We are proud to present you with our long-in-the works themed issue, "Growing Up in the South." Although the issue was intended to come out in late summer, we had to adjust our expectations when the pandemic hit. Like many others, we, too, had to learn to adjust to the new (but we hope only temporarily) normal.
Before I introduce what this issue is all about, I want to take this opportunity to thank, from the bottom of my heart, not only our readers and contributors but also my fabulous co-editors, Janelle LeJeune and Joel Caplan, without whom this issue could not have come about. I also want to welcome Alex Chapman, our new intern, who, although new to the issue, has spent an inordinate amount of time since August helping us whittle down our selections from all the outstanding contributions we received. Thank you, Alex, Danelle, and Joel. And thank you, readers and contributors.
We had chosen the theme "Growing Up in the South" well before the world experienced the madness of COVID19 and its fallout, before the riots and unrest that followed the numerous racially motivated killings that riddled the news in a seemingly endless succession. We had envisioned an issue of idyllic and lighthearted nostalgia replete with works that would celebrate Southern food and music, spiritual devotion, and family unity. Of course, we had also expected to balance that optimism and good cheer with works that explore the region's long-standing struggle with poverty and with social and racial divisions that sadly continue to affect the young and the old.
With COVID19 blindsiding us as early as March, this all-volunteer team was thrown in a shamble by the unexpected changes that working through a pandemic brought upon all of us. We are sorry to be so late with putting out the issue, and we apologize especially to our patient contributors, who had to wait quite a long time for our responses, and for many of them who also had to wait so long to see their work rightfully showcased and celebrated. We thank you for sticking with us and for honoring us with your work.
In spite of the many obstacles that we at Wraparound South had to face in our personal and professional lives, we feel fortunate and grateful to have cobbled together an issue that we are quite proud of, with works that celebrate Southern life, works that observe it in its most authentic, rawest and unvarnished manifestations, and works that challenge those aspects of its culture that for some feel like chains, or worse - like a hot brand.
A culture is not an object that can be contained; it is not a thing that can be touched, drawn, held, or easily defined. Southern culture is fluid, palpable, and tangibly present, but also elusive and evanescent. The South, especially, is a culture of contrasting opposites, of harsh contradictions, and of sometimes unexpected juxtapositions. Those contrasts are present in this Issue's works.
Seth Grindsteff remembers in his poem "t-shirt" the cozy comfort and safety he derived from wearing his dad's clothes, but Ellen Malphrus' poems, "Bullet Year" and "A Meditation on Lott's Wife" recall the violence of a neighborhood the narrator's family flees in a hurry after a bullet shatters the children's sense of safety.
Mike Burrell's "Men Wearing Neckties" shows us how poverty and social divides can crush even the most modest ambitions, while Niles Reddick's "Ichetuknee" celebrates the carefree glibness of youth. In Nia Dickens' "The Prodigal Son" two young orange grove farmers are torn between their filial duty and their father's rigid expectations and the ambitions, hopes, and sense of identity that call them away. In Rachel Browning's "The Burgermeister" an up-and-coming classical musician hides her identity and her past to safeguard her tentative entrance into society's upper echelons.
Our creative nonfiction is equal to these contrasts, with Nicole Hylton's "Fried Bread Dough: The Endurance of Southern Cooking" as an ode to a rich Southern treat that connects her heart and soul to her family's history and her Southern roots. "Dear Virginia" on the other hand, is a love-hate dear-John letter in which Therese Beale explores the ambivalence about the home state she fled as a young girl, but she nonetheless cannot help but miss it, in spite of its many flaws. There are also real insights into women's family legacies in Brittany Barron's "Four Kitchens" and the necessity of toughening up if one is to grow up a girl in the south in "Three Against One" by Angela Wright.
I want to wrap up this letter by quoting one of our contributors in Wraparound South's The Back Porch section. When asked about what is most rewarding when writing about the South, Elizabeth Fergason, author of the lovingly nostalgic "Popcorn Irridium," reminds us of the rich storytelling tradition that characterizes the Southern people's ways:
"Whenever I face misgivings about a piece I'm working on, quite often, a voice from my past will provide ballast. I can still hear my neighbor, Gaynelle, saying, "Stay a minute, Libby, and let me tell you what happened yesterday when I was in town."
And of course, there's the southern structure. A good storyteller knows that roundabout is the way to go. A decent story rarely starts at the beginning, but rather, starts somewhere in the middle and then travels back and back some more -- in a jazz player's riff, with all the attendant antidotes and rambling digressions -- until finally, maybe, it circles forward to an ending...First, there's the voice. Then the details come up -- and I'm winding my way through until I've got my story. Some days, it feels like an old friend I once knew from the past is calling me in and sitting me down. "Oh, you'll want to hear this one," they say. And I do. I do."
Enjoy the issue.
Laura Valeri, Managing Editor