Exploring how stories make a difference in our lives.
B. Brian Foster
Our conversation this week is with the illustrious storyteller, award-winning writer, and Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, B. Brian Foster.
"How can you love something and not like it at the same time?" This question was the center of Brian's monumental book, "I Don't Like the Blues". The better part of five years he spent living in Clarksdale, Mississippi listening to black people talk about their experiences and persective on the Blues - as music, an economic reviatilization effort, and a way of knowing. In that book and everything else he does, Brian exumes and gives life to the stories of black folks in the rural South that don't get their just due.
Like any good ethnographer, Brian goes to the places that are talking so he can listen. In his words: "The dirt remembers. The spirit hollers." To catch the spirits you need a vessel and time. Brian is a vessel, and if you give him time to listen he'll continue to holler so we can hear and know more stories that have long been buried underground.
In this episode you'll hear Brian talk about his own story, his seminal book, defiant challenges to the academe and the "blue-chip" scholar ideal, and how he uses storytelling as a powerful teaching tool. I hope you enjoy listening to him as much as I did.
B. Brian Foster Website
Buy I Don't Like the Blues
Mentioned in this episode:
The Sovereignty of Quiet by Kevin Quashie
Rakim's Classic Interview
The House that Black Built: Black Women, Materiality, and Makeshifting in the Jim Crow South, 1927-1947 by Kimber Thomas
Our conversation this week is with Curtis Rayborn, a living history lesson on Tuskegee, Alabama. He's a former student and employee at the Tuskegee Institute, retired Alabama Army National Guard member, volunteer at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, and marvelous storyteller.
"I was dying of curiosity." This is what Curtis remarked about his encounters with one woman who he eventually learned was an important part of the Tuskegee Airmen Experience. He had so many questions. He needed to know more. But he understands that all the knowledge he's gained since moving Tuskegee in 1967 is worth nothing if he doesn't share it. That's how he's lived for over 50 years, learning about the place that shaped him and spreading the word to anyone who will listen.
I met Curtis during my April 2021 visit to Tuskegee at the Rayborn Manor Bed and Breakfast, owned and operated by his wife Leoncia (also an amazing person). His immense love of Tuskegee and its history lit me up so much that I, too, had to know more. So I returned to listen to Curtis share his everyday experiences with the Tuskegee Airmen, the history of the Tuskegee Institute and its impact on him and the world, and so many more cool stories about "little Ol' Tuskegee".
Stay at the Rayborn Manor Bed and Breakfast
Visit the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
Mentioned in this episode:
The Third Life of Grange Copeland by Alice Walker
Robert Russa Moton of Hampton and Tuskegee by William Hardin Hughes and Frederick D. Patterson
Knowing Mandela by John Carlin
Moton Field/Tuskegee Airmen Special Resource Study by the National Park Service
A Century of Agriculture in the 1890 Land-Grant Institutions and Tuskegee University by B.D. Mayberry
The Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong
Wings for This Man (Documentary Short Film)
Our conversation this week is with author, herbalist, and supreme champion of reading and literacy, Renea Winchester. "When you see people, what are you going to do with it?" Renea asks this powerful question, and her own answer is to write stories of the unseen. Her debut novel, "Outbound Train", crystallized when she saw a young girl looking at her through the window of a trailer in her hometown of Bryson City, NC. That girl wouldn't let Renea go, and she knew deep inside that's the story she had to tell. So she wrote to honor what she saw, where she came from, and the people who made her.
Renea's book teaches us to be rather than to seem. Instead of focusing on images through a screen, we must look directly at what's real in front of us. Who knows what you'll see. You might not write a novel about it, but you can do something to help other people see it, too.
Buy Outbound Train!
Learn about the effects of National Parks on Appalachian Communities
Our conversation this week is with John Evans, founder and owner of Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi.
"It's all about the book, baby." For John, life really is that simple. He built Lemuria as a place to share books, not sell them. Only minutes from his childhood baseball fields, he created a space for people to discover, connect, dream, and remember. He brought the world of words to his hometown and books to life for people to experience together. But he couldn't do it alone. The wonderful booksellers and writers and community members and patrons from across the globe are the joy of his life's work. They're what make it real, and that's all he ever wanted.
In this episode, you'll learn the history of Lemuria Books, hear stories about John's writer friends (feat. Eudora, Leonard Elmore, and Jim Harrison!), get a window into the beauty he sees in Jackson, and find a model for how to live well and true. Thanks for sharing your life with us, John.
Lacy Arnett Mayberry
Our conversation this week is with Lacy Arnett Mayberry - a writer, teacher, literacy advocate and kindred Catherian spirit. We met after I bought a t-shirt from her Etsy shop and decided to DM her about an interview, so you know it's on brand. This episode is universally cool, but especially for super fans of Willa & literature. We nerd out on all things Cather, which reveals important perspectives about how to live well and true. We talk about how reading can open the world to a child. Lacy gives us a family history lesson and how deeply that history informs her own fiction writing. We also discuss why proceeds from her shop go to Chicago Books to Women in Prison, and another family story that made strong her commitment to literacy for everyone. You'll hear gems about motherhood, writing as play, and why you should wear author t-shirts because they might make you new friends in Kuwait.
Buy stuff from Lacy's Etsy shop
Support Chicago Books to Women in Prison
Our conversation this week is with Travis Rountree. He's an Assistant Professor of English at Western Carolina University, scholar of rhetoric and public memory, and a natural connector of people and ideas.
Travis teaches us about the power of retelling stories. How and what we remember can obscure a narrative, sometimes causing immense lasting harm. When a story is told so many times and has so many versions it becomes hard to see through the smoke. So how do we get to the truth? We talk about retelling and Appalachian narratives using his awesome work on a 1912 courtroom shootout in Hillsville, VA. Travis also discusses his advocacy for people who feel like they have to hide, particuarly through the LGBTQ Oral History Project and Sylva Pride. His capacity to care for others is mighty. He's a a true citizen-scholar and devoted teacher, and uses his own power so one day we can tell a different story about our world. And his version is one we want to make true.
Mentioned in this episode:
Later: My Life at the Edge of the World by Paul Lisicky
Oral History by Lee Smith
Feud by Altina L. Waller
Hillbilly by Anthony Harkins
Dopesick by Beth Macy (Book)
Dopesick (TV Show)
Lawless by Matt Bondurant (Book)
The Mountain Minor
Places of Public Memory
Framing Public Memory
Letter to Emily by Marilyn Jody
Saving Grace by Lee Smith
Go Down Moses by William Faulkner
Vein of Iron by Ellen Glasgow
Barren Ground by Ellen Glasgow
A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House
Southernmost by Silas House
All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson
The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels
In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner
Fantastic podcast for book nerds
Thoughtful literary interviews.