In my youth, I’d often join my grandmother for dinner at the iconic white-tablecloth steak house she owned in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans. She dominated the dining room from table 83, a four-top with the best sight lines… by Rien Fertel | Feb, 2017

Editor’s Letter, Spring 2017 Our charge is to share important, moving stories with you, our readers, from a region that is still oft-overlooked and maligned. That a scrappy nonprofit magazine is thriving after twenty-five years is cause for celebration. by Eliza Borné | Feb, 2017

In the early 1990s, New Life Fitness & Massage kept its lights on twenty hours a day, closing at five every morning and reopening at nine. Everyone in Oak Grove knew it was a brothel. Fort Campbell, one of the nation’s… by Nick Tabor | Mar, 2017

In “A Town Under Trial,” from our Spring 2017 issue, reporter Nick Tabor relates how an unsolved 1994 double murder continues to haunt a small town in southwest Kentucky. To capture Oak Grove and its trailer parks and “commercial strips… by Tamara Reynolds | Mar, 2017

Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Book World editor, Ron Charles, applauded the Oxford American’s Spring 2017 issue (which hits newsstands today) and joined us in celebrating the magazine’s twenty-fifth anniversary. “Here’s to the next 25 years of great writing and striking photography from a tough… by Oxford American | Mar, 2017

Photographs from the Summer 2014 issue.  Drawing from the famous nineteenth century portraits made by Doris Ulmann, Lisa Elmaleh’s project American Folk documents the contemporary development of traditional arts throughout the Appalachian Mountains. by Lisa Elmaleh | Feb, 2017

The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded by Molly McCullly Brown is out today from Persea Books. 

The police killed another black man today. I am furious with emotion; I am burning up inside as if with fever. The doctor tells me to try Prozak, Zoloft, Celexa or any number of other serotonin reuptake inhibitors, but no prescription can put out this fire. The doctor, she tries to promise I will feel better. But I don’t want to feel better. I don’t want to sedate my grief, the loss of the American dream. At sixty-three years old, living in the South, black, queer, and female, with two adult children, two grandchildren, and countless others I care about at risk, I know the dream itself is on fire.

Contemporary fiction writers can play hard for the joke, as if writing to a laugh-track, but Joy Williams’s humor is darker, subtler, more in line with the humor of Faulkner or Isaac Babel: bracing, unsettling.

In West Virginia, a state where most everything comes at a cost, there are no simple solutions, and in his new story collection, Allegheny Front, Matthew Neill Null does not shy away from the contradictions and complexities that make this region both so troubled and so extraordinary.

Once opened, the book immediately communicates to its reader what she needs to know: Olio is unlike any other book of poetry you have held.

Sweet Jones: Pimp C’s Trill Life Story, the frustrating and fascinating new biography by Julia Beverly, is a bizarre document, and a necessary one: by the time of his death in 2007 at age thirty-three, Pimp C had become recognized as one of the most exciting and influential producers in rap, his drawling, raspy snarl one of the genre’s most iconic guttural expressions.

South Toward Home

By  |  September 08, 2015

Even if you’ve already made a pilgrimage to the home of a famed Southern writer, South Toward Home: Travels In Southern Literature by Margaret Eby offers something that you can’t get on tours: biographies of authors mixed with textual support from their books, immersed within Eby's own engaging journey as a student of literature.

A recording of a 1989 Barry Hannah lecture belongs among the most revealing documents we have about the author. “Listening to the record is like being in a room with Barry Hannah,” David Swider said. “I think people will be blown away when they hear Barry’s voice. It’s unlike any other.”

Divided into four sections and set in Kentucky, Fanny Says  by Nickole Brown weaves a double narrative that folds together both a granddaughter’s recollections and a grandmother’s persona. The imagery is blunt, the dialect true, and what unfolds is a metaphoric hope chest, a series of living flashbacks through which Brown creates a poetic treatise on memory’s workings.

On Chris Smither’s debut album, you can hear the twenty-five-year-old play those guitar figures with an old man’s casual grace, backed by the great jazz bassist Richard Davis. Smither’s guitar motifs are more sharply defined on the new album, and his old-man baritone matches up with the ancient guitar feel.

After reading Union, I felt more than sympathy for and with the poet—I felt myself enter the narrative, become the narrator.

The recurring dreams, her real-life husband reasons, are nothing to be concerned about. It's not as if she's having an affair, he thinks. Slowly though, his nights become excruciating as he watches her fall asleep.

American Bedrock

By  |  December 17, 2014

John Ehle's The Land Breakers, back in print: "In her introduction to the new edition, Linda Spalding calls The Land Breakers “a Chaucerian pageant.” So it is, but far, far sadder, with two particularly wrenching scenes that rise out of their dispassionate prose to draw tears from the unsuspecting reader."

In her first book, Alexis Coe ventured into a city of monumental history and unearthed a long forgotten tale. Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis, which came out in October, is the vital combination of a sensational story and a remarkable treasure of historical research featuring lesbian lust, laudanum, and laceration.

Against Football

By  |  November 04, 2014

A review of Against Football, by Steve Almond, out from Melville House in 2014.

Thrown

By  |  October 13, 2014

The Philosophy of the Magical Octagon: "The details of each fight—especially the author’s own dispute with her academic advisors over her 'ongoing study of the phenomenological basis of ecstasy'—can get tedious, but Howley’s writing always stays sharp. She’s wry, observant, smart, and strangely revealing. Her devotion to MMA is practically religious, and she exuberantly shares her new faith with the reader. 'My theory about octagons is this,' Howley writes. 'There is really only one octagon.'"

We talk often about fearless writers. We use words like "brave" and "unflinching on book jackets and in glowing blurbs when the protagonists within enact dangerous behavior without moral-of-the-story appeals and sensationalized flourishes.

Listening In

By  |  September 09, 2014

A review of Greil Marcus's book, The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs. 

Lost Things

By  |  September 03, 2014

Everyone knows something about the power of things, how they remind us of our actions over time, how they have the power to delight or disappoint us. I’m referring here to what Katy Simpson Smith calls “oddments”—the items we don’t mean to collect, that we can’t quite bring ourselves to throw away, that we put on a desk in a spare room and forget.

Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume One (1917–1927) is a collaboration between the Revenant label and Third Man Records, and has been released roughly 80 years after Paramount, for all intents and purposes, collapsed. It’s been looming near me for some months now, demanding much of my attention, and getting it, with its opulent enormity.

Does liquor inspire and ignite the words of great alcoholic writers? Or do alcoholic scribes produce their work in spite of their addiction? Early in Olivia Laing’s The Trip to Echo Spring, we learn that “four of the six Americans who have won the Nobel Prize for Literature were alcoholics [and] about half of our alcoholic writers eventually killed themselves."

The Outlaws were evidence that the counterculture had finally breached the South and had begun influencing even its most native forms, a rare period of overlap, it seemed, between popular and redneck tastes (between the rest of the country and “country”).
Cajun records of this vintage are among the rarest and most sought after among collectors. Let Me Play This For You: Rare Cajun Music, 1929–1930, assembled by Ron Brown and Christopher King (two of the world’s foremost collectors of Cajun 78s) for the Tompkins Square label, is essential for anyone who appreciates French-speaking Louisiana’s old-time songs and tunes.

Every so often there is a book of poetry that reminds us how well verse can speak history. The Forage House by Tess Taylor is one of those time capsules. Taylor, who is also the author of The Misremembered World, is a white descendant of Thomas Jefferson. When genetic testing confirmed that our third president fathered two families separated by color, she sensed that she would eventually sculpt a book from the scandal.

One of the few contemporary shows that has made a real home in the South is FX’s Justified. Its characters are deeply rooted in Harlan County, Kentucky, and bound by complex webs of family, historical, and regional loyalties.

W-W-Joe-D?

By  |  October 16, 2012
Joe Bageant’s book Deer Hunting with Jesus, a rural Virginia native’s emic look—and deft analysis—of the political mindset, faithfully Republican as it is, of working-class America, came out in 2007. Back in those days this country was in the late-afternoon—not quite twilight, mind you—of George W. Bush’s eight years in office, and had still another year of unbridled prosperity ahead before the economic tidal shift we now call the Great Recession. Shoot, cousin, things are a whole lot different now.
Whether it was with The Band or, in the last decade of his life, the Levon Helm Band, Helm was always happy out of the spotlight, off to the side and out of the way, grinning, laughing, dancing, and drumming away behind his kit. American Son shows off a different Levon: Levon as front man, star, singer.