A feature from Issue 61, “Best of the South” 2008. Thick strokes of early-evening crimson smeared across the rolling mountains of Rabun County as I drove up Highway 23 from Atlanta toward Clayton. The whole world looked like it was… by Bronwen Dickey | Jan, 2017

These photographs are fragments from William Price Glaser’s unwritten novel; moments he’s imagined (then found) during his time in the South. by William Price Glaser | Feb, 2017

When CeDell Davis was a boy, his mother told him he would go to hell if he kept on playing the guitar and messing around with the devil’s music. Davis was born in the Delta town of Helena in 1926,… by David Ramsey | Feb, 2017

We were in the garden of refugees, Eh Kaw explained: what was his, as well as Semoeneh’s, was also mine. Their Baptist faith compelled them to share whatever bounty God bestowed. Eh Kaw felt blessed that he and dozens of… by André Gallant | Jan, 2017

TO SUPPORT THE WRITING OF A DEBUT BOOK OF CREATIVE NONFICTION Final Judges Brian Blanchfield, Bronwen Dickey, and Ada Limón Fellow will receive a $10,000 living stipend, housing, and an editorial apprenticeship with the Oxford American toward a nine-month residency in the… by | Jan, 2017

Daddy’s truck was one of those places—like a grandmother’s house, a real and actual soul food restaurant, or a barbershop owned by an older black man who guards the radio by silent threat of the revolver in his drawer next… by Zandria F. Robinson | Dec, 2016

I’ve spent a lot of time recently listening to Bob Dylan’s second album. Not Freewheelin’, the LP with him and Suze Rotolo on the cover and “Blowin’ in the Wind” in the grooves. That’s the one we know, because a… by Elijah Wald | Dec, 2016

A story from our 18th Southern Music Issue: Visions of the Blues. All day long the song has kept him thinking, a few clumsy lines scribbled on hotel stationery like black rivers rushing across the page. What imposters his words… by Jeffery Renard Allen | Jan, 2017

One of my tasks as curator of the Alan Lomax Archive is to manage its YouTube channel. Several years ago, I noticed a particular strain of commentary recurring on the five clips that compose the recorded output of an utterly… by Nathan Salsburg | Jan, 2017

Certain sections of our border wall have become bi-national art spaces. Politicians plaster campaign posters; immigrants inscribe their names, home villages, and dates of crossing. Muralists and graffiti artists layer image upon image. by Stephanie Elizondo Griest | Apr, 2015

I couldn’t quite figure out why Japanese listeners had come to appreciate and savor the blues in the way that they seemed to—lavishly, devotedly. Blues is still an outlier genre in Japan, but it’s revered, topical, present. by Amanda Petrusich | Jan, 2017

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.