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… | Dec, 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 one permanently leaves it, like Richard Hell, or stays forever, like Rachel Grimes—is an elemental theme running through the Oxford American’s 19th Southern Music Issue, devoted to Kentucky. It’s manifest in every one of the songs and stories gathered here: the Commonwealth produces a particularly grounded cast of artists, writers, and musicians.
An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.
Less than two months before C.D. Wright passed away, the Center for Documentary Studies had the honor of welcoming her as a featured panelist at their twenty-fifth anniversary celebration and national documentary forum, where she gave a powerful reading from One With Others.
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 these highlights from 2017.
Right after my ninth birthday, Daddy had a tantrum that made him punch a hole in the wall, his right hand break, and his secretary walk out. That made him punch the wall with his left hand and break that one too, and that was how I ended up Daddy's secretary summer before fourth grade. We worked from home, in an office that Little Steve the Child Molester built in exchange for services rendered. The office window looked out into dry yellow field, and on the far side of the field was our cow pond and Daddy's burn pile.
This recipe engenders a radical new discourse among yams of various traditions, although the exact nature of alternate new discourses is not predicated by the precise mode of the current proposed project, as indicated by the author's openness to interpretive dialogues that involve large marshmallows, pecans, sugar, cinnamon, and bourbon (optional).
A Points South essay from the Kentucky Music Issue.
Over Labor Day weekend last year I called a distant cousin, Mitch Cundiff, to ask if he could take me to Paradise. The old town is just a few miles from his home in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, where my grandmother grew up. He told me he was happy to, but there was nothing there to see. “It’s like the John Prine song says,” he explained. “They hauled it away.”
In Lexington, where I’m from, a federal medical prison stands on the town’s west side. Far off the main road, it does not ask our attention as we drive home from the Kroger’s or Goodwill—another sight among many in our urban pastoral. Not so long ago, this building held the nation’s attention as the world’s leading drug rehabilitation center, constructed to save civilization from the addict, and the addict from himself. Though, if the United States Narcotic Farm is today known for anything other than its eventual failure, it’s for the legendary figures who came there.
An installment in our weekly story series, The By and By.
From the Janiculum, you can see the dull red cells that look like arcades, the two squat watchtowers, and the closest buildings laid out in cruciform, recalling Regina Coeli’s religious past. You wouldn’t necessarily perceive it as a prison unless you knew—even the razor-wire is rendered mere decoration by distance—though the cells’ countless black eyes do recall Foucault’s Discipline & Punish. I often took my binoculars but couldn’t see much else: certainly not people. Prisons and asylums, convents and poor farms, halfway houses and nursing homes: these institutions have always drawn my eye. I think, If nothing else works out for me, I can always go there.
In Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad Jeanine Michna-Bales recreates the long voyage north toward freedom as it might have looked through the eyes of a single individual “oftentimes carrying little more than the knowledge that moss grows on the north side of trees.” These photographs of unpeopled rural landscapes, taken almost exclusively under the cover of descending or ebbing darkness, have about them a sense of both intimacy and mystery, conveying “how vast, strange, and forbidding these remote places must have felt to those making the journey” with an almost painful steadiness of vision.
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 rock & roll song from 1969, a song I don’t particularly love (it’s not my typical go-to music), played by a band I almost never listen to (no disrespect intended). But these scant seconds thrill my ear, lift my spirit, and send me back to my own guitar with renewed enthusiasm, and they capture the singular virtuosity of Steve Ferguson—a great musician from Louisville you’ve likely never heard, which I consider truly unfortunate, because boy is he ever worth the hearing.
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 Science Olympiad practice, his blond scruff chafing my freshly shaved cheeks—had broken up. We were bullied and threatened in the hallways at school, and gossiped about when we passed notes between classes and had lunch together. I ache for those two boys now, for the normal acne-scarred romance they were never allowed to have.