In 2008, a massive retention pond at a Tennessee Valley Authority coal-fired power plant burst open, spilling more than a billion gallons of coal ash into the Emory and Clinch rivers, burying about 400 acres of land under six feet of ash. The spill was one hundred times greater in volume than the Exxon Valdez spill and by far the largest coal ash disaster in U.S. history. When TVA decided to send the ash by train to a small, poor, rural, mostly black community outside Uniontown, Alabama, the EPA approved the decision. That same day, the first train of eighty cars clicked down the tracks to Alabama.
A profile from the Oxford American’s 25th issue, 1999.
Christenberry is not simply a visual artist who reveres writers, especially Southern ones, his artistic vocabulary is directly shaped by them. His largest theme, like that of many novelists, is time, and he has a poet’s sureness of imagery and tone. He is perhaps the South’s most literary artist.
An introduction to the Greatest Hits Music Issue
How does the South inform my music? How do I describe the sound that your bare feet make when they pat the cool, packed red dust under them? How do I describe the color of the sky when you know there’s going to be a tornado? How do I tell you about my grandmother’s smile when she’s singing old church songs? How can I even tell you the way it feels to hear the cicadas sing in the humid evenings on my great-grandmother’s porch, or the first breeze of fall after an oppressive, jungle-like summer where you worked all week and never got ahead?
Grasping a starched napkin in his left hand and twirling a pair of mod eyeglasses in his right, Goren Avery shepherds the flocks who seek purchase nightly at Highlands Bar & Grill, this reliquary of a restaurant, the most vaunted in the South. This place, and, by extension, this city, is his domain.
An essay from the Seventh Southern Music Issue, 2005.
I walked back from the mall through a hammering twilight cloudburst clutching a wet paper bag. As laughing rednecks veered through puddles and blasted arcs of oily water over me, I thought grimly, “This better be worth it.” At home, I peeled the sodden paper off the plastic wrapper of Johnny Winter And: Live, peeled off my wet clothes, and collapsed naked on the bed to listen to the album.
In April 2011, a massive supercell tornado cut a 150-mile-long path of devastation across northern Alabama. These are the stories of the people who survived.
People tell me, “Milton, that don’t make sense.” And I tell them, “Exactly! What I seen don’t make sense.”