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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A feature essay from the Fall 2018 issue.
Why was my great-great-grandfather always referred to as “Robert Singleton, the Civil War veteran who lost his leg at Murfreesboro, then went on to become Clerk of the County Court” rather than “Robert Singleton, whose life was saved, twice, by the black man his family had enslaved”? Moreover, what did all of this say about the America Papa so revered?
A feature from the Spring 2019 issue.
Hancock’s art, which includes paintings, fabricated toys, a theatrical performance, and a graphic novel, defies categorization and pulses with an almost religious intensity. Much of his work has followed the denizens of his alternate reality called “The Moundverse,” where beastly, beautiful Mounds are often attacked by skeletal, sadistic Vegans. There’s a goddess figure named Undom Endgle, who represents the power of Black women as “bringers of color and light,” and TorpedoBoy, a heroic figure in razor-covered cleats. Hancock employs a constantly shifting aesthetic that suggests he can create literally anything.
A feature essay from the 100th issue.
For Evangelical believers, the most important decision in one’s life—in some ways, the only choice that really matters—occurs abruptly, in the direct presence of God and other people, and then can’t be undone. Salvation is necessarily instantaneous and immutable, fundamentally unlike the glacial back and forth of politics, the way power changes hands and people change sides, all of it somehow both infuriatingly slow and unfathomably small in contrast to the Kingdom of God.
A feature essay from the Fall 2018 issue.
I first devoured Robert Gipe’s books and plays because I wanted to understand Appalachia. I was searching for deeper insights than the victim-blaming bootstrap narrative espoused in J. D. Vance’s best-selling book, Hillbilly Elegy—and where else but one of Gipe’s plays would you see convicted felons on a stage, acting right beside probation officers, teachers, and recovery coaches, all of them already bonded in their mutual need to talk about the hard problems around them?
We both loved Gary Stewart, and we both loved Grace.
My wife Grace’s father was a big man. He wasn’t much more than six feet tall, but I think folks thought of him as taller because he carried himself large. He tried being a hippie once, he said, but couldn’t abide the non-violence (too many people needed to get their asses kicked). At the first job he ever had, on a ranch, he got a business card with his official title: COWBOY. He kept that card. He wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. He had the best hunting dogs in Levy County. For a while he ran a sawmill. For a while he was a watermelon farmer, then a beekeeper, then he raised buffalo on the family farm. That’s just a small sampling. His name was John. He went by Chuck.
A graphic story from the Fall 2019 issue.
Like many cities, Little Rock is a place of ghosts. The dead hover and haunt, though their stories often go untold. This story is a work of fiction inspired by some of those ghosts, who lived a tale the city tried to forget—of the mob and cops and gamblers, the good and the bad, and the hazy in-between. The violence they knew was real and ugly, with consequences, not a thing to be celebrated or courted. In those days it was impossible to escape. The story begins with a man named Gideon, back home from World War II . . .
A new-society vision in Jackson, Mississippi.
Chokwe Antar Lumumba saw Jackson as a last chance. This was a place where long-marginalized black communities could build a new economy for themselves, a democratic and fair society, a foundation for good lives to grow from. In his mind, this black-majority city that sat in the middle of the state with the highest concentration of black people in our country had to be the staging ground for this particular experiment in moving past economic and governance systems that weren’t working for so many.
A feature short story from the 100th issue.
When the real estate agent first drove us up the gravel driveway, I felt I’d been to this place before. I wasn’t sure at first, for I’d first been there at night. Over fifteen years before. A dinner of academics after a lecture at UNC on Southern food. I was still living in New York then, and found the idea of owning a two-hundred-four-year-old restored farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by cornfields to be the height of fancy. Nothing in my future. Much too Town & Country for my tastes. Back then I fully expected to die on the twenty-first floor of a high-rise in the middle of some urban engine. How odd.
A story by Jesmyn Ward, the third and final excerpt from her forthcoming novel Sing, Unburied, Sing.
The officer is young, young as me, young as Michael. He’s skinny and his hat seems too big for him, and when he leans into the car, I can see where his gel has dried and started flaking up along his hairline. He speaks, and his breath smells like cinnamon mints.
That Hell was born and raised not in some dark and edgy urban enclave but in the rolling hills of Lexington, Kentucky, can feel incongruous. It’s too soft, where he comes from—too genteel. Yet having emerged from a region Hell considers a Nowhere—not in the ugly or pejorative sense, but in the empty sense, a place that was just like any other place, a blank place—allowed for wild self-creation later on. These are ideas that repeat for Hell: blankness, voids. He is someone who understands how to make something from nothing.