This year we’ve compiled our “greatest hits,” including selections of the most beloved music writing from our archive—guest edited by Brittany Howard, the Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and frontwoman of the Alabama Shakes. This jam-packed issue also includes new essays on iconic Southern artists who have changed the trajectory of American music.
Rather than including a CD this year, we’ve asked guest contributors to curate a selection of playlists that limn the bounty of Southern music across genres. These are available to stream on Spotify.
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Wendy Brenner’s classic 2005 profile of snake enthusiast Dean Ripa, who died Saturday.
By now I’ve grown accustomed (and rather devoted) to Dean’s rhetorical style—outrageous overstatement, subsequent qualification—but I think I recognize something else, something authentic here: a certain strain of introverted misanthropy that often leads people to commit their lives to animals, something I think I know about from my family. Introverts and loners love animals. It runs the spectrum, I think, from my father’s boyhood shyness to full-fledged autism—Temple Grandin and all those like her who understand animals better than people. Whether it’s a quirk of personality or a genuine disorder, it’s a trait I find familiar and strangely comforting.
A short story from the Summer 2018 issue.
Instead of coming to my birthday party, Shelby decided to become a Mormon. Every year since I turned nine it was me, my Nan, and Shelby eating meringue and lighting off snakes and spinners. Then her new church threw her a potluck, and she picked deviled eggs and dip over me. I got so mad I wanted to tell her what I really thought. That she was only getting saved—converted, dunked, brought into the light, whatever—because her dad said he’d pay for BYU. She knew her tips would never cover West Virginia, so she was going along with the God stuff.
Sketches of Tennessee.
From the time I was about ten years old, my mother and I put in our time by visiting with Irma for an hour or two every day. We’d bring her the Enquirer and Star and try to cheer her up by pointing out the most salacious stories and the home remedies for arthritis. Sometimes she’d enlist me to rub her back, and I’d perch monkeylike on the back of the couch, kneading her knots as she growled, “I could hug yer neck fer that.”
A feature short story from the Spring 2019 issue.
Their romance has started in earnest this summer, but the prologue took up the whole previous year. All fall and spring they had lived with exclusive reference to each other, and were viewed as an unspoken duo by everyone else. Little remarked, universally felt, this taut, even dangerous energy running between them. When that began, it was harder to say.
A featured short story from the Fall 2019 issue.
She took a trowel and dug. After a few minutes, Antonia disappeared into the shed and came back with a shovel. She thrust it into the ground and stomped. Deeper and deeper she dug. When she deemed it complete, she lay down, burying herself neatly with dirt.
A feature essay from the Fall 2018 issue.
Prine radiates a sense of well-being, along with a sort of amused nonchalance toward potential disaster. This is a good thing, because the Coupe, as it turns out, has no passenger-side safety belt. Or rather it has the shoulder belt, but the thing on the seat into which it is supposed to latch is missing. I noticed this awhile back, and it worried me for a few minutes. But then I thought, If you’re going to buy the farm it might as well be in a ’77 Coupe de Ville with John Prine.
A feature essay from the 100th issue.
From across the broad and whitecapped Indian River, the Kennedy Space Center looks like two tiny Lego sets in the distant vegetation. The palms here are windswept, the oaks are scrubby. Pelicans bob in the shallows. Eventually, one of the structures comes clear as a small and skeletal rocket launch tower, the only one visible, though we know more are hidden not too far away. The other is a square block, the Vehicle Assembly Building, where giant NASA rockets are constructed in their upright positions.
A featured short story from the Fall 2018 issue.
Our distant ancestor Harriett Moss made a living painting portraits of dead children. But before her career began in earnest, she sketched only cows. It was her husband, Thomas Moss, who painted from corpses, memorializing deceased sons and daughters for their families. People often said Thomas had the constitution for the work because he and Harriett had not been able to have children of their own. While Thomas traveled the countryside—following up with commissions, measuring cadavers that he would reanimate in two dimensions—Harriett was left alone at their farmhouse.
A feature essay from the Spring 2019 issue.
Kris’s threat to leave was a loaded one. No West Virginian makes that decision lightly, and to be the cause of someone’s leaving is a terrible thing. I personally knew the weight of missing home. During all my years away, even as I enjoyed the freedom of living in a community where I felt completely comfortable talking about my sexuality, I kept my eye on returning to West Virginia. I had never found a place that felt as good to me, both in terms of the natural beauty and also the sense of a close-knit community—that feeling of being a part of something unique and true. Ever since I left I’d had a hope that someday I could return and my queer self and my Appalachian self wouldn’t have to be so split.
A feature short story from the Fall 2019 issue.
The godmother is like an ancestor who never really left. Someone who’s here even when they’re not. The godmother is what happens when somebody asks your name and you suddenly can’t remember. When it’s gorgeous outside and you work up the nerve to be part of something but not enough nerve to brush your hair, that’s the godmother. Maybe you stay up too late and are tempted to give yourself completely to unrequited obsessions. That’s the godmother’s doing, too.