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Issue 84: Hail Dayton by Rachael Maddux 

Dayton is one of thousands of small American towns besot by hyper-conservative goofery, but the residue of the Scopes trial seems to trap and magnify it, even all these years later. Over those two weeks in July 1925, journalists swarmed in from across the country, their baser tendencies prevailing on a new, massive scale—it wasn’t the first “trial of the century,” but it was the first broadcast live over the radio. Preachers and monkey-souvenir vendors peddled their wares on streets clogged with looky-loos. The defendant lent his name to the production, but the counsel starred: famously agnostic Chicago attorney Clarence Darrow led the defense, with populist statesman turned fundamentalist vanguard William Jennings Bryan a figurehead of the prosecution. Chief among the gawking scribes was H. L. Mencken, whose dispatches for the Baltimore Sunand The Nation bemoaned Dayton’s “forlorn mob” of “rustics” and “gaping primates.” Dayton was a “ninth-rate country town,” he sneered, a “dung pile” destined to be “a joke town at best, and infamous at worst.” Read more…

Photo by Tammy Mercure

Today is the 89th birthday of the incomparable Flannery O’Connor. Join Jamie Quatro as she contemplates O’Connor’s Prayer Journal in her essay “The Sound Before the Song”, now online:

 I’d take it out multiple times a day, turn it over in my hands, read the press materials—then put it back. Flannery O’Connor’s prayers. Flannery O’Connor’s prayers. In her handwriting. To peer over her shoulder and read what she’d written to God, and God alone? It felt voyeuristic, uncouth. Sacrilegious, even. O’Connor’s fiction, letters, and especially her essays were of tremendous importance to me as both artist and believer. Would reading her intimate communication with God alter my perception of the feisty, guns-blazing Flannery I’d long admired and, in many ways, needed? Read more…

Issue 84: The State of the Broth by John T. Edge

Potlikker, the soupy leavings at the bottom of a pot of greens or beans, is now vogue…. Today, as modern chefs excavate our culinary history to glean stories and recipes worthy of 21st century interpretation, I don’t wonder how potlikker came to be a vanguard ingredient in so many contemporary kitchens. Instead, I wonder why this run of rediscovery took so long. Read more…

Photo: “Blue Heaven” (2001) by David Hilliard

Issue 84: Visions of Coahoma by Nathan Salsburg

John stopped the car at one of the few surviving tenant shacks: a duplex, if you will, with two rooms called “Della’s” on one side and two called “Charlie’s” on the other. Della had worked for years in the big house as a domestic, until one morning in the mid-60s when she didn’t appear at breakfast and was never heard from again. (It’s assumed she left for Chicago.) I was making short work of the ample pour in my Southbound Pizza cup and I asked if I could have a look inside. To be honest, the bourbon was stoking a heroic vision of my excavating a miraculously preserved pile of 78-rpm records (a vision I carry with me always). With a borrowed flashlight, I leapt into the fray. Read more…

Photograph by Allison V. Smith

Issue 84: Mr. Blue by Mark Lane

When I was six years old, I shot a man.

People think I am joking when I say this, as I do occasionally, if prodded, in a group that wants to talk guns or hunting or the excesses of the rural South. It has been nearly twenty years since I discharged a firearm or spent any time in a deer stand or duck blind, yet I am considered an authority on such matters, since I live among people who are not. Read more…

In this piece from our Spring issue, writer Mark Lane recounts the most memorable hunting excursion of his— and Mr. Blue’s— life.

Photo: “Untitled,” from the series The Middle by Lara Shipley

 I peered through one of its windows and saw Tom Marek, the longtime director of West EMS, slumped in a plush recliner in front of a flickering TV. I knocked, but there was no response, so I knocked again. Nothing. I cracked the door, but he didn’t move. “Hi, Tom?” I said. Marek looked completely zonked out, his head tipped back and his mouth drooping open beneath a bristly mustache. “Tom?” I said, louder. He didn’t move. I wondered if he was dead, and then I wondered if he was faking—maybe this was his version of passive resistance to press intrusion. He looked like a parody of a man asleep. I stood there for a minute, maybe two, wondering whether it was appropriate to touch his arm. I decided that it was not. Finally, I got in my car and drove back to Waco, where I had dinner alone in a mediocre Thai restaurant and thought about heroes. “It’s my birthday,” I told the server, who looked at me like she thought I might be lying.

Rachel Monroe, “Fire Behavior" OA84

Issue 84: Chicken Eggs by Chris Offutt

I enjoyed watching my mother cook eggs. She cracked each one and slid its contents into the skillet. She used a cereal spoon to cook them by flicking the hot sausage grease onto the bright yellow yolks. This signaled breakfast was nearly ready. We assembled at the table for Dad’s ritual of cutting his biscuit in half, buttering it, and tucking it in his armpit to speed the melting of the butter. With his other hand he stirred a fresh cup of steaming coffee. To gauge whether or not the coffee was hot enough to burn his mouth, he set the spoon on my sister’s hand. If she jerked away and began to cry, he added more milk. When Dad ate, we ate, a prolonged activity that consisted primarily of praising the potatoes to high heaven, and shoveling in the grease-laden eggs and discs of hardened sausage. Regardless, I eagerly anticipated this meal for the simple reason that I got to eat an egg. And I loved eggs. I really loved eggs. Read more…

"Broken Egg 835" by Jenny Gummersall

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

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

From the new spring issue: "Fire Behavior" by Rachel Monroe examines the town of West, Texas, in the aftermath of last April’s deadly fertilizer plant explosion. 

What I had to learn first was that you’re not finished fighting a fire once the flames are out. The real work begins when the immediate danger is over. What’s underneath stays hot, until you bring it out into the open. Even then, the smoldering lasts for a long time.

Photograph: "Fox," from the series Smoke from Another Fire (2004) by Jody Fausett

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Issue 84: Deep Blue Sea by Kate Sweeney

There is a tamped-down sense of thrill in the air, the sort brought on by novelty. The hulking objects of this fascination sit in a neat line at the edge of the dock, waiting to be harnessed and lifted aboard a second boat. Each artificial coral reef ball contains the cremated remains of a single person—or, in one case today, of a cat named Mistofeles. Read more… 

Photograph by Alexis Vasilikos