A photo essay from the Winter 2006 issue.
You saw the two pyramids as you rounded the bend in the highway. They were several stories high, rising above the Georgia pines. One was black and one was golden. If your car windows were rolled down, you could hear an ummmmm coming from unseen speakers.
I kept returning to the subject of the Nuwaubians, unable to let it go. Even a cursory amount of research showed that the group was a strange phenomenon of the modern age—a true American religion, sworn to a proto-hip-hop preacher sworn to nonsense, that attempted a takeover of a small Georgia town in the late 1990s before a joint federal-local raid brought down its leader. Beneath that historical account was a tangle of details bizarre and bottomless.
Since I removed myself from San Francisco, where I spent my university-teaching career, and relocated to the South, I am again reveling in the food that my little silver spoon first dipped into down in South Georgia, where everyone in my family knew, and I soon would, too, that dinner, the midday meal, was the event of the day . . .
In the kitchen of the McCullers house, my boom box picked up an Alabama public radio station; after writing all day, and before reading all night, I would listen to the radio and cook, in the very room from which warm meals once emerged to feed the girl who grew up to write The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.
Gordon Tanner was seventeen when he found himself thrust before a microphone, fiddle in hand, at a makeshift Bluebird recording studio in San Antonio’s Texas Hotel. His father Gid—cofounder of the original Skillet Lickers—stood beside him, along with the blind guitarist and singer Riley Puckett, a prolific recording artist and bona fide hillbilly star.
Since joining the Oxford American in 2014, I’ve taken the occasion of our annual music issue to offer our readers a variety of special poetry features. I feel that our Georgia issue, aligned with the spirit of that state, acts as a little archive of a certain time and place, a bound capsule of song and sensibility.