I recently read All Over But the Shoutin’, Rick Bragg’s memoir. What a unique, good, honest writer he is. His book reminds me that everyone has a unique story to tell, and the stories of others that attract us do so, in part, because they mirror and enlarge our own story.
Bragg’s personal story is about poverty and having to prove oneself and cast off the label of “poor white trash”—which he does by winning a Pulitzer—and wearing a chip on one’s shoulder despite that. It’s also about hating the rich for what they have that you don’t, and doing right by one’s kinfolk and making them proud, and taking care of them when you can.
In effect, it is a story about class and his personal struggle with it.
Bragg was a New York Times journalist and the stories he reported on were of the oppressed, whether they were in the slums of New York, on the beaches of Miami, or in the warzones of Haiti. His subject matter was dramatic, fueled by the craft of a seasoned storyteller, and filtered through the lens of a southerner who understood, first-hand, what poverty was.
“We are the stories we tell,” wrote Teresa Jordan, in an anthology, The Stories That Shape Us, cautioning readers to confirm a story’s accuracy before you passed it on.
But truth is subjective. Memory is permeable. Stories change depending on the storyteller. They also carry an archetypal underpinning that reflects back to the storyteller not only his own unique mythic quest but also the larger social one his story has the power to impact.