Eyes on the South: Bruce West

In this week’s installment of Eyes on the South, curated by Jeff Rich, photographer Bruce West presents a selection of images from his newly released book The True Gospel Preached Here. These saturated, dense photos explore twenty years of visits to the Vicksburg, Mississippi church of Reverend H.D. Dennis. This excerpt from the book’s introduction, penned by Tom Rankin, discusses Bruce West’s enduring examination of Dennis’s world:

There is nothing more elemental in the creative process than return—return to the work, return to a place, return to an idea, return to visit friends—and nothing perhaps as important as looking and then, regardless of the sameness, looking again to discover there is no sameness. Read more…


Issue 20: Why I Write by Barry Hannah

My life seems precious, even though often sad, and crammed with mystery. My past seems a fine gray like good old movie rain. Read more…

In celebration of the 72nd birthday of the late Barry Hannah, dip into the OA’s archives and savor Hannah’s meditation on life (both literary and otherwise) from Issue 20, published in 1997. 


Issue 84: Snakelandia! by Steve Featherstone

Experienced python hunters arm themselves only with pillowcases, maybe a snake hook, at most a knife. Read more…

Join Steve Featherstone on the trail of enormous, invasive Burmese pythons in Florida’s swamplands during the Python Challenge, when ordinary folks and seasoned vets converge in a government-sanctioned snake hunt. 


Check out this week’s story in the New York Times Magazine by OA contributor John Jeremiah Sullivan on his quest for the identities and stories of two women who "changed American music and then vanished without a trace." Joining Sullivan on the hunt was former OA intern Caitlin Love, who blogged about her experience tracking these elusive figures as Sullivan’s researcher on the New York Times Magazine’s 6th Floor Blog. 

Read John Jeremiah Sullivan’s take on the south’s influence on ska in Issue 83 here.

Hear Geeshie Wiley, and a little bit more about the rarity of her recordings, in the latest SoLost featuring prolific record curator Christopher King here.


Eyes on the South: Warren Thompson

With the series Postcards, Florida-based artist Warren Thompson looks at the roadside curiosities throughout the South. His work uses a combination of text and color that forms a distinctly Southern narrative of religion and leisure. Read more…


Eyes on the South: Warren Thompson

With the series Postcards, Florida-based artist Warren Thompson looks at the roadside curiosities throughout the South. His work uses a combination of text and color that forms a distinctly Southern narrative of religion and leisure. Read more….


Issue 84: Spinning Steel into Gold by Ginger Dellenbaugh

For singers, the search for the sweet spot leads to odd metaphors—like “sing that high B flat as if an egg were cracking open at the back of your throat,” or “imagine an ocean wave rising up from your pelvis.” There are no such metaphors in the pedal steel world; instead, players often have their own technical formula for good tone. Some swear by certain cables, pre-amps, speakers, picks, or bars; others claim it has to do with a certain order of operations, the high cut on the amp, or the amount of pressure exerted on the bar at certain points along the fret board. As with singing, the solution is often highly individual and almost impossible to fully communicate. It is something you have to learn yourself along the way. Read more…

In the latest online feature from our Spring Issue, Ginger Dellenbaugh examines the curious alchemy of pedal steel guitar playing (as well as its surprising influence on the development of American music in the last century).

Illustration by Tom Martin


imageSoLost: The Auricular Raconteur with Christopher King

Christopher King is a discoverer of lost worlds. Musical worlds. Nestled in a small room in a medium-sized home in the expansive hills of Virginia, King has been digging through old barns and cellars looking for 78’s for his entire adult life. An obsessives’ obsessive, he has accumulated one of the most fascinating collections of once-overlooked music anywhere. For a number of years he has curated highly sophisticated—and celebrated—collections of music themed around some of the most elemental questions humanity has forever faced: love, loss, pain and work. Read more…

Lose yourself in the vast collection of prolific “obsessives’ obsessive” Christopher King— and discover what he finds beautiful and resonant in the rare and obscure— in this installment of the OA’s award winning SoLost video series.


Issue 84: King of the Bean People by Courtney Balestier

Bill Best, who founded the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center, saves seeds—not in the way that people save stamps or coins, but in the way that people save endangered species, or possessions from a fire. He grows and stores about 700 varieties of beans on his farm in Berea, Kentucky, where he lives with Irmgard, his wife of fifty-one years, in a midcentury ranch house she designed, with stone chimneys he built. Some of his seeds are more than 150 years old—one goes back to the American Revolution. For the most part, they still grow as they always have. Not all of them grow on his land; many come from exchanges with other savers. Through his nonprofit, he sells them to enthusiasts, newcomers or experienced gardeners or canners, most of whom want to taste once more the meals their mothers prepared, or to access some other memory from childhood, a memory that holds in it all the immensity of the everyday. In this transaction, Best is something like the madeleine peddler of Appalachia. Read more…

Photo by Aaron Cohen


Cruise photographer Jared Ragland’s cinematic conjuring of New Orleans in our latest offering of Eyes on the South, where he combines traditional black-and-white photography with appropriated imagery.

Based on the themes and setting of Walker Percy’s 1961 novel The Moviegoer, Everything Is Going To Be All Right combines traditionally made black and white photographs with appropriated imagery. Made in New Orleans and largely shot at night, the photographs loosely document a dispossessed urban landscape, particularly the approximate locations of single screen movie theaters that once ubiquitously populated the city. After photographing these locations, I input the theaters’ names—ones like The Tiger, The Cortez, Dreamland, and The Gaiety—into Google image search and created a database of images that share a similar emotional sensibility with my photographs. Read more...




Aprons have always been a backdrop in the culture of the kitchen. Mostly worn by women, aprons have evolved to provide people all over the world with a layer of protection against mess and dirt. Aprons are used in food service, carpentry work, the medical field, hair salons, construction and even mechanical work. There is not much history known about the origin of the apron. Paintings dating back to the 1300s depict women in aprons, but we really don’t know precisely when and where the apron was invented.

Since 2006, Carolyn Terry of Iuka, Mississippi has owned and curated the world’s only apron museum. With over 3,000 aprons, she is proud to explain where some of her most prized collections have come from. Estate sales, donations, and her private collection cover the walls and racks of the right side of the store. On the left side, aprons and vintage collectables are for sale starting as low as $3.00. Each apron has it origin and date received on it for collecting purposes.

Carolyn is most proud of her Claudia McGraw aprons. Claudia, from Black Mountain, North Carolins, had a popular tea room where she hung some of her hand made aprons on the wall. Within hours of hanging them they all sold. She became one of the most popular apron makers in history providing aprons for Greta Garbo, Eleanor Roosevelt, Amy Vanderbilt and many others. (Searching online for a Claudia McGraw biography is not easy.)

What makes the mystery of the apron so interesting is how the information is found only through talking to an apron enthusiast. If you Wikipedia apron you don’t get a historical account, timeline or specifics.

Stories passed down through generations and memories are what we have as origins for this piece of clothing known as an apron.

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Tennessee State Guide Lindsay Scott is an East Nashville based photographer, writer, drinker and ponderer. You can find her on any random night, porch sitting with a side of story telling and a camera in hand. Follow her on Tumblr at lindsayscottphotography.tumblr.com or on her website, lindsayscottphoto.com.


Imagine you’re an aspiring writer from Little Rock.

Back in your youth, before there was a Porter Prize,

you knew of only one writer in Little Rock,

one who had published books that made their way in the wider world,

one was a Western, and you didn’t like Westerns,

because Westerns weren’t “literature,”

and you wanted to write “literature.”

Yes, you had a Masters degree,

and you were kind of an asshole. Read more…

Read the speech Jay Jennings delivered at the recent Porter Prize gala celebrating the life and career of Little Rock native Charles Portis, in which he remembers Portis as a generous, encouraging presence in his own struggle as a young writer.


Leslie Jamison’s new collection of essays, The Empathy Exams, demonstrates the kind of connection Orwell describes: she manages to bridge that ‘gulf of language and tradition’ and meet her subjects ‘in utter intimacy’ like Orwell does, whether they’re imprisoned long-distance runners, sufferers from a possibly imaginary disease, or writers living in some of the most violent places in Mexico.

 - Ryan Teitman”Fellow Creatures: Leslie Jamison’sThe Empathy Exams” (via the Millions)

Leslie Jamison’s essay on “imprisoned long distance runners” that Ryan Teitman mentions in his review should look familiar to OA readers— it first appeared in Issue 80 last Spring. In it, Jamison examines the suddenly stilled world of incarcerated ultra-runner Charlie Engle. Dip into the OA’s archives and revisit “Fog Count”— and then get your hands on Leslie Jamison’s lauded new essay collection, The Empathy Exams.


The 800 year old oak tree of Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina


The 800 year old oak tree of Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina

(via npr)


ISSUE 43: Motel Life, Lower Reaches by Charles Portis

I was driving across the state at the time, very fast. There were signs along the approaches to town advertising cheaper and cheaper motel rooms. The tone was shrill, desperate, that of an off-season price war. It was a buyer’s market. I began to note the rates and the little extras I could expect for my money. Always in a hurry then, once committed to a road, I stopped only for fuel, snake exhibits, and automobile museums, but I had to pause here, track down the cheapest of these cheap motels, and see it. I would confront the owner and call his bluff. Read more…

From the OA archives comes Charles Portis’s reflection on bargain roadside motels and their attendant virtues (or lack thereof). Tonight, Mr. Portis is being honored by the Porter Fund with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Vicariously celebrate Charles Portis’s enduring career with a look at this essay from OA Issue 43.