Bounding from one circle of attendees to another, dispensing heartfelt hugs and introducing himself and his Danish boyfriend to newcomers with the comportment of a Southern gentleman, was my friend Brandon Godman, a bearded, bearish hipster type whose jolly, grandfatherly laugh belied his twenty-nine years. He was the closest thing to a master of ceremonies, a thoroughly modern export of rural Kentucky who’d become a galvanizing presence in the Bay Area bluegrass scene.
Taken over the course of two consecutive summers, the photographs in Rosie Brock’s And Ever Shall Be explore the collision of economic depression and the familiar fantasy of the Southern county fair. A man in a Domino sugar t-shirt sits atop a white horse, a boy in a cowboy hat leans so close to the camera the rest of the world fades out of focus, and a woman, unsmiling, watches a carnival spectacle the viewer can’t see. Meanwhile the sun sets over empty train tracks and a carousel trailer, and the overall effect is at once hopeful and melancholic.
A few seconds in, there came this sound. It filled the song and then it filled the room I was listening in. What was that? Like a fiercely shaken box of tacks. Like wind rattling dry leaves on a tree. But not either of those. Comparisons couldn’t capture it.
A Kentucky Music Issue web-exclusive: a conversation with director Vic Rawlings.
“Lee Sexton is a living master with four tracks on Mountain Music of Kentucky, a beautiful Smithsonian Folkways record from 1960. It remains a favorite record of mine—has been since I first heard it in the mid-nineties. I went to a few places mentioned in the liner notes when I made my first trip to Eastern Kentucky in 2004. My first stop was Roscoe Holcomb’s grave; it turns out he and Lee are cousins. After that, hoping to find Lee, I asked where Linefork was, and I was directed to drive along a two-lane road. I expected to find a small town or a store somewhere along there and planned to ask again about Lee. There was no town center, not even a gas station, and I spent most of the day searching.”
Notes on the songs from our 19th Southern Music Issue CD featuring Kentucky.
This faculty, to be attuned to one’s surroundings and the ways in which they’re unique, to be rooted in the local, to be of a certain place—no matter if one permanently leaves it, like Richard Hell, or stays forever, like Rachel Grimes—is an elemental theme running through the Oxford American’s 19th Southern Music Issue, devoted to Kentucky. It’s manifest in every one of the songs and stories gathered here: the Commonwealth produces a particularly grounded cast of artists, writers, and musicians.
An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.
Less than two months before C.D. Wright passed away, the Center for Documentary Studies had the honor of welcoming her as a featured panelist at their twenty-fifth anniversary celebration and national documentary forum, where she gave a powerful reading from One With Others.
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.
Right after my ninth birthday, Daddy had a tantrum that made him punch a hole in the wall, his right hand break, and his secretary walk out. That made him punch the wall with his left hand and break that one too, and that was how I ended up Daddy's secretary summer before fourth grade. We worked from home, in an office that Little Steve the Child Molester built in exchange for services rendered. The office window looked out into dry yellow field, and on the far side of the field was our cow pond and Daddy's burn pile.
This recipe engenders a radical new discourse among yams of various traditions, although the exact nature of alternate new discourses is not predicated by the precise mode of the current proposed project, as indicated by the author's openness to interpretive dialogues that involve large marshmallows, pecans, sugar, cinnamon, and bourbon (optional).
A Points South essay from the Kentucky Music Issue.
Over Labor Day weekend last year I called a distant cousin, Mitch Cundiff, to ask if he could take me to Paradise. The old town is just a few miles from his home in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, where my grandmother grew up. He told me he was happy to, but there was nothing there to see. “It’s like the John Prine song says,” he explained. “They hauled it away.”
In Lexington, where I’m from, a federal medical prison stands on the town’s west side. Far off the main road, it does not ask our attention as we drive home from the Kroger’s or Goodwill—another sight among many in our urban pastoral. Not so long ago, this building held the nation’s attention as the world’s leading drug rehabilitation center, constructed to save civilization from the addict, and the addict from himself. Though, if the United States Narcotic Farm is today known for anything other than its eventual failure, it’s for the legendary figures who came there.