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.
Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Book World editor, Ron Charles, applauded the Oxford American’s Spring 2017 issue (which hits newsstands today) and joined us in celebrating the magazine’s twenty-fifth anniversary. “Here’s to the next 25 years of great writing and striking photography from a tough magazine that refuses to fade away,” Charles writes, labeling the OA a “regional magazine that defies the regional label,” which we take as the highest compliment.
Atget, Modotti, Weston, Stieglitz, Avedon, Karsh, Brassaï, Bresson, Ulmann. Jim would hand the books to me with no explanation, no bias of who was who and why and what the world already thought of the work. He told me only to put paper clips on the pages holding photographs that “found something in me.”
The exhibition is a sort of Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness narrative, moving seamlessly from subject to subject. Tattered orange and red dishtowels on a clothesline, each piece of cloth shot through with holes; a line of railway freight cars shrouded in the evening light of the Mississippi Delta; thin shadows cast on brown cinderblocks below a periwinkle-blue sky. The bohemian and gothic Souths collide in Eggleston’s photographs—his bright colors and distinct perspectives imbue rusting signs and aging buildings with a spiritual, emotional darkness that speaks to a decaying world of an older South fading into suburbia and industrial development.
On view right now at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University is a crucial exhibition for these times. Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art is a necessarily broad group of artwork that takes the South as its subject and approaches it from a wide array of viewpoints.
The Memphis Country Blues Festival had a shoestring start in 1966, organized by the Memphis Country Blues Society, an ad hoc group consisting of counterculture figures, musicians, and fans, including Robert Palmer, who would go on to write the seminal book Deep Blues. His daughter, Augusta Palmer, a Brooklyn filmmaker, is seeking to tell the story of the festival in a documentary called The Blues Society.
From the liner notes to Light in the Attic’s reissue of the 1971 deep soul classic Time and Place.
Lee Moses possessed all the ingredients for a successful career, but after releasing just one album, Moses would vanish into obscurity in his hometown of Atlanta, where he died in 1997, remaining one of the most underrated but enigmatic figures of rhythm and blues.
“My father was a coal miner for thirty-five years and died of black lung,” Howard told me, while resting from the heat and overhead brushstrokes of the outdoor mural he’s working on for a local food pantry. “When I [told my father] I wanted to study art—well, that wasn’t well received.”
Lately, the editors have enjoyed the latest issue of VQR, a knockout; listened to the music of Daniel Martin Moore, a Commonwealth of Kentucky Nick Drake; and spoken with Karan Mahajan and Garth Greenwell, the authors of two remarkable and remarkably distinct novels.
It’s sunny in California. A thousand poets spin around each other, singing their verses into each others’ ears while spectators, smiling, sip their cocktails. Back in the South, a painter touches up a historic, complex mural—long weathered by thundering spring storms. At the newsstand nearby, the owner opens up the latest issue of his favorite weekly, the Arkansas Times.
Fog settles over the Ozarks. A car, winding through the hills, stops short—a mountain lion is slinking across the road, in patient, determined pursuit. Southward, in Little Rock, a group of Southern film devotees gathers in a basement to view an early screening of Jeff Nichols’s Midnight Special. Nearby, a gospel quartet warms up, summoning the Holy Spirit, ready to take their next audience to church.
On April 7, 2016, the Oxford American will participate in ArkansasGives, a twelve-hour online giving event hosted by the Arkansas Community Foundation. We hope that our readers—all you believers—will save the date and support the Oxford American.
One evening in Nashville, a man walks down the railroad tracks, singing, and his voice rolls through the heavy air. In Meridian, Mississippi, a child runs barefoot in dry grass, chasing lightning bugs—yellow lights that disappear just as his hands reach toward them.
It’s humid in Alabama. On a makeshift sandlot pitcher’s mound, a lanky kid begins his wind-up to the tune of a song he alone can hear. It’s a lilting number, chaotic and beautiful, clarinets and fiddles weaving intricately. He lifts his arms above his head. He could be the greatest ever, the poet laureate of baseball, he thinks—then he smiles, takes a deep breath, and delivers another swinging strike.
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.
It’s snowing in the South. A woman rises early, looks out her window at the sheets of ice, and then, smiling, falls back into bed. In an apartment down the hall, Stephen Curry highlights play on TV, and someone sings, They could have had him any day, they only let him slip away.
Dusk falls in the city. In a small and dimly lit corner bar, a jazz collective tunes up their horns, preparing to combust rhythms into the night. A man, trying to find the club on Google Maps, stops for a passing group of black-dressed mourners. From his car window he sees a young woman leaving a used bookstore with a copy of C. D. Wright’s Cooling Time.
A collector ambles down to his basement, tripping on boxes packed with rabid miscellany. He hears Julien Baker’s “Blacktop” wilting from the turntable in the living room. Somewhere on the highway, a car idles in the snow, its headlamps brightening the darkness beyond the shoulder.
Today, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced awards totaling more than $27.6 million in its first funding round of fiscal year 2016, including an Art Works award of $20,000 to the Oxford American to support the publication and promotion of the magazine in 2016.
This fall, two historic exhibitions—and a squirrel recount—have our attention.
“I find that people who live close to the earthly, fundamental things usually have more character in their faces,” said painter Marie Hull, whose work is on view at the Mississippi Museum of Art until January 10, 2016.
This issue includes “The Battle of and for the Black Face Boy,” a radical libretto by Nikky Finney; a profile of a transgender drug counselor who lives on the border of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, by Jonathan Blitzer; John T. Edge’s exploration of Southern theme restaurants; and more.
The moon shines over the Delta. A poet wanders home in the dark, her shadow extended by a streetlamp that flickers on, then off again. Alone in a bar, a young detective scratches hasty notes. She thinks she can hear the bartender humming Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me.”
In August, Iris DeMent will release her sixth album, The Trackless Woods, a collection of songs based on eighteen poems written by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966). The album was recorded in five days last summer in DeMent’s living room and includes poetry from throughout Akhmatova’s life. In this short video, filmed in her home, DeMent reflects further on the writing and recording of the album.
Remembering B.B. King.
Many wonderful anecdotes from King’s long, prolific life have been told in our pages through the years, from the moment in 1948 when he arrived unannounced at Memphis’s WDIA, integrating the airwaves, to his performance last year in Indianola, Mississippi, where he returned for his final homecoming concert at age eighty-eight.
This month, Omnivore Recordings reissued a forgotten Memphis classic, a kind of conceptual compilation called Beale Street Saturday Night, produced by Jim Dickinson in 1979. To celebrate the rerelease of this masterpiece, the Oxford American is pleased to present Dickinson’s “The Search for Blind Lemon,” from our 2013 Tennessee Music Issue.
Since many of the best musicians working in Nashville over the years are Texans, a good portion of Jim McGuire’s ongoing Nashville Portraits series features the iconic natives of the Lone Star state, including the stunning 1975 image of Guy and Susanna Clark that graces the cover of our Texas music issue.
It’s midnight in Kentucky. A man sits at a desk, pecking at an ancient Apple I computer; the light’s still on in the basement. Somewhere a juke box is playing “A Feather’s Not A Bird,” by Rosanne Cash. A glass of bourbon bounces when it hits the barroom floor.
The staff of the Oxford American is delighted to welcome you to the new OxfordAmerican.org. The website, built by Little Rock's Pixel Perfect Creative, has been reorganized for usability, and the design—created by OA art director Tom Martin—reflects our quarterly print edition. A starting point for exploration might be the following essays, which were among the most-visited stories on our website in 2014.
An OA playlist: There are thousands of versions of the song “John Henry,” and every one, Greil Marcus argues in “Guitar Drag,” is “an affirmation of the power of a single African American to deny and defeat the white power set against him even if it costs him his life, but not his dignity, with the song rolling down the decades from the 1920s.” As a companion to the essay, Marcus offers this playlist, his choice of the versions of “John Henry” that stand out among the others.
Whether you want it or not, there will more than likely be some sort of ceremony to mark your passing, and you hope it will be a celebration of your life, not your death. Either way, let’s say that before you kicked the bucket you’ve specified the manner in which you’d like to be disposed, and that’s been carried out. (I, for instance, plan to be buried in my ’73 VW Beetle in my backyard beside all my beloved cats and dogs.) Have you given directions for your wake—how you would like to be celebrated?
In memory of T-Model Ford.
Though they started slow and sparse, Ford’s songs revved up quickly, clattering along like a procession of old Cadillacs, their motors jimmied together with wire hangers, the rhythms more beautiful for their brokenness.