Bragg, Rick 1959(?)–
Bragg, Rick 1959(?)–
PERSONAL: Born c. 1959, in Possum Trot, AL; son of Margaret Marie Bragg. Education: Attended Harvard University.
AWARDS, HONORS: 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.
All Over but the Shoutin', 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, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
(Author of foreword) Best of the Oxford American: Ten Years from the Southern Magazine of Good Writing, Hill Street Press (Athens, GA), 2002.
I Am a Soldier Too: The Jessica Lynch Story, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
ADAPTATIONS: Ava's Man was recorded on compact disc and released by Random Audio, 2001. All Over but the Shoutin' was narrated by Bragg and released as an audiobook produced by Random Audio, 1997.
SIDELIGHTS: In his acclaimed memoir, All Over but the Shoutin', Rick Bragg describes his personal journey from harsh childhood to national renown as a prize-winning journalist. A reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing, Bragg pays special homage in his memoir to his mother, Margaret, for her heroic efforts to provide her children a good home despite nearly insurmountable hardships.
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 not only never been on a plane, or on an escalator, or in New York, but 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 praising 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.
Charlie Bundrum raised his family in the Deep South during the heart of the economic depression of the 1930s, and moved his wife and eight children twenty-one times, determined to do whatever it took to keep his family fed and safe. Bundrum worked as a roofer and general laborer, as well as a bootlegger, for most of his life. While he developed a taste for the illegal corn liquor, which eventually killed him at a young age, he never let alcohol run his life. Bragg depicts his grandfather, in DeCurtis's words, as "a moonshine maker who worked hard and fiercely protected his family; loved to fight, fish, and tell stories, and cared little for any law but the unspoken, unquestioned code of his community."
At one point in Bragg's story, Bundrum gets arrested for vagrancy, based on his appearance, while trying to get home from a fishing trip. This was not an uncommon experience for poor white men living in Appalachia during the 1940s. Anthony Day in the Los Angeles Times pointed out that Bragg is one of the first authors to tell the story of poor whites in the south from an insider's perspective, and noted that Bragg writes "honestly and affectionately" regarding this topic. Robert Morgan, in the New York Times Book Review, acknowledged that "relatively few authors have truly caught the voice of the Southern working class," and in Ava's Man the characters and setting "grab you from the first sentence." Morgan went on to call Ava's Man "a kind of sublime testimonial" and added: "Bragg gets the combination of sentiment and independence and fear in this culture just right."
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" Lynch, a soldier fighting in the War on Terror 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."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bragg, Rick, All Over but the Shoutin', Pantheon (New York, NY), 1997.
Book, September, 2001, Anthony DeCurtis, "Southern Grit," p. 53.
Booklist, September 15, 1997, p. 182; June 1, 2001, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Ava's Man, p. 1795.
Denver Post, October 5, 1997, Diane Hartman, review of All Over but the Shoutin'.
Entertainment Weekly, November 21, 2003, Tina Jordan, review of I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story, p 88.
Geographical, September, 1999, Chris Martin, review of Redbirds: Memories from the South, p. 71.
Kliatt, January, 1999, review of All Over but the Shoutin', p. 23.
Library Journal, September 15, 1997, p. 81; January 5, 1998; September 1, 1999, Russell T. Clement, review of Wooden Churches: A Celebration, p. 186; November 15, 1999, review of All Over but the Shoutin', p. 115; May 1, 2000, Pam Kingsbury, review of Somebody Told Me: The Newspaper Stories of Rick Bragg, p. 128; June 15, 2001, Pam Kingsbury, review of Ava's Man, p. 81; September 1, 2001, Pam Kingsbury, "Building Himself a Grandfather," p. 194.
Los Angeles Times, October 12, 2001, Anthony Day, "An Affectionate Portrait of the South's Poor, Hard-Living Whites," p. E3.
Mississippi Quarterly, winter, 1999, Amy E. Weldon, "When Fantasy Meant Survival," p. 89.
New York Times, September 10, 2001, Theodore Rosengarten, "Hammer-Swinging Roofer, Not a Hillbilly, in Appalachia," p. E6.
New York Times Book Review, June 25, 2000, Ruth Bayard Smith, review of Somebody Told Me; September 2, 2001, Robert Morgan, review of Ava's Man, p. 9.
Orlando Sentinel, September 19, 2001, John Harper, review of Ava's Man.
Publishers Weekly, July 14, 1997, p. 73; August 6, 2001, review of Ava's Man, p. 74; September 8, 2003, Charlotte Abbot, "Bragg: Lynch Has a 'Wonderful Story to Tell,'" p. 16.
Rapport, May, 1999, review of All Over but the Shoutin', p. 39.
San Francisco Chronicle, September 16, 2001, review of Ava's Man, p. 68.
Sarasota Herald Tribune, November 5, 2000, Thomas Becnel, "Bragg Shares What Somebody Told Me," p. E5; November 4, 2001, Susan L. Rife, "Bragg's Portrait of Grandfather Is Revealing and Very Human," p. E5.
Seattle Times, October 30, 1997, Chris Solomon, review of All Over but the Shoutin'.
Times Literary Supplement, October 16, 1998, Charles McNair, "The Struggle So Far," p. 34.
Washington Post, August 19, 2001, Fred Chappell, "Hardscrabble," p. T4.