JSU to Present “An Evening with Rick Bragg” on Sept. 30

JSU to Present “An Evening with Rick Bragg” on Sept. 30


By Heather Greene

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Calhoun County’s own Rick Bragg will be on Jacksonville State University’s campus on Wednesday, Sept. 30 to discuss his latest book and celebrate the re-release of his first book, which put him on the literary map.

Twenty years ago, Bragg’s “All Over but the Shoutin’ ” vividly painted images of Bragg’s dirt-poor childhood in rural Alabama for the world to see. The international best-seller has since become a popular selection for communities, book clubs and classrooms. This classic was followed by “Ava’s Man” and “The Prince of Frogtown,” which Bragg calls “the three most important things I’ll ever do.” He describes the three memoirs as having “legs,” as they seemingly possess the ability to stand up and walk around on their own.  

“You usually don’t write about poor working people and have those [stories] embraced,” stated Bragg. “We are fascinated by the rich. Our whole culture stands next to the rich; we like people who are famous for being famous. To write about a woman who took in a laundry to feed her family or a man who roofed houses and admittedly made liquor on the side, to write about mill village workers, people who worked on those machines…to write about all those people and have an auditorium fill up, not just in the South but in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest…Yeah, twenty years later, I’m still kind of fascinated by it.”

The 20th anniversary edition of the book was released on Sept. 15. That same day, Bragg’s latest work, “My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South,” was also released. This title features a compilation of his various magazine articles that embody poignant and humorous snapshots of Southern culture. Almost immediately, it became a Top Seller under Amazon’s Best Selling Anthologies list. In addition to many of the well-loved favorites, Bragg has included 20,000 - 30,000 words of new essays, which are a bit longer. Readers will hear from Bragg on uniquely Southern topics as cotton and red dirt, as well as receive a few of his most humorous confessions, such as the home improvement project gone so wrong that the author accidentally glued himself to the wall.

Bragg embraces the inseparable relationship that exists between his stories and the people of the South he meets along his tours: “Every other stop in the South knows these stories. A lot of these people know the stories and are the originators of the stories. They are the books.”

Though his speaking engagements take him around the country, his tours always include a stop back home in Jacksonville. On returning home, Bragg stated, “It's funny because it’s the only time I do a book event that I get nervous because it’s home, you know. You look out across the audience and recognize every other face, and you don’t want to disappoint people.”

This homecoming visit is sponsored by JSU’s Faculty Commons. On Bragg’s return home, Gena Christopher, director of Faculty Commons, stated, “It is always exciting to have a visit from our own, Rick Bragg, whose words speak to the heart of us all.  Robert Frost said poetry can make you remember ‘what you didn't know you knew.’  Bragg's essays do this for us.  When we read his words, we say, ‘I knew that!’ That is Rick's greatest gift--putting our shared experiences into words, making meaning from our emotions, and celebrating who we are.”

“As I’ve said before, our world is changing so quickly, and storytelling is changing,” stated Bragg. “Video games and texting really have pummeled that storytelling craft in our world. I’m honored to keep that alive somehow.”

In addition to the 1996 Pulitzer Prize he won for feature writing, Bragg has received more than 50 writing awards in 20 years, including the American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award, the 2009 Harper Lee Award for Alabama's Distinguished Writer of the Year, the 2011 James Beard Journalism Award for Food Culture and Travel and the 2013 Alabama Artist of the Year. Currently, he teaches advanced magazine writing and narrative non-fiction in the journalism department at the University of Alabama. 

In addition to his numerous newspaper and magazine articles, Bragg’s other works include “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story,” “I am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story,” “Wooden Churches: A Celebration,” “Somebody Told Me: The Newspaper Stories of Rick Bragg,” “Redbirds,” and “The Most They Ever Had.”

In 2013, JSU bestowed the honorary doctor of letters upon Bragg for his accomplishments on behalf of the citizens of Alabama.

Bragg’s depiction of life in rural Alabama has been cherished around the world and, as always, JSU is excited to welcome him back home. “An Evening with Rick Bragg” will take place in the Leone Cole Auditorium, beginning at 6 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. Copies of Bragg’s books will be available for purchase, and he will sign books at the end of the talk. For more information, please contact Gena Christopher in JSU’s Faculty Commons at 256-782-5806 or genac@jsu.edu. 

Photo: Rick Bragg (JSU courtesy).