A Conversation with Chris Offutt
“I’m not much of a cook, and my relationship with food is more like fuel for a machine. In other words, I have to eat in order to do stuff—like be alive and write.”
A Conversation with Joan Shelley and Nathan Salsburg
I understand that if you’re a record store, you have to sort things and folk is an easy category for us to fall into. But if you’re a music nerd and a music writer then you would not say folk; folk wouldn’t mean a confessional songwriter, which is what I am. Folk music should be communal, something like, “You guys know this one? Here, sing along.”
A conversation with Arkansas artist buZ blurr.
“Although my father and his father were railroad men, my maternal grandmother's father was a newspaperman who published weekly in three different cities in northeast Arkansas: at Gainesville, Rector, and Paragould. He learned the printer’s trade by apprenticing with Mark Twain on his brother Orion Clemens’ Hannibal, Missouri, newspaper prior to the Civil War. Thus I claim this as an atavistic trait for my affinity for print.”
A Conversation with Dr. Terrence Roberts and Mary Liuzzo Lilleboe
My commitment to non-violence is not shaped by the actions or attitudes of others. It is my firm conviction that membership in the human family demands that I treat my family members with respect, that I do unto them what I would have them do unto me.
In Lament from Epirus, Christopher C. King finds his musical and spiritual Elysium.
I call two places my home: I call my record room my home and I call Epirus my home. Where I was born and bred and raised up, and scarcely have left from, really bears little resemblance to what it was when I was growing up, so it’s hard to call it home anymore.
A conversation with Summer 2017 fiction contributor Gothataone Moeng.
Joy and sorrow are communal and have a time and place. This can be pragmatic in anchoring people going through something difficult but doesn’t necessarily allow for individual processing of emotion.
A conversation with South Carolina-born comedian Rory Scovel.
When I’m onstage and there’s an audience there, I don’t know if it’s because your back is sort of against the wall in that moment to deliver, whatever reason it is, it somehow works, it somehow pops right. Specifically, that Southern guy character that I do. I even joke that I know that guy better than myself.
A conversation with the Georgia-bred, North Carolina-based singer and guitarist Jake Xerxes Fussell.
“It’s hard to say what a song is after a while, it’s been through so many lives and incarnations. Is it a gospel song? Is it a nursery rhyme? I don’t know. Alan Lomax talked about that, about how songs had these lives over many generations. There’s a lot of stuff that’s both and neither at the same time. I think this might be one of those songs.”
To Adia Victoria, Donald Trump is just the latest thing in the history of American oppression.
“The blues to me is personal music. The blues to me is political. And what’s happening politically right now requires artists to get up, pay attention, report about what’s going on.”
Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach on Junior Kimbrough’s influence.
“It’s proven most of the time to be true: some of the music that I love the most, that I want to live with forever, are records I didn’t quite get at first, and that was definitely true for Junior. I didn’t understand it at first. It took a few listens. I had to come back to it a couple of times before I got it. And once I got it nothing was ever the same.”
A conversation with Ben Stroud.
“Lots of people don’t like the idea of white guilt, for a whole variety of reasons. But I think it’s useful, and important. The simple answer is that if you’re white and live in the South—or, more broadly, America—you are connected to these actions. They are part of what made the world we live in today—part of what built the various structures of privilege, etc. We live in a culture that loves to deny guilt. And in some cases, that’s very useful. Shame can be really inhibiting to living a fulfilled life, and it can be a tool of repression/oppression. But certain kinds of shame and guilt can be useful, are necessary, and I think the oft-derided white guilt can be one of these.”
A conversation with Manuel Gonzales.
“Magical and fantastical is what I grew up on—that and horror and the science-fictional and the soap operatic worlds of comic books—and to me it feels like a natural mode of telling a story. You learn about a character by watching him or her run the gauntlet of some horror show or run through some lengthy, fraught journey filled with monsters and magic and pitfalls.”
A Conversation with Brian Blanchfield.
“When I initially set myself the constraint you describe, to write analytically about a particular object or phenomenon or concept, one at a time, without access to outside authority, I didn’t have the sense this would be a book, much less a book that could be called a memoir.”
An interview with Matt Wolfe, whose essay “Ride Along with the Cow Police” appears in the Oxford American’s Spring 2016 issue.
“I spoke with more than one rancher who was genuinely perplexed that cattle rustling wasn’t still a hanging crime. This level of enmity seemed pretty typical.”
A conversation with Barry Moser.
My relationship with my brother has haunted me all my life. When I see or read stories of brotherhood, the experience takes me into a state of reverie—a place of wondering what might have been, what could have been. That always makes sad, and I usually weep.
A conversation with Marcus Kenney.
I love to tell the story of my elderly Cajun grandmother in Louisiana. Once I found her in the garden spray-painting a camellia bush in bright silver enamel. I warned her that she would kill the bush, to which she replied, “Yes, but it will be beautiful!”
Alice Swoboda discusses her brief recording career and her stunning song “Potter’s Field.”
My manager at that time told me that we’re in the wrong location. He said, “You’re writing light years ahead of your time and you would be better recognized if we were in the Bay Area.” But it is what it is, and it was what it was.
A conversation with Cynthia Shearer. I got trained as a fiction writer to shamble in like Moms Mabley asking that the house lights be turned back on because we are not done talking about this or that particular thing. In Fletcher Henderson’s case, we need to pull the camera back a little on that stock scene of the little boy locked in with the piano and get more in the frame.
When I was named poet laureate of the State of Mississippi, it was a big deal to me because it was “the state that made a crime // of me.” To go from that world to ostensibly being the most publicly present advocate for the arts and letters in the state almost defies belief. It meant for me a kind of recognition as a native—which is, of course, what Native Guard is trying to do: to claim my native-ness, my American-ness, my right to full citizenship of this place.
I guess I usually begin with a situation, maybe a “what if” question. In “Blood Brothers” it was “what if these meth heads in East Tennessee got their hands on Grindr?” That was back when the Grindr app had first come out, like spring or summer of 2009. I immediately wondered what the people I went to high school with in rural East Tennessee would make of it.
The truth is, I had no intention of making a life out of writing until I read an article on OutKast by a writer from my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. So when the Oxford American asked me to write about OutKast for their Georgia Music issue, I knew I needed to talk with Charlie Braxton before crafting a word.
This Pagan world is a discreet part of American religious history that hadn’t been told of yet, outside of very small snippets in books that are really for the community itself. There’s power in having a narrator whom you feel like you can relate to. This helps make the reader willing to go along with you as you end up in late-night circles drinking from chalices and all the other good witchy stuff.
I think the best that we can do as songwriters is try to document and try to record something about the time that we’re living in. If you want to connect with people who are alive now—unless you’re singing to ghosts—you better talk about things that are happening in the present.
An interview with Ansel Elkins.
The Alabama landscape is so completely saturated in my soul that it’s hard to gain perspective of just how much it’s in these poems. Because the land is so rooted in my work, trying to answer that question would be like trying to unearth barehanded one of those old shacks that’s been swallowed whole by kudzu. I could never know myself without these red clay hills.
Talking tornadoes with Justin Nobel.
I can imagine a world where tornado and typhoon have become forgotten and laughable words, and we no longer remember what it’s like to feel rain fall randomly from a cloud onto our faces or to be buffeted by a cold wind. That world frightens me.
A conversation with Sir Richard Bishop about his new album.
To me, the story of Tangier Sessions is all about the power of this guitar, and the mystery around my acquiring it. My previous records don’t have a lot of stories—I just went to a studio and made a record. But this one has a real history behind it.
A conversation with Feufollet’s Chris Stafford and Kelli Jones-Savoy.
Since their inception more than a decade ago as a band of teenage musical wunderkinds, Feufollet has been leading a revival in Cajun music. Their new album, Two Universes, debuts vocalist and fiddler Kelli Jones-Savoy, as well as a strikingly different sound: less accordion and more honky-tonk. Stream the album after the jump.
An interview with Jeremy B. Jones.
I see the mountains all the time, yet they’re somehow new to me now—they’re comforting and mysterious, seemingly shifting shapes with the weather and season. I often wonder how this landscape affects us, the people here, who stare up at them every day.
An interview with filmmaker Holly Hardman.
Good People Go To Hell, Saved People Go To Heaven is not an uncritical film, but it’s also not a polemic. The story unfolds as a delicately probed and fairly portrayed panorama of people and belief that is both touching, at times, and terrifying.
A conversation with Forrest Gander.
Love is sacred to Gander, as is longing. Vulnerability, landscape, poetry, pain—these draw his characters, and readers, to the edge of the void. His genre-bending books are driven by a powerful curiosity and hum with rich, associative thinking. At once granular and expansive, Gander writes after what he calls “our inner selves, that holy knot that gives us a hold on what we actually feel,” with the conviction that nothing less than life is at stake.
One of the central themes of Megan Mayhew Bergman’s fiction concerns the varying identities that people—especially women—worry over, the personas they adopt and adapt for their own purposes. In her latest collection, Almost Famous Women, Bergman explores the stories of thirteen women whose lives and achievements have been lost to the main stream of contemporary memory.
OA contributing editor Jamie Quatro, author of I Want to Show You More, spoke with Bergman about her new book, the writing life, and “trying on ways of being female.”
It is around 7:45 A.M. at Fiery Fungi Organic Mushroom Farm. We are twenty minutes from Winchester (Kevin’s hometown) and directly below the mountain from The University of the South in Sewanee, where Kevin instructs in the English Department. We’re sitting down with five cats to discuss his upcoming novel, gender, and the particulars of growing up in a rural area.
The picturesque, pastoral scenes of a bountiful Dixie harshly juxtapose against the grotesque, historical realities of the region: slavery, racism, sexism, and exploitation. And according to UNC professor and author Marcie Cohen Ferris, nowhere is this notion more acute than at the Southern table.
In "Sky Burial," published in the OA's Fall 2014 issue, Alex Mar visits the Forensic Anthropology Center at San Marcos University (FACTS)—the largest of America's five body farms, where people donate their bodies to be studied for the benefit of science.
An interview with David Armand.
What strikes the reader about this book is the heart-wrenching and universal tale of its protagonist, the young man Leslie Somers, and Leslie’s search for his father and ultimately himself. Think of Oedipus Rex and Truman Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms: like Oedipus and Joel Knox, Leslie has never known his biological father and is on a quest to find him.
In his essay "Jack My Heart," from our just-released Summer issue, William Giraldi confesses to a long obsession with Jack White. . . However, he also frames obsession in a more encompassing scope, questioning the demographics of permitted preoccupation ("If you're a prepubescent lass with Bieber eyes, infatuation is fine"), its strange glamorization, and obsession's omnipresence in literature. Building on these themes, I caught up with Giraldi via email this past month and asked him to riff a bit more on the fever of obsession.
Tess Taylor’s debut book of poetry, The Forage House, is a lyric wonder rich with the complications of an Old South genealogy. At once related to rural Appalachians, New England missionaries, and the Jefferson family in Virginia, she digs up the complications of her family history and asks herself, “How do we access what we cannot know about the past?” but also “How do we know how to write about that?”
A conversation with Katrina Whalen, director of “I Don't Talk Service No More,” a film from the Charles Portis short story.
“My dad used to throw around a quote from the old John Wayne True Grit. When I was getting too big for my britches, he would say, ‘Bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.’ I never had any idea what he was talking about.”
We would argue that Bayou Maharajah, which won our 2013 Best Southern Film Award, is one of most culturally important documentaries made in recent years. Through a stunning collection of dreamlike montages of New Orleans streets, rediscovered footage of Booker's performances, and interviews with Booker's admirers (including musical icons Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint), Keber grants us access into the life of a uniquely talented and unjustly neglected American musician.
A conversation with Miller Williams.
I do believe that poetry is more satisfying when it has a pattern similar to those of songs. I wish that I could sing well, as I’m sure you know my daughter Lucinda does, and writes her own songs. Hank Williams (no kinship there) told me that since he often wrote his lyrics months before he set them to music, they spent those months as sort-of poems. I think the kinship is real.