As Nobody’s Home picks up steam, it seems important to clarify the focus of the project, which should help folks to understand the submissions guidelines a bit better. Nobody’s Home: Modern Southern Folklore will be an online anthology of creative nonfiction essays, opinion pieces, short memoirs, and similar works that discuss the ideas, beliefs, myths, and narratives that have driven Southern culture since 1970.
As I’ve gotten started in making calls for submissions, there seems to be some question about what an online anthology is. Unlike a literary magazine or periodical, which pushes its most recent issues and works to the forefront, an anthology is a collection. One example is the rhetoric/composition resource Writing Spaces, which offers essays about college-level writing to students and teachers free of charge. This one, Nobody’s Home, will, through a similar format, offer readers essays on Southern culture since 1970.
Recently, a friend who is a university scholar asked me, “Why 1970?” Because it’s 2020 now, and fifty is a nice round number. I know that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death in April 1968 typically serves as the historian’s end to the Civil Rights movement, but it took a minute – that’s a year or two in historical terms – to wrap our Southern heads around what the end of the movement would mean. By 1970, two years after King’s death and at the time of the Voting Rights Act’s first reauthorization, it was becoming clear that our region had entered a new era. The elections in November 1970 brought Fred Gray and Thomas Reed to Alabama’s State House as the first black legislators since Reconstruction, and over in Georgia, the mild-mannered Jimmy Carter replaced the axe handle-toting Lester Maddox as governor. Also in 1970, the Alexander v. Holmes school desegregation ruling took effect, in some places mid-school year. A year later, in 1971, the Southern Poverty Law Center was founded, and the integration of schools took another step forward with the Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education ruling. The post-Civil Rights ’70s were off and running.
The fifty years from 1970 to 2020 have been remarkable in the South, not for hosting a righteous movement that changed world as the 1950s and ’60s did, but as a wild evolutionary ride through a political landscape fraught with compromise and obfuscation, hope and chicanery, pandering and party-switching. Meaningful integration followed by “white flight” changed public schools and turned cow fields into gated communities. A new kind of coded language appeared, and the “Solid South” became “ruby red.” These years saw George Wallace get shot in 1972 and later apologize to black people in 1979. Five years later, in 1984, Mississippi’s legislature finally ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, which had given women the right to vote in 1920. Over in Gainesville, Georgia, photographer Todd Robertson took a now-iconic image of a toddler in Klan outfit exploring the equipment of a black state trooper in 1992. Ten years after that, Trent Lott raised eyebrows and ire in 2002 when he suggested that Strom Thurmond should have been president. Then, over in Louisiana in 2005, Hurricane Katrina stranded thousands in the Super Dome, leaving the whole country to ask why.
The main two questions asked by this project are: why did Southerners do those things, and what are the ideas for making it better now? On the one hand, why did so many white people believe they had to leave one neighborhood and move to another nearby, why did Mississippi leaders wait until 2013 to officially outlaw slavery, and why did those high school boys in Jena, Louisiana think it was a good idea to hang nooses in a tree on school grounds? There had to be reasons, and they are worthy of discussion. Then, on the other hand, what ideas do we have now to move ourselves in a better direction, and what narratives support those good ideas? It was painfully obvious what to do about Jim Crow segregation— end it. But what do we do about failing schools, high rates of obesity and diabetes, inadequate disaster preparedness, a lack of broadband access, or the closing of rural hospitals? This project is not about re-litigating the past, but about sharing honest assessments of the past that accompany ideas for improving Southern life in the present and the future.
The final aspect of this project that seems to be giving some people pause is the use of the term creative nonfiction, so it seems important to elucidate that term. Creative nonfiction is a literary term meant to describe writing about true events in an accurate way for a general audience, not a specialized audience. In contrast to academic nonfiction, this type of nonfiction writing seeks to bring complex topics down to the earth for ordinary folks. As an editor, I’d like to see works that offer, to any reader, a solidly factual albeit humane perspective on one aspect of life in the modern South, what it has been and what it could be.
I want to encourage writers to submit works that wonder out loud, what underlying beliefs, myths, and narratives have driven people to do the things that they’ve done, and what ideas do I have about it? These ideas may have been isolated to one’s own little world, like a truism iterated by a parent, or much larger, like a sounding call from a political leader. The ideas that could fit into Nobody’s Home could involve subjects as seemingly mundane as which restaurants we frequent or as predominant as who we can or can’t be romantic with. Every Southerner has some story to tell about living among beliefs that now seem skewed or confusing or downright untrue. Nobody’s Home is the place for those who feel the need to write about it.