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

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

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

Bounding from one circle of attendees to another, dispensing heartfelt hugs and introducing himself and his Danish boyfriend to newcomers with the comportment of a Southern gentleman, was my friend Brandon Godman, a bearded, bearish hipster type whose jolly, grandfatherly… by Jewly Hight | 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

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

A poem from the Fall 2017 issue.

As a boy I pleaded 
with the river to teach me 
its long and winding vowels. 
In exchange I taught it 
swear words, how to play games.

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.

Bill Bentley’s introuction to Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen, a crowd-sourced collection of photos and stories. 

Thousands of submissions were uploaded over the next year. From professional-quality shots taken on film stock to digital mobile phone snaps, the entire spectrum of rock photography filled Smithsonian servers. . . . The results, spanning seven decades, aim for neither encyclopedic authority nor comprehensive finality, but rather an index of supreme influence. Artistic importance isn’t the same as popularity, as this guided tour of rock & roll proves at every turn of the page.

Traces of Cormac McCarthy’s Knoxville. 

McCarthy’s books came to me as transformative things so often do: several-times borrowed. It was during my junior year of college, my first semester back home in Colorado after a failed track scholarship out of state. Up till then I’d read very little—I was concentrating on my running. But with that protective apparatus newly scrapped, I’d become freshly aware of a hulking nothingness where my intellectual interests should have been, and I set about catching up.

A poem from the Fall 2017 issue.

Always walked this close between the rows.
Always smoked so many seeds.

You will find yourself dragging 
             a live rabbit 

by one foot, the other kicking.

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.

Celebrating the idiosyncratic genius of Thelonious Monk, born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, on October 10, 1917.

In a remarkable 1963 appearance with Juilliard professor and friend, Hall Overton, at the New School in New York, Monk demonstrated his technique of “bending” or “curving” notes on the piano, the most rigidly tempered of instruments. He drawled notes like a human voice and blended them (playing notes C and C-sharp at the same time, for example) to create his own dialect. Overton told the audience, “That can’t be done on piano, but you just heard it.” He then explained that Monk achieved it by adjusting his finger pressure on the keys, the way baseball pitchers do to make a ball’s path bend, curve, or dip in flight.

One month after Hurricane Harvey, Episcopal Priest Bertie Pearson visited Aransas Pass, Texas, to document the disaster. He found a city in ruins, as if it “had been lifted up and shaken, sending homes, boats, and trees flying in all directions.”

A kind of connective tissue linked my country’s most African city with an African moment that seemed stunningly American. The pallbearers danced, the band played, the mourners walked and swayed alongside while men and women pressed yet more naira bills on the sweat of our bodies—a symbol of respect and goodwill.

It was around this time that my father and his friends started a gang. They were all blanquitos from Condado: Yasser Benítez, Claudio LaRocca, Tommy Del Valle, and Juanma Thon. On the night their gang became official, they downed a bottle of Bacardi, then smashed it into pieces and used a shard to cut their arms. Then they rubbed their wounds together, so the blood passed from arm to arm.

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.

Editor's Note: We are saddened to learn of the death of rock & roll legend Tom Petty on Monday, October 2, 2017. He was sixty-six. Revisit Holly George-Warren’s interview with Petty from our Fourth Annual Southern Music issue in 2000.

Since his 1976 debut, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, there have been ten mega-selling Heartbreakers albums, two triple-platinum solo releases, a six-CD box-set retrospective, and the soundtrack to an Ed Burns film. In the 1980s Petty played in the Traveling Wilburys, a young’un among legends Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and George Harrison, and the Heartbreakers themselves have collaborated with Dylan and Johnny Cash, among other luminaries. Through it all, Petty’s roots have continually poked through his earthy pop-rock, most obviously on 1985’s Southern Accents, with its elegiac title track and anthemic “Rebels.”