In My Southern Journey, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and former Tampa Bay Times reporter Bragg, 56, pays homage to the South with countless colorful passages, including this one: "I love all-night gospel singings and flea markets four miles wide, and hounds that wail on the mountainside while the raccoons they chase double back on the trail and steal the cat food off the front porch.'' Bragg, the recipient of the 2009 Harper Lee Award for Alabama's Distinguished Writer of the Year, is a professor of writing in the journalism department at the University of Alabama. His other work includes Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story as well as a trilogy on his family in Calhoun County, Ala.: All Over But the Shoutin', Ava's Man and The Prince of Frogtown.
What's on your nightstand?
Larry McMurtry's The Last Kind Words Saloon, H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines and I just reread Dixie City Jam by James Lee Burke last week. People get on him and say he writes the same book over and over, but I think he's great.
Can you talk about McMurtry's writing?
He has a richness that seems so effortless. You know some people would argue Cormac McCarthy is the great living writer of the American West, but I'd disagree. McCarthy has such unrelenting darkness in his work that for me it can be very difficult to read. McMurtry has incredible violence and meanness, but there's a place where you draw a breath here and there. You laugh out loud, and then he just happens to write about Texas. I mean The Last Picture Show could have been in Macon or the country where I'm from. It's only the landscape that's different, but the people are the same.
What do you encourage your students to read?
First, we don't have a captive audience in newspapers and magazines anymore, so we have to write the hell out of everything, the soft feature and the profile and the sports story. So, I tell my students to read, to put the phone down, to turn off the electronic device unless they're reading The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens on it, and to read good literary magazines and good regional magazines, to read Garden & Gun and Southern Living, and if sports is their thing to devour monthlies and weeklies. Read Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine. I learned to write by reading old dog-eared copies of Sports Illustrated and reading about Ali and Frazier. I also tell them there's not a brick wall between literature and journalism. Read what they love. If it's science fiction or the classics, read them. I read a lot of Charles Dickens. This time of year I always read A Christmas Carol. Read everything. I read Pat Conroy and love the way he shows dysfunction, and I read Willie Morris for the South and Ron Rash to see how writing can be like poetry.
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