May 21, 2015
When writing a life of family history, we all struggle for the truth. But the truth is a funny thing. It’s shielded by feelings and clouded by memory.
In his 1997 memoir All Over but the Shoutin’, Rick Bragg writes of his childhood, growing up poor in the deep South, essentially fatherless, but supported by a hard-working mother and her family. He describes his restlessness, moving around before settling down as a journalist, never forgetting his kith and kin.
Bragg believes he was born to write. As he tells it, “The only thing I was ever any good at was in the telling and hearing of stories, and there was no profit in that. I cannot truthfully even say that I went to work for my high school newspaper because of a love for writing. Writing was hard work. It made your hand cramp, and I couldn’t type a lick. Telling stories was something you did on your porch.”
But telling stories also got Bragg writing assignments working for small town newspapers across the South. He eventually earned an award fellowship to Harvard University. The New York Times hired him as a journalist.
Of New York City, he writes, “Through one of the coldest, nastiest winters on record, I roamed that giant, confusing place, but to say I searched for stories would be a lie. I did not have to search. New York hurled stories at you like Nolan Ryan throws fastballs. All you had to do was catch them, and try not to get your head knocked off.”
Bragg won a Pulitzer for his writing, but his proudest moments came from telling the truth. Of his work he says, “It wasn’t that I had gotten it right – God knows I mess up a lot – but that I had gotten it true.”
© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved