Monday, April 23, 2012

Rick Bragg's South

Author Rick Bragg & his mother, from the May 2012 issue of Southern Living

I get a little thrill when my latest issue of Southern Living magazine gets slid through the mail slot on my porch. Granted, this wasn't always the case: the Southern Living of my youth never really appealed to me, with its pastel-colored covers of cakes and table settings, its interior seemingly directed at ladies closer to my Grandmama's age. But the Southern Living of the past couple of years (perhaps longer) is a horse of a different color.

After some editorial changes--and the fold of Cottage Living, my formerly favorite "home" magazine--Southern Living has become something that very much appeals to me, a modern Southern woman in my 30s: it's cool, colorful, fun, and fresh, with vignettes of great writing that curl my toes.

My favorite spot in the magazine: "Southern Journal," recently taken over by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Bragg. This is a section that used to be filled by freelancers, a place I dreamed of one day seeing my writing. When Southern Living stopped using freelancers a few years ago, I was frustrated and sad that the chance had been lost to me.

But in stepped Bragg, a storyteller as real and scarred and soulful as the Southern landscape. I've put away my disappointment and petty writer's jealousies as I've quickly fallen in love with each and every piece he writes in the "Southern Journal" section, located on the last page of each issue.

If you haven't picked up the May 2012 issue, you should--Southerner or not, writer or not. It's heartbreaking and elegant, painful and immediately warm--like a grown-up sip of Jack Daniels. And it's about a South that's fast disappearing, though the remnants remain. And though Bragg is much older than I am, I can feel my own memories--some very different from his--surround me as I read his words, thick as early August heat in the air. So much of what he says, too, seems pertinent to me... especially as I cast my ballot in local elections this morning.

Though the piece itself isn't available yet on the magazine web site, it's called "My Brother's Garden," and I had to pass along a taste.

Here's a bit from the middle:

"The South, like chiggers and divinity candy, is everlasting. It will always be, though it will not always be as we remember. The South of our childhoods rusts, peels, and goes away. Brush arbors have left no trace on it. Preachers who thrust ragged Bibles at bare rafters now shout politics from the pulpit. Civility, toward even those with whom we do not agree, is an heirloom. Quilts, the kind made for warmth instead of cash, as a thing of antiquity, their patterns a mystery slowly fading in an old woman's eyes. Young men can play 5,000 video games but cannot sharpen a pocket knife; lost are the men who tested their truck's electrical system by holding to a coil wire. I listen for the past, but I cannot hear it. The juke joints fall silent, cotton mills wind down to a final, solitary thread, and a last buck dancer shuffles off into the mountain mist. Then I see my brother Mark in his garden, and know that not everything must fade away."

Get thee a copy, reader. You'll enjoy it.


Jeaneddie said...

I love Rick Bragg--just discovered him this weekend when a friend got some books from a sale and gave me a copy of "All Over But the Shoutin.'" He is a gifted and eloquent writer and one of my new favorites!

Katherine S. Crawford said...

Oh, I'm so glad, and you're so right!

I, too, love his fiction, but I've just fallen in love with his essays, and I've been hunting down back issues of magazines where he's published.

jonwason said...

A couple days ago the writings of Rick Bragg entered my life via the 10-disc CD version of All Over But the Shoutin' from the local library. My daily commute has been livened up by his recounting of his bohood in Alabama. I want more.

jonwason said...

I just discovered his writing this week. The 10-disc recording of All Over But the Shoutin' is helping me get through my daily commute. I want more.

Katherine S. Crawford said...

Oh, I'm so glad! Ava's Man is also one of my favorites of us. You should definitely check it out.