Kevin Curtis lowers his sunglasses and scans the crowd. He’s just finished performing “Folsom Prison Blues” at the Lamar Lounge in Oxford, Mississippi. The audience applauds, but the mood is strange—genuine enthusiasm, curiosity, an undercurrent of discomfort. During one of the choruses, he swayed with a very supportive, very drunk woman from the front row. For the solo, he strummed a tiny guitar pin stuck on his dress coat lapel. I lift my beer toward him from the second row. He notices, raises an eyebrow, nods. “This is the first show since my”—he pauses, presses the sunglasses back up to his eyes—“incarceration.”
A memorial from the Summer 2012 issue.
At the house party of Southern fiction, full of death-dealers, drinkers, and unshaven folks behaving badly, Lewis Nordan stands alone in the yard, like a boy in a bright-blue suit his mother picked out for him.
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.
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.
Grandmama’s stank was root and residue of black Southern poverty, and devalued black Southern labor, black Southern excellence, black Southern imagination, and black Southern woman magic. This was the stank from whence black Southern life, love, and labor came. I didn’t fully understand or feel inspired by Grandmama’s stank or freshness until I heard the albums ATLiens and Aquemini from those Georgia-based artists called OutKast.