How a Mississippi Man’s Struggles with Weight Tell the Truth about America

“America understands itself as God’s handiwork, but the black body is the clearest evidence that America is the work of men.”  —Ta-Nehasi Coates, Between the World and Me I confess that I picked up Heavy, Kiese Laymon’s staggering memoir about growing up bright and black in Mississippi, with more than a little curiosity about the obesity […]

Another Southern Writer Finds Love in the Ruins: A Review of Kevin Powers’ Latest

The opening paragraph of Kevin Power’s new novel, A Shout in the Ruins, is perhaps the finest beginning to a book I’ve read since Flannery O’Conner blew open the universe in the first paragraph of The Violent Bear It Away. Like that gem, Powers’ opener is all mood and tantalizing hooks that spark a thousand […]

A Book You Shouldn’t Read: The Unfortunate Autobiography of Carson McCullers

  The title promises more than it delivers.  Illumination and Night Glare, the unfinished autobiography of Carson McCullers, purports to be a chronicle of the artistic process, giving us insight into the inspirations (illumination) and trials (night glare) of McCullers’ life.  There is some of that in this slight book, but it retains its interest […]

Why a Story of Fugitive Slaves May Not Just Be History

In light of the current Great Divide, there is no innocent reading of history. We mine every thesis about the Constitutional Convention or the Civil War for evidence of another agenda. History becomes covert commentary on Trump and the Resistance. So when Andrew Delbanco’s wonderful new book on fugitive slaves in antebellum America landed in […]

The Parable of Stuckey’s: A Story of Church?

Despite the fact that one of my most traumatic childhood episodes happened in a New Mexico Stuckey’s, I have always been in the thrall of the teal blue roofs that promise Mexican blankets, cheap sandwiches, and lots of pecan-themed candies.  The trauma came as a result of Stuckey’s time-honored practice of placing fragile novelty knick-knacks […]

Bitter is Better: The New Bitter Southerner Podcast

A few months back I had the privilege of interviewing Chuck Reece, one of the masterminds behind the great Bitter Southerner site. Now Chuck is hosting a new podcast which you can subscribe to at your favorite podcast watering hole. It’s all the things you’d expect from such a thing: wry, rye, and an ongoing celebration of […]

Why You Need to Know This Bitter Southerner: Heartlands Interviews Chuck Reece, Part 3 of 3

The Heartlands Interview with Chuck Reese begins here. Chuck’s train of thought is interrupted by the sound of a dish being set carefully on a white wicker table gracing a wide screened porch. (I’m imagining.)  CR: Oh my goodness, what is that, sweetheart? Stacy [Chuck’s wife]: Blueberry muffin.  CR: My wife just brought me a […]

Why You Need to Know This Bitter Southerner: Heartlands Interviews Chuck Reece, Part 2 of 3

The Heartlands Interview with Chuck Reece begins here. Chuck Reece can’t help but share some of his favorite stories of finding new writers for The Bitter Southerner.  There was the piece Cy Brown, a University of Georgia student, pitched him about A Carolina Dog. “I don’t know about you growing up in Virginia, but in […]

Why You Need to Know This Bitter Southerner: Heartlands Interviews Chuck Reece, Part 1 of 3

I was standing in a cemetery near Onancock, sweating in the mid-July heat, when Chuck Reece asked me how I got from radio journalism into ministry.  I was supposed to be interviewing him, but Chuck Reece, even over the phone, is a master at sniffing out stories and he trained his curiosity on me before […]

Musicals, Monuments, and Historical Optimism: The Ed Ayers Interview concludes

Is there reason, as a historian, to be an optimist?  Edward Ayers, among other things the co-host of the BackStory podcast and radio program, narrates a troubled chapter of American history in his latest book, The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America.  In the first two segments […]