists, such as: Timothy B. Tyson’s writings about and from his book The Blood of Emmett Till; photos from Theater of War by Christopher Sims; sounds from CDS’s Scene on Radio podcast produced by John Biewen; videos by emerging filmmakers; writing, photography, and graphic nonfiction by CDS award-winners like Abbie Gascho Landis, Lauren Pond, and Steven Cozart; and a presentation by C. D. Wright as part of CDS’s twenty-fifth anniversary events, shortly before the Arkansas native poet’s passing. Created in 1989 through an endowment from the Lyndhurst Foundation, the CDS is dedicated to capturing the reality of people’s diverse experiences in our complex culture. 

In 2017, The By and By will publish on Thursdays from early April through the end of December.

— The Editors 

Image: Trustees’ House Stair. Shaker Village, Kentucky. © Guy Mendes


 

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

Music enters us unmediated by the intellect. Every other form of art goes through the brain on its way to your heart, your gut, your soul. We don’t “enter into” music, the way we do with a book, a movie, a piece of visual or tactile art; it enters us. And it enters whole.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.

Stories of sin and salvation are plentiful in serpent handling communities, and over the years, I’ve heard dozens of tales of Signs Followers backsliding into different vices and leaving church, only to repent later and rejoin the congregation.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

My greatest, greatest fear: to be a hobbyist, an artist on the side. I’ve prided myself on being a working artist for my entire adult life, as if it were the very backbone holding me upright. But the artist hustle written on my face isn’t working. 

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

Important conversations are taking place around the Southern table—frank discussions on culinary appropriation and whether anyone can truly claim ownership of an entire cuisine. Southerners and Latinx in both academia and the food writing sphere have continued to expose racism in more than a black-and-white framework, and they exposed the festering wound of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. I am hopeful that we will no longer feel silenced from discussing openly these painful and important issues.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

The problem of pain is one that has long troubled humans in general, but dentists, perhaps, in particular. The issue has vexed the field for centuries. By the late 1950s, general anesthesia in the dentistry community had come under intense scrutiny, given the widely reported numbers of unnecessary deaths. There was the sense that something else—something safer, less toxic, simpler—could be the answer.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.

It’s pretty common knowledge, though, that when chattel slavery was being practiced in the United States, light-skinned people—often the offspring of land owning men and the women they held enslaved—were more likely to work in the house or have some other form of privileged status, while those with darker skin labored outside, doing demanding physical work in the fields. This caste system is one of the many ways that white supremacy rooted itself in American culture at large; colorism persisted well into the twentieth century, and a residue lingers even today.

An installment in our weekly story series, The By and By. 

For all we romanticize the notion of “work” in America, and as much as the politicians shill for it, the daily life of a laborer is the first thing to slip the collective memory. Instead, our children are taken to visit the mansion, the cathedral, or the art museum where the dirty money was poured. The factories corrode. The roof falls in. The weather comes.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

If you are unfamiliar with Texan Kevin Russell, the singer/songwriter and guitar, mandolin, and ukulele player who lately goes by the nom de pluck Shinyribs, as does his brilliant funking, picking, and punking band, it is totally misleading for me to introduce you, as I just did, as if he were a man of constant sorrow. In fact, Russell—clad in his pistachio green, or orange plaid, or lip-blotting pink/red booty-shaking suit, and backed by a core of ticking, riffing sidemen, the Tijuana Trainwreck Horns, and the Shiny Soul Sisters—leads one of the finest party bands around and, when called for, a heckuva crowd rousing conga line.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.

Collectively, the students’ work forms a nuanced, intimate portrait of communities as they struggle to survive. The completed videos are presented to local residents—there have been screenings in municipal buildings, town commons, baseball fields, churches—and hundreds of people attend. Feedback is near universal: In listening to the stories of their fellow residents, audience members have gained a deeper understanding of the impact of political, social, and cultural issues on their family, friends, neighbors, and fellow community members.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.

From the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University: To introduce our first story for The By and By, a writing-and-audio narrative around the new book The Blood of Emmett Till, we asked its author, Timothy B. Tyson, to reflect on the overwhelming response to the book since its release, why the story of Emmett Till continues to resonate so profoundly.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

I was prepared to talk about the food that Southerners and Latinos have in common and the blending of our cultures at the table. My presentation focused on the very real culinary movement showcasing harmony among different peoples. My “call to forks,” if I may, is one of unity and community, one that proves we’ve already come together at the table, one that invites us all to understand each other better while we share meals.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

One of the strangest and rarest books in Hannah’s catalog, Power and Light is worth the trouble of seeking out, not only because it is the only tangible artifact of the author’s adventures in Hollywood, but also for its humor and formal uncertainty—a “novella for the screen” is an accurate description.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.

Since 2001 Christopher Sims has been “investigating, with a profound and insistent curiosity, American military ventures from the perspective of the home front.” For ten years Sims photographed staged Iraqi and Afghan villages on the training grounds of U.S. Army bases deep in the forests of North Carolina and Louisiana.

An installment in our weekly story series, The By and By. 

Why are some places cursed and others blessed? The blessed never ask this question. They don’t have to. This has been the concern of my work. A small plea, now, for a dying town.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

It became impossible for me to jibe the romanticized South with the reality of what that war was actually about, and what it cost. And as I put away childish things, I came to understand that the monuments weren’t there to remind us of history. They were, in fact, its cover-up.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.

As James Taylor puts it, “These images of our dear friend and native son, Reynolds Price, are precious reminders of a lovely life, fully lived and generously shared with those of us lucky enough to have known him. Every page summons the memory of that indomitable spirit and wry conspiratorial humor. How could he be both compassionate and wicked? It is even good to miss him.”

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

Music is a mystery that does not want thinking. The act of doing anything with feel—writing, making love, playing freely—requires something beyond thinking and eclipses the need for even talking when done right. What I tell myself when I sing: Listen and Give. As far as I can tell, that’s the whole shebang. Annie Dillard is correct—my feelings about my work are pretty unimportant and beside the point; mosquitos to be slapped down.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

We all have an emotional connection to eating—anyone who has ever soothed hurt feelings or mended a broken heart with food will agree. Food can appease sadness, albeit only temporarily, and sometimes be a silent companion while we try to come to terms with loss. Food can also bring back a memory of a loved one and revive long-passed moments.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

I am lying in bed on the Fourth of July. The apartment is empty. A box fan is propped on the dresser, blowing cool air, though I can’t hear it. I’m wearing headphones and listening to Bohannon: Speaks from the Beginning. This is the audiobook memoir of Hamilton Bohannon. Not the audiobook of the memoir, in other words, but the audiobook memoir—it only exists in an audio format. He didn’t find it necessary to write down the details of his life. Sound is his medium, always was. So he speaks.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.

I cannot tell you how exciting it is to see this surge of young people saying, “We’re pretty clear on what our values are. We’re pretty clear on what we want our futures to look like, and here are some ways we’re getting there. And we’re not asking permission. We’re just doing it.” 

An installment in our weekly story series, The By and By. 

As soon as we entered the town, a warren of stone houses perched on a ridge, maybe home to five hundred, I got the feeling of something vaguely sinister ahead, as you do before entering a particularly violent bar or a house party in meth-land. 

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

I wrote once about a close friend of mine who celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas alone. She described the simple joy she had in preparing her special breakfast on those sacred days; the hours she spent poring over fat newspapers on the floor, savoring the decision of what movie to go to later; the ease of coming home to make a candlelight meal, with fine wine, alone.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.

From the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University: It’s not easy to stand out and get noticed in the existing sea of podcasts, but Scene on Radio grew its listenership at a steady, respectable rate. Then, earlier this year, John rolled out a new series of episodes—and things got crazy. An example, among many: one of the world’s leading radio production companies tweeted, “Currently the best thing coming out of the U.S. podcast scene.”

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

The flight attendant stopped and pointed to the safety card’s picture of a woman cradling a child in her arms. “Do you understand? You will hold her like that, alright?” It seemed utterly useless, the fragile creature in my arms against the speed and heft of this giant metal bird throwing itself with such velocity back at earth.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

Our shared experiences as Latina women in the South and all that this entailed—our search for belonging in a society that was weary of new immigrants, the desire for sustainable change that would further the understanding between Latinos and Southerners, and the discovery that we were in fact able to catapult such change—sealed our kinship and guided our conversation.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

When Cash Money was started several years before by the brothers Baby and Slim Williams, Kilo G had been its flagship artist. He was only fourteen when he met Baby and Slim, too young to sign a contract; they’d had to take a ferry across the river to find his grandmother, so she could sign in his place. Before Mannie Fresh, before Lil Wayne—before the fleet of Bentleys and yellow Hummers that roamed the streets of New Orleans like an occupying army—there had been Kilo G.

An installment in our weekly story series, The By and By.

In the forest, we are enveloped by a magical darkness. We are afraid and fearless at the same time: fighting for our existence, fighting to be seen as human. So there is magic and strength, but there is also fear. The woman will become enveloped by a darkness of her own in this most magical of places. I hope you are afraid for her. I hope you are afraid of the forest, too, but I also hope you understand: Black people can fly. Just look, as she runs into the darkness, she is ready. One more step and she will fly.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

The Kentucky I knew looked verdant and sun-dappled as my family drove through the palisades and then the gentle bluegrass on our way to the mountains from the city of Louisville. And even when we reached the mountains themselves, which so physically display the significance of shadow and mystery, I was still in a place that all the grownups around me treasured for its nurturing, its sustenance, its mothering. Even those who’d lived away for decades, in other states, in other countries, still called the mountains “home” because that was what they believed.

An installment in our weekly story series, The By and By. 

Beneath all I’m a low-church Protestant, splinter spit from the door when Martin Luther nailed up his paper at Wittenberg. I remember being warned as a child not to attend a church with cushioned pews: insufficiently austere.

An installment in our weekly story series, The By and By.

Freshwater mussels live mostly buried. Their shell edges are parted like a surprised gasp, exposing two apertures. One intakes and the other releases water, which is how mussels eat, breathe, and even gather sperm to meet their eggs. Those apertures actually look like Georgia O’Keefe paintings—flower, female anatomy—elegant ovals decorated with variously shaped and colored papillae. Apertures, papillae, curve of a shell.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

Toni Tipton-Martin, Ronni Lundy, and I hope to offer a set of shoulders upon which the next generation of women—of many different colors and cultures—can stand. We ended our morning with a call to action: to fill our Southern tables with Southern food and use it to bring different people together. Go to the uncomfortable places, talk about your truths, and agree to disagree if you must—but break bread together, with respect.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

Touring is not for the faint of heart. Without a child, it is an animal exercise in mileage, calories, and sleep, which leaves me plagued with thoughts about what my karma must be that I have landed in a sickly-colored motel in this or that middle of nowhere. Touring with a child is more pleasurable, a true exploration, but frankly, tiring.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

One of the paradoxes of George Ellis’s career, in hindsight, is that alongside his run of cheap exploitation films, he maintained a parallel career as Atlanta’s first great arthouse film exhibitor. It adds a layer of complexity to his work, to know that his own taste was impeccable—he understood the full range of cinematic possibilities and would have seen exactly where his films fit into that spectrum. Around the time Demented Death Farm Massacre was hitting theaters, Ellis was introducing Atlanta to the French New Wave and the New German Cinema, hosting retrospectives of Chaplin and Bergman.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

In the West Virginia of long ago, when it was a place with work that lured people, rather than spitting them out into the world, the Calabrians came to mine the coal, the Sicilians to lay the rails, the Abruzzese to chisel lovely stonework on the railroad tunnels and passes—you can still find that abandoned work in places, overgrown in ivy and filth, the names of its artisans lost to history.