March 01, 2019

On the architecture of white supremacy

Let us look again, now, at this beautiful house, read it this time as a series of universally legible signs for white supremacy. You arrive on horseback and wait outside a gate—the first of several barriers, both physical and human, that must be passed through to reach the master—and enter onto a private road that takes you through a cathedral-like apse of oaks, arranged to express the planter’s dominion over the natural world. From this road, you do not see the functional buildings—kitchen, smithy, stables—nor the quarters for the people the planter enslaves; those are small, unpainted, off to the side. The planter’s house stands alone at the end of this archway of boughs, a telos and a temple. Great white columns rise two stories from their plinths, supporting a pediment that drags its tip against the sky. It looks for all the world like a Roman temple. And who lives in temples but the gods?

 

September 03, 2019

The pieces of Johnny Greene, an Omnivore essay from the Fall 2019 issue.

Johnny used place as a recurrent theme, along with displacement. As a journalist, he was fascinated by communities, by groups of people and the environments which shaped them. As a person, his roads always led back to Alabama.

September 05, 2017

Traces of Cormac McCarthy’s Knoxville. 

McCarthy’s books came to me as transformative things so often do: several-times borrowed. It was during my junior year of college, my first semester back home in Colorado after a failed track scholarship out of state. Up till then I’d read very little—I was concentrating on my running. But with that protective apparatus newly scrapped, I’d become freshly aware of a hulking nothingness where my intellectual interests should have been, and I set about catching up.

March 13, 2018

Notes on the manuscript containing James Dickey’s essay “The Kingdom of the Other.”

Dickey was terrified of living an unexamined life, and he employed this technique, the imagining of the Other—the beings and places which were remote from his own biographical self—as a necessity to fuel creation, both in his writing and personal life.

June 12, 2018

An installment in Chris Offutt’s Omnivore column, Cooking with Chris. 

Consumption of worms is widespread throughout the world among many disparate cultures, particularly in Canada. (The French confine themselves to eating snails.) This tradition extends to contemporary America, especially with children. My son ate worms. As a child I ate them when I felt left out or had my feelings hurt by other kids. Worms were an early comfort food. Eventually a folksong emerged from the hills based on my predeliction. Untold fortunes have been made from the song and I never saw a penny of royalties!

September 03, 2019

Could Lucy Negro Redux beckon a new era for ballet?—an Omnivore essay from the Fall 2019 issue.

I believe artwork is more interesting—and will invite new audiences—when a wide swath of people are allowed to tell a variety of stories. There’s just one issue here: most ballet audiences don’t come to the theater to think about representation. Ballet is a form of escapist entertainment that celebrates the athletic prowess of the human body, and the fact is, the bodies on stage are usually white.

March 23, 2015

A poem from “Breaking Bread, a special section in the Spring 2015 issue on the dynamics of hospitality, exclusion, and food justice.

Look like last night
the light hardly wanted

to leave—it hung
round in the pines

June 13, 2017

An installment in Chris Offutt’s Omnivore column, Cooking with Chris. 

Magic and cooking are based on the same principles of transformation, cutting and restoring, vanishing and reappearing. A blue handkerchief suddenly becomes red! A woman sawn in half returns intact! A coin disappears from the hand and reappears in a child’s ear! An egg becomes an omelet! 

October 08, 2018

Anne Spencer’s ecosystem of art and activism

As I read, I fell in love with Anne Spencer’s fierceness and wit. In some ways, she reminded me of my own grandmother—a voluble woman, gardener, and scrawler of notes on the back of lists. Finding Spencer’s scraps, I felt the same sort of matriarchal literary presence amid the dailiness of domestic life: glimpses of how an ambitious, literary-minded woman might manage a house.

March 01, 2014

Of all the pitiless opinions set down about family, it’s hard to beat this snarl by August Strindberg, a sentence which appears early in the first volume of his novelized memoir, The Son of a Servant, one of the bitterest condemnations of family ever written: “Family! thou art the home of all social evil, a charitable institution for comfortable women, an anchorage for house-fathers, and a hell for children.”