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Rick Bragg - 2013 Vive Le Livre Speaker

Research guide on the work of Rick Bragg, 2013 Vive Le Livre speaker.

Biography

PERSONAL INFORMATION:

Born July 26, 1959, in Possum Trot, AL; son of Charles and Margaret Marie Bragg; married (divorced); married second wife, Dianne, 2005; children: three stepsons, one named Jake. Education: Attended Harvard University. Addresses: Home: AL.

CAREER:

Journalist and memoirist. University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, professor of writing, 2005--. Worked as reporter for various Alabama newspapers and for St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg, FL, and New York Times, New York, NY.

AWARDS:

Nieman fellowship, Harvard University; Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, 1996, for coverage of Oklahoma City bombing; American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award (twice); University of Alabama Clarence Cason Award for Nonfiction Writing, 2004.

WORKS:

  • All Over but the Shoutin' (memoir), Pantheon (New York, NY), 1997, published as Redbirds: Memories from the South, Harville Press (London, England), 1999.
  • (With Walker Evans) Wooden Churches: A Celebration, Algonquin Books (Chapel Hill, NC), 1999.
  • Somebody Told Me: The Newspaper Stories of Rick Bragg, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 2000.
  • Ava's Man (memoir), Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
  • I Am a Soldier Too: The Jessica Lynch Story, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
  • The Prince of Frogtown (memoir), Knopf (New York, NY), 2008.

Author of foreword, Best of the Oxford American: Ten Years from the Southern Magazine of Good Writing, Hill Street Press (Athens, GA), 2002.

Rick Bragg describes his family's history in an acclaimed trilogy of memoirs, All Over but the Shoutin', Ava's Man, and The Prince of Frogtown. The books not only cover Bragg's personal journey from harsh childhood to national renown as a prize-winning journalist, but also present the stories of his parents, his community, and his relationship with a stepson who was raised in a manner completely unlike Bragg's own childhood. The books pay particular homage to Bragg's mother, Margaret, who put forth heroic efforts to give her children a good life despite nearly insurmountable hardships. Bragg, a professor of writing at the University of Alabama, worked for many years as a journalist. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Oklahoma City bombing.

Bragg grew up in Possum Trot, Alabama, located in the Appalachian foothills on the border between Alabama and Georgia. He was the second of three sons, a fourth having died in infancy. The family was very poor, surviving on a fifty-dollar-per-month Social Security check in addition to what Margaret Bragg made as a field hand. Bragg's father, a Korean War veteran who became a physically abusive alcoholic and died at age forty, was rarely present; when he was, he often beat Margaret. She withstood mistreatment stoically and bestowed a compensating love on her children, which enabled Bragg to find eventual success as a writer. All in all, his childhood, Bragg wrote in All Over but the Shoutin', was "full, rich, original and real," as well as "harsh, hard, mean as a damn snake." "I am not a romantic figure," he added, "... but I have not led a humdrum life."

After graduating from high school, Bragg spent six months in college, then landed a job at a local newspaper after the paper's first choice for the job opening decided to remain in a fast-food restaurant position instead. After moving on to the St. Petersburg Times, Bragg covered Hurricane Andrew, problems in Haiti, and riots in Miami before spending a year at Harvard University on a Nieman fellowship. Subsequently, he joined the New York Times, covering the Susan Smith child murders and the U.S. intervention in Haiti.

In 1996, Bragg's coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing earned him the Pulitzer Prize. He brought his mother to New York City by plane for the awards ceremony. She had never been on an airplane, on an escalator, or in New York; furthermore, she had not bought a new dress in eighteen years. Bragg describes the prize ceremony in All Over but the Shoutin' and the scene is, according to Diane Hartman in the Denver Post, "the best in the book." Bragg also memorably recounts his cash purchase, with his prize money and book profits, of a new house for his mother. Seattle Times contributor Chris Solomon concluded that All Over but the Shoutin' is a "well-received effort to enshrine a saint (his mother), exorcise a demon (his father) and tell his own Horatio Alger story."

Many reviewers have praised Bragg's gripping real-life story, though the enthusiasm has been tempered by some of the story's psychological residue. For Hartman a maudlin tone, born of "survivor's guilt," enters the writing at points--"but Bragg is good and there's no denying it," she concluded. A writer for Library Journal recommended All Over but the Shoutin' highly for its "honest but unsentimental" style, its "plainspoken and lyrical" effects, and its "telling" details. A Publishers Weekly contributor, however, called the book "uneven" and "jolting," referring to it as "a mixture of moving anecdotes and almost masochistic self-analysis" but nonetheless praised Bragg's "gift for language." Similar admiration was expressed by Times Literary Supplement reviewer Charles McNair, who considered the memoir a "heartbreaking, inspiring account" that "is no sentimental, soft-lens nostalgic piece, but an uncomfortably honest portrait of growing up with less than nothing, a memoir fraught with sharp edges and hard truths."

Bragg's prequel to All Over but the Shoutin', titled Ava's Man, is, as he told Book writer Anthony DeCurtis, a "necessary response to his readers' righteous demands" after reading All Over but the Shoutin'. In this book he tells the story of his maternal grandparents, Ava and Charlie Bundrum. Because he knew few details about the lives of his grandparents, he had to reconstruct the story from an oral history he collected from his mother, aunts and uncles, and other family members and friends. These friends and relatives had rich tales to tell about Charlie Bundrum, a man who was much loved and admired. Bragg had never met his grandfather, as he died the year before Bragg's birth, but he did rely on his own recollections of his grandmother Ava, who lived on thirty-six years after her husband's death.

For Bragg, writing Ava's Man was an opportunity to acquaint himself with the grandfather he never knew and to build a monument to this beloved man. Though Orlando Sentinel writer John Harper found the book "structurally weak," a reviewer for Publishers Weekly reported that "Bragg delivers, with deep affection, fierce familial pride, and keen, vivid prose."

In 2003, Bragg was selected by Knopf to write the story of one of the first women to be injured in active duty while serving in the U.S. military. Discussing I Am a Soldier Too: The Jessica Lynch Story with Publishers Weekly interviewer Charlotte Abbot, Bragg noted that the appeal of writing the book lay primarily in the "wonderful story" that Lynch, a soldier fighting in Iraq, has to tell. "What happened was unexpected: a nineteen-year-old supply clerk was pressed into driving a truck into a war. It was an unscripted drama. Some people died, others got broken. But at least where Jessie is concerned there's a win. I've written so many stories where there wasn't a win. ... Jessie wanted to see what was 'on the other side of the holler.' These are people who fight and die and serve their country, and they deserve some good attention, something beyond the sneers of intellectuals."

In 2005, Bragg was married for the second time, to a woman who had three sons--two were grown, but the youngest was still eleven years old. In The Prince of Frogtown, he refers to them only as "the boy" and "the woman," as a way of giving them some distance from the story. Due to his own father and the way he had been raised, Bragg was somewhat apprehensive about taking on the role of a parent. As he tried to work out these issues, Bragg found himself thinking more and more about his own father. Although he had painted him as a wholly negative character in his earlier memoirs, he now found himself wanting to learn more about his father's youth and how he came to be the hard-drinking, destructive man that he was. As his father had died many years before, the only way to accomplish this was to seek out his friends from childhood, from the army, and from days before his father became the hardened man Bragg knew. The result of his searching is The Prince of Frogtown, a book that intersperses the story of Bragg's father with vignettes about the author's relationship with his stepson.

"This book is powerful, darker than the others, but it has a sweetness in the evolution of Bragg's relationship with his stepson, and in his own mellowing," stated Diane Hartman in a Denver Post review. Commenting on the book for Blogcritics, Lesa Holstine wrote: "In the beautiful phrasing he's known for, Rick Bragg finally reconciles with his father, and closes the story of his own past in The Prince of Frogtown. In some ways this is the saddest book of the trilogy. However, it's probably the book that will finally bring some peace to Bragg's own life."

 Excerpted from:

"Rick Bragg." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2009. Literature Resource Center. Web. 8 May 2013.

Rick Bragg speaks at Kamazoo Public Library (Part 1)

The highlight of Kalamazoo Public Library's 2009 Reading Together program was Rick Braggs appearance in Kalamazoo. This Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and bestselling author read from his books, told stories, and answered questions for nearly two hours. Rick Braggs appearance was made possible in part with help from the Michigan Center for the Book and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.

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Rick Bragg at Kamazoo Public Library (Part 2)

The highlight of Kalamazoo Public Library's 2009 Reading Together program was Rick Braggs appearance in Kalamazoo. This Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and bestselling author read from his books, told stories, and answered questions for nearly two hours. Rick Braggs appearance was made possible in part with help from the Michigan Center for the Book and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.

Rick Bragg at Kalamazoo Public Library (Part 3)

The highlight of Kalamazoo Public Library's 2009 Reading Together program was Rick Braggs appearance in Kalamazoo. This Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and bestselling author read from his books, told stories, and answered questions for nearly two hours. Rick Braggs appearance was made possible in part with help from the Michigan Center for the Book and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.

Rick Bragg at Kalamazoo Public Library (Part 4)

The highlight of Kalamazoo Public Library's 2009 Reading Together program was Rick Braggs appearance in Kalamazoo. This Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and bestselling author read from his books, told stories, and answered questions for nearly two hours. Rick Braggs appearance was made possible in part with help from the Michigan Center for the Book and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.

Rick Bragg at Kalamazoo Public Library (Part 5)

The highlight of Kalamazoo Public Library's 2009 Reading Together program was Rick Braggs appearance in Kalamazoo. This Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and bestselling author read from his books, told stories, and answered questions for nearly two hours. Rick Braggs appearance was made possible in part with help from the Michigan Center for the Book and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.

Rick Bragg at Kalamazoo Public Library (Part 6)

The highlight of Kalamazoo Public Library's 2009 Reading Together program was Rick Braggs appearance in Kalamazoo. This Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and bestselling author read from his books, told stories, and answered questions for nearly two hours. Rick Braggs appearance was made possible in part with help from the Michigan Center for the Book and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.

Rick Bragg's Advice for Writers

Southern Living Facebook fan Lisa Dougherty asks, "My son's getting ready to start college for journalism and loves to write. Any advice for a new upstart writer?"

Rick Bragg on What It Takes to be a Writer

Southern Living Facebook fan Kimberly Lamkin Drew asks, "Do you have to be a little bit crazy to be a successful writer?"

Rick Bragg on Digital Books

Southern Living Facebook fan Donna Streetenberger asks, "How has the emerging digital era of books helped or hurt your success as an author?"