A photo essay from the Spring 2016 issue.
In late summer of 1995, photographer and musician Richard Leo Johnson and his wife, Jane, lost almost everything they owned when their friend’s storage barn burned down in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Furniture, antiques, books, records, master tapes, and the whole of Johnson’s photography career over two decades—prints, negatives, everything—incinerated overnight. Last fall, a box of negatives was discovered in a Little Rock attic, hundreds of photographs from Richard’s early career—black-and-white pictures of everyday life in rural northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas.
The first Japanese Americans began leaving for internment camps in the spring of 1942, effectively banished from their homes by the United States government. Norman Sagara, six years old at the time, can still recall how it played out for him: the FBI visiting his farmhouse in southern California; his older siblings translating for his parents, simple chicken ranchers; his family packing up their belongings and, then, late that summer, boarding a train. “We didn’t know where we were going,” recalls Sagara, now seventy-eight. “They wouldn’t tell us. And three days later we ended up in McGehee, Arkansas.”
Among my mother’s effects that I found after her death was a datebook for the year 1944: her diary. An erratic diary keeper myself, I noted the neatness of her initial entry—even lines, full loops in cursive letters, thoughtful punctuation—a common enough trait at the start of a writerly journey, all optimism and hope and clarity, before the messiness of life intrudes.
Because the house on Durwood Road did not have air-conditioning and because three seasons in Little Rock seem to be mostly summer, Bob Palmer was practicing with his bedroom window open. He sucked on the reed of his Army Band Selmer saxophone and wondered if he might someday sound like Stan Getz on the albums his dad played. No, he’d never sound like Getz, but he didn’t have to. He just had to sound like what he sounded like, and he was still figuring out what that was. He had time. He was only in junior high. His little sister, Dorothy, said he sometimes sounded “like an elephant with its trunk caught in the door. Scree! Scree!” He didn’t mind the comment. It didn’t necessarily sound good, but what did “good” mean? It was sound. And sound was interesting.
Ma Rene, my great-grandmother on Mama’s side, was a no-nonsense blueswoman. Wide-hipped, bowlegged, and solidly built, she stood barely five feet tall and had a wicked tongue. Her barbecue ribs—and the secret sauce she slow-simmered to go with them—made you want to hurt somebody.
A featured short story from the Summer 2019 issue.
Mother had no shortage of repulsive qualities, but the most disturbing was her laugh. Otherworldly. Piercing. A stranger would fall on the ice or a double-crossing cop would get his comeuppance from a mobster on television and this wretched, menacing cackle would emerge as though she kept a raven on a choke-chain between her gargantuan breasts.
Walking through the sliding glass doors of the Peabody Hotel, across plush carpets under high industrial chandeliers, the first person I saw was a guy in a t-shirt and kilt. Not a plaid kilt, but a leather kilt—more like a skirt that a Roman soldier might wear. The man had a name badge around his neck with ribbons hanging from it and it turned out he was one of the conference organizers. Welcome to SSAWG, the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group—weird farmers of the South.