Folklore Project: A Collection of Personal Essays from the American South
Watching country music with his dad was part of novelist Matthew Guinn’s Saturday-night routine — first on “Hee Haw,” later on “Austin City Limits.” Ten days after his father’s death, Guinn accidentally stumbled on a new band who played what his pop would have called “real country.”
By Matthew Guinn
Powder Springs, Georgia
There’s magic in that hollow. Hidden in the little house nestled near the bend of the Cartecay River and the slope of Appalachia’s hills. She’s a gypsy of a shack with her whitewashed boards and tangled rose bushes that clamber on either side like vines to nowhere.
By Amy Hyatt Fonseca
Wilmington, North Carolina
When you grow up in a small town, sometimes the local, family restaurant marks the transitions of youth. Then, they widen the road, and it disappears.
By Andy Offutt Irwin
Jessica Langlois admires the genteel, slightly mad, Southern heroines of Tennessee Williams’s greatest plays — flawed and fragile, but scrappy with fortitude and endurance. Her own experience with mental illness gave her this story: about a Southern woman who discovers, on an obscure island, her own strength and resilience in the face of hell.
By Jessica Langlois
If you live in the South, then you better like eggs. Because we put them on everything. As Jill Fogarty writes, “I once attended a Thanksgiving dinner where chopped hard-boiled eggs had been added to literally every dish on the table except the actual turkey.” Problem is, Jill hates eggs.
By Jill Fogarty
As I sat in a dark Kissimmee, Florida, hotel room, my two cats sleeping on the bed with me, the puppy comfortable on her bed on the floor, I thought about the skillet. Evacuating from a hurricane requires a kind of existential internal conversation about what matters. What must I have, if it is all I have?
By Susannah Nesmith
Amanda Avutu is part of a group now working with a family of refugees from Syria, helping them start their own business selling cookies, called Sweet Sweet Syria. In the wake of our look at the thousands of refugees who come to America through Clarkston, Georgia, Avutu shares her experience, bonding with this family through food.
By Amanda Avutu
By Laura Elmer
How are you? I’m fine. And you? In many places, such exchanges are mere pleasantries. But to some in the South, the response is always “fine,” because it’s not polite to be a burden. “Fine” is an answer loaded with strength, pride, and downright dishonesty.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Phoenicia, New York
By Andy Offutt Irwin
Andy Offutt Irwin, a regular at storytelling festivals around the South, — and the rest of the nation, for that matter — gives us his theories about the Southerner’s love for the lightning bug. The rest of the nation may call them fireflies, but we don’t care.
By Various Contributors
In the wake of the Charlottesville attack, we asked readers to share their thoughts about what actions should be taken. If you’re trying to figure out what to think and do, now that we’ve entered a dark new chapter of Southern history, you just might find some help here.
By Caroline McCoy
The old house in Beaufort, South Carolina, was once called Tidalholm, but most folks in town today know it as “The Big Chill House,” for the Oscar-nominated 1983 movie that was filmed there. A visit to Tidalholm last summer brought home the differences between reality and the fantasies the movie could — and still can — evoke.
By Meredith Frye
Watermelons used to have seeds, and we had spitting contests. We used to rent beach shacks and while away the hours with nothing to click on or swipe. Meredith Frye’s most recent family trip to the Florida panhandle made her wonder what we lose when we trade natural hours for moments of convenience.
By Gary Bland
When we first received this essay, we contacted its writer, Gary Bland, to discuss its sharp turn near the end into what we’d think of as magic realism — or at least an adaptation of the eighth book of Exodus. But Gary wrote back to say, “I gave up long ago trying to convince people that the events of this phenomenon happened when I tell this story. But it actually did rain frogs that day."
Powder Springs, Georgia
New York, New York
By Tim Heaton
Tim Heaton, a Southerner gone off up north, imagined this piece after a real episode when his father attempted to save a deer that had gotten itself stuck during the low-water season at a lake near Oxford, Mississippi. Tim took his father’s experience and re-imagined it through the eyes of a Native American fighting displacement. Says Tim, “The place I describe does exist, and is accessible only during the winter months, when the water is low.”
Powder Springs, Georgia
By Ron Huey
In the rural South, kids have surrogate parents all the time — a couple down the street, maybe, who keep their eyes peeled if a youngun goes astray. Ron Huey today tells us the story of Milton and Gigi Gilmer, his surrogate parents — and the lifetime of lessons they gave him.
By Elizabeth Chandler
Have you ever looked over a pasture full of cattle and wondered what the little calves are thinking? Elizabeth Chandler, a 13-year-old Georgian who has spent a lot of time on her grandfather’s farm, decided to get inside the head of one little calf.
The Things I Didn’t Know About the South
By Kristine Langley Mahler
A lovely essay about a childhood move to North Carolina — and how the child in question (the author) adjusted to her new surroundings in the South.
By Charlie Moss
A good many years ago, Charlie Moss found himself in a tiny Baptist church three times a week because that’s what his girlfriend wanted. Charlie is a Jew, but that did not stop the Baptist faithful from trying to save him. This is what happened the night they forced him to the altar.
As Americans debate the right approach to immigration policy and the resettlement of refugees, the subject moves into a different light when the stories affect families we know, people we value and respect. Robie Sullins Jr. tells us how the Southern bubble he grew up in popped after he heard a coworker of Iraqi heritage tell stories of her family members who still live there.
By Nicholas Harrelson
The Scout Infantryman of the 116th Infantry, fighting in Iraq, had a young Iraqi interpreter. They called him Spider-Man. Spider-Man had two purposes: to buy his mother an air conditioner and to come to America to ride roller coasters. A story about how we determine who is American and who is not.
Dahlonega, Georgia, and Kent, Ohio
By James Seawel
James Seawel, an Arkansan now living in Italy, brings us a story of two men in the little town of Maynard — men of different political persuasions and different faiths who knew how to respect and cooperate with one another for the good of their town.
By Michael Dunaway
Georgia filmmaker and writer Michael Dunaway joins our Folklore Project today with some thoughts about tomorrow’s presidential inauguration — and, more importantly for our own sanity, some notes on how the right song, sung at the right time, by the right people, in the right place, can unify us.
Los Angeles, California
By Elizabeth Adams
Up in the North Georgia mountains, your GPS can get you lost on the dirt roads — and these days, it’s not even so easy to find a map. And after a recent trip to the mountains with her parents, native Georgian Elizabeth Adams, who now lives in California, began to wonder if the maps themselves no longer tell us where we’re going in the South.
It's Not Always Black and White
By Lydia Lay
In the wake of the November presidential election, The Bitter Southerner heard dozens of stories from readers whose families don’t quite fit the norms of older times in the South— how they were scared for their children, or worried about divisions between them and parents of older generations. Like all life in the South, it’s complicated. Lydia Lay’s submission shows just how complicated it can be. And we want our readers to know that The Bitter Southerner will be a place where you can feel free to tell your own stories as the whole nation comes to terms with new realities.
By Pam Gresham Pomar
Pam Pomar is a school nurse in Atlanta. She grew up in North Georgia during the Civil Rights Movement. Her contribution to our Folklore Project, written right after the presidential election, reminds us that what we grow up with doesn’t have to be what we keep.
By Meredith Frye
Some of us leave the red clay of Alabama and yearn to come home. Others dig their toes into it because it’s a place to begin anew. From little Waverly, Alabama, comes this story of the friendship that blossomed between one woman of each kind.
By Robert Thead
Robert Thead cares a lot about holiday traditions — particularly the fruitcake. He did long research in the hope of finding a practical recipe that would provide everybody with just enough, but never too much, fruitcake. We’re happy he shared the “fruits” of his research — nudge nudge, wink wink — with our Folklore Project.
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.