Rick Bragg Delivers Laughs and Advice at Author Series
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A former journalist at the New York Times where he covered murder, war, and bombings, Rick Bragg’s new softer approach to Journalism as a Southern Living columnist is exactly where he wants to be in his career, he said Oct. 15 at the Tuscaloosa Public Library.
“Quite frankly at this point in my life I’d rather write about dressing,” Bragg said, speaking of his Thanksgiving piece for Southern Living.
Bragg’s talk was the inaugural event in the Kate Webb Ragsdale Author Series, honoring a deceased library benefactor. There was standing room only as Bragg rehashed stories of his childhood in Alabama and his rise to notoriety. Bragg spoke to the universality of his novels and their application to the southern experience, specifically “All Over But The Shoutin’.”
“Y’all all could have written it, you know you could,” Bragg said.
Bragg told the unconventional story of how his first novel came about. Rather than slaving over a manuscript and peddling it to agents, Bragg was contacted by two major players in the publishing game. Both the agent and the publishing house pitched him a novel contract, which he at first turned down. After some wise advice from a friend, he called them back.
“Books come about it odd ways, sometimes they come about because someone wanted them,” Bragg said.
Most of Bragg’s books are inspired by his family. He set out to write “Ava’s Man” about his grandfather and found it difficult to write without first writing about his grandmother.
“She would just invade my mind as I tried to write about him,” Bragg said.
“I knew I couldn’t start the story with him, she wouldn’t allow me.”
His fifth novel, “The Prince of Frogtown” was written about his father. It was meant to include a positive portrayal of his dad, but that proved challenging.
“I went looking for someone to tell me one good story about my daddy,” Bragg said. “And it took five years.”
After a brief storytelling period Bragg opened the floor for questions, where he addressed everything from Nick Saban to politics.
“We don’t really like him, we’re just afraid of him,” Bragg said of Alabama’s head coach.
Bragg squashed any rumor of political aspirations.
“I can’t run for office because my hair’s too long and I don’t have a great church membership,” Bragg said. “That’s really all you need.”
The speech was well attended by both members of the University of Alabama community, where Bragg is a professor of writing in the department of Journalism, and the greater Tuscaloosa community. Cita Smith, an area English Teacher, brought her middle school Literature class to the event. She said her students loved his novels and she was a big fan herself.
“I love that he loves his mother,” Smith said. “When you read his books and see all the hardships he had and she had, I’m just amazed by that and by him.”
The final question of the evening asked Bragg for a clear philosophy on writing. He delivered.
“Good writing,” Bragg said. “Whether it’s historical, fine novelists, or powerful nonfiction writers, it has to make you question. Or sometimes it’s just enough to make you happy to be alive, happy to be above ground.”