Sunday, October 14, 2012

Rick Bragg: Writer Extraordinaire

Every so often you discover a writer whose voice resonates with such universal truths that you think, “yes, this is how life is; how people really are; why family and friends are  so important.”

Such is the case with Rick Bragg, author of two critically acclaimed and best-selling books, “All Over but the Shoutin'” and “Ava's Man.”

I discovered Bragg’s books several years ago and last week had the opportunity to hear him speak and meet him during his visit to the University of North Alabama’s Distinguished Events Series.

Bragg has authored several other books, including “Wooden Churches: A Celebration,” “Somebody Told Me: The Newspaper Stories of Rick Bragg,”” “I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story,” “The Prince of Frogtown” and “The Most They Ever Had.”

He won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism while a national correspondent at The New York Times. He is currently a writing professor at The University of Alabama.

Bragg is a genius, in my opinion, when it comes to telling stories. You don’t have to be southern, or poor, or male to identify with and appreciate his writing. He is authentic. His words come alive on the page and you fluctuate between tears and laughter when reading his stories. They remind us of what's important; what family, friends and community are all about.

Bragg signing autographs following his talk at the University of North Alabama Oct. 11.

Bragg says he learned to tell stories by listening to the experts, the people of the foothills of the Appalachians. They talked of the sadness, poverty, cruelty, kindness, hope, hopelessness, faith, anger and joy of their everyday lives, and painted pictures on the very haze of the early evening when work faded into story-telling.

A native of Alabama, Bragg worked at several newspapers before joining The New York Times in 1994. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing and other stories as a national correspondent based in Atlanta. He later became Miami Bureau Chief for the Times just in time for Elian Gonzalez's arrival and the international battle for the little boy.

Bragg twice won the prestigious American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award and more than 50 other writing awards in his 20-year career.

"All Over but the Shoutin'" was Bragg's first book, the story of his mother, a woman  who experienced the cruelties of an alcoholic husband haunted by his service in the Korean War, She devoted her life to the endless cotton fields and domestic work to prevent going on welfare and to support her three sons.

Lucky me, second in line to get Bragg to sign his books I own!

Here are a few favorite quotes from Rick Bragg:

“But I hope I will never have a life that is not surrounded by books, by books that are bound in paper and cloth and glue, such perishable things for ideas have lasted thousands of years . . . I hope I am always walled in by the very weight and breadth and clumsy, inefficient, antiquated bulk of them, hope that I spend my last days on this Earth arranging and rearranging them on thrones of good, honest pine, oak, and mahogany, because I just like to look at their covers, and dream of the promise of the great stories inside.”

“This is a place where grandmothers hold babies on their laps under the stars and whisper in their ears that the lights in the sky are holes in the floor of heaven.”

“It is a common condition of being are always afraid that the good things in your life are temporary, that someone can take them away, because you have no power beyond your own brute strength to stop them.”

“Don’t worry about what people think, because once it’s all over the people who love you will make you what they want you to be, and the people who don’t love you will, too.”

 “Passion is something you really don't miss, after it has cooled. It is like looking at an empty bottle on the side of the road and thinking, "Boy, I wish I had a Coke." The loves you miss are the ones that go away when they are still warm, even hot, to the touch.”

“It is easy to be liked when the world has no jagged edges, when life is electric blankets and peach ice cream. But to be beloved, a man needs a dragon.”

What books or authors have you discovered that really "speak to you"?


  1. Beautiful! I love a more lyrical prose.

    1. So many good writers out there; "so many books, so little time."

  2. Not familiar with this author but always enjoy finding someone new to read. Thanks for the recommendation.


    1. If you decide to read one of his books, let me know how you liked it.

  3. I adore reading books. The kind that Rick Bragg describes as ones you hold in your lap that are put together with glue and paper. His work is new to me and I enjoyed his quotes. Three of my favorite authors that speak to me are Edith Wharton, Anita Brookner and Sue Townsend.

    Speaking of a favorite book it would be Loving Frank by Nancy Horan you mentioned in your previous post. That happened to be a book I was listening to on tape as I was cleaning or multi tasking and did not think I was that interested in the topic so I kept thinking I was going to turn it off. I had heard of Frank as he has a famous home he built in Oregon. Just when I thought I was about done listening I started really listening and toward the end I was riveted. One of the best novels I have ever read!!!!

    1. I have a Kindle with many books on it; however, I still buy and enjoy books made of paper and glue, too! I have never gotten into audio books that much. I admire Edith Wharton as well; not familiar with the other two but I will check them out! Wasn't Loving Frank the greatest book?

  4. His first and fourth quote spoke to me with some force,we also are great book lovers.

    I would have enjoyed listening to Mr Bragg,a true understander of real people. Ida

    1. He had such a hard upbringing and did so much to overcome it. That takes real determination.

  5. First, let me ask, if you are second in line to get your books signed, did you get your hair cut?
    I love the quote about "electric blankets and peach ice cream".

  6. No, that's me in the red sweater. The first person in line had moved on and my sister snapped a photo as I reached the autograph desk!


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