Folklore Project: A Collection of Personal Essays from the American South
By Sue Riddle Cronkite
When Sue Cronkite sent us this essay from the Florida Panhandle, her cover letter began, “I love the words that reflect our place of origin, local and historical idioms. Who we once were and what we hold most dear shadows our language, giving it a certain flavor.” So, Sue set about to capture that language in a simple way — by turning on a tape recorder at a church potluck dinner, then turning what she’d captured into delightful prose. Many Bitter Southerners will know these voices.
By Shawn Pitts
What do you do when strangers find your Southern drawl so charming that they literally follow you around, just to hear you talk? When Shawn Pitts sent us this delightful essay, he subtitled it, “Yet Another Reflection on the Endless Fascination With the Southern Accent.” Quite frankly, we believe our Folklore Project could never have too many of those.
Carrboro, North Carolina
By Art Menius
We were delighted to see an essay from Art Menius appear in the Folklore Project in-box, who for more than a decade was one of the driving forces behind one of the South’s finest music festivals — Merlefest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. His essay today is about how the stories that go missing from a family’s history can haunt you.
By Melanie Vangsnes
Melanie Vangsnes’ current hometown of Waterford — in northernmost Virginia — was founded by Quakers in 1733 and was one of the few villages in Virginia to side with the Union during the Civil War. It’s so far away from her childhood home in Alabama’s Black Belt that it’s hard to feel any Southerness in the place. But Alabama lives on in the stories and memories that have built her life.
By Ruwa Romman
When Ruwa Romman walks into a room wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf, it can be a little disconcerting to hear her say, “Hey, y’all,” in a distinctly Southern accent. The problem, of course, is that this shouldn’t be disconcerting at all in an ever more multicultural, multireligious South. But perhaps the problem is that people of different backgrounds don’t understand each other. We don’t talk to each other enough. We welcome Ruwa to our Folklore Project today, in the hopes of starting the conversations we need to have anyway.
Roane County, Tennessee
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
By Sarah Burroway Diamond
Sarah Burroway sent us two different stories for our Folklore Project — a mother/father pair of sorts. Two weeks ago, we ran Sarah’s beautiful “Morning Milk,” in which she inhabited the voice of her mother. This week, we’re proud to bring you the “father” part of that pair — a story in which she conjures a hard-working family’s memories from her daddy’s lunch pail.
By Kelly Bembry Midura
Fans of Southern literature might hear the phrase “good country people” and recall Flannery O’Connor’s story of the same name, with its no-account, artificial-leg-stealing antagonist, Manley Pointer. But sometimes, good country people are just good country people, like Freud’s cigars. Today, Kelly Bembry Midura, a Tennessean now living in Poland, brings us a memory of a weekend with good country people on Clinch Mountain.
By Sarah Diamond Burroway
Sarah Diamond Burroway’s parents married young in Kentucky — when her mother was 16 and her father 17. But times were tough for them, and her father had to leave the family and head into Ohio to find work. In this moving story, Burroway inhabits the voice of her mother to tell stories about how she survived with little money or food to feed three young girls. “Morning Milk” shows the struggles that were all too common among rural Southerners of the middle of the 20th century.
Scarsdale, New York
By Sharon G. Forman
Ask any Southern kid about elementary school, and at some point, a lunch-lady story will come up. Today’s story is from a suburban New York rabbi who grew up in Virginia and learned that nourishment of all kinds can come from a Southern school lunchroom, even if you keep kosher.
Liberty, South Carolina
By Chris Carbaugh
Few things strike more fear in the hearts of children than the prospect of breaking in a new pair of stiff “Sunday shoes.” Chris Carbaugh today remembers a childhood shoe-shopping story — and recalls that making do with what you have sometimes brings much greater joy than scoring something new.
By Shelley Johannson
Shelley Johannson, a Tennessee native now off in Pennsylvania, returns to our Folklore Project with a trenchant look at how her Southern accent has been perceived outside our region — and dives into the forces that drive those perceptions. “Accents,” Shelley writes, "are much more interesting to listen to than so-called Standard American English."
A growing collection of stories and other items we hope will tell a bigger story about what Southerners are really like in the 21st century. The Folklore Project will grow only if you share your stories, family memories, recipes and photographs. Just click here to submit.