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 Points South essay from the Kentucky Music Issue.  The station’s first transmission was of the revered union ballad singer Nimrod Workman offering a lyrical good-morning salute to “all of my people”—and WMMT 88.7 FM has been an inclusive and… by Jeffrey A. Keith | Nov, 2017

I used to imagine the Holy Ghost as a fog that slept in the rafters of our church. I thought our music, singing, and shouting woke the Spirit. When It looked down and saw us, It was reminded of how lonely… by Ashley Blooms | Nov, 2017

An interview with Les McCann from the Kentucky Music Issue.  All through high school the band teacher and I were very good friends. He received tickets to all the bands and brought me to concerts. I was in perfect heaven. I never… by Harmony Holiday | Nov, 2017

Three poems from our Kentucky Music Issue.  Until the nameless traveler learns in terror His lidless eyes are open targets— Where sudden night flings in her quiet spear.    by Thomas Merton | Nov, 2017

A few seconds in, there came this sound. It filled the song and then it filled the room I was listening in. What was that? Like a fiercely shaken box of tacks. Like wind rattling dry leaves on a tree.… by John Jeremiah Sullivan | Nov, 2017

We celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary year by doing what we’ve always done: publish the groundbreaking fiction—three excerpts from Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award–winning novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing—essays, nonfiction, and poetry our readers have come to expect. Revisit or catch up on… by Oxford American | Dec, 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

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

Although the journey of this book is more fraught than a cloud forest, it is more magical, too. The games we play become the way the poems tell their stories, the way they love and grieve. These games help reader and poet get to know each other, while also introducing other urgent relationships between country and self, mother and son, the living and the dead.

Michael Shewmaker’s exceptional debut hinges on the need not to resolve form but to further open it, a puzzle, a question, as though the very act of questioning keeps him in balance.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

A review of Olivia Laing's The Trip to Echo Spring. 

Does liquor inspire and ignite the words of great alcoholic writers? Or do alcoholic scribes produce their work in spite of their addiction? 

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.
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.