I began this project in 2020 with an editor’s introduction titled “Myths are the truths we live by,” which offered potential contributors some insights into my thinking about what the project is and what a submission should contain. Now, here I am at the end of the year-long Literary Arts Fellowship that supported the creation of Nobody’s Home, and it seems like time to reflect. Any journey, including a literary one, should yield some result, right?
Even for a subject that a person knows well, there is always more to learn. While I’m a creative writer at heart, I’m also a teacher and what educators call a “life-long learner.” So, reading books and watching documentaries about Southern culture was ultimately meant to learn things that would help me in editing this anthology about beliefs, myths, and narratives in the South. It has been a fellowship after all, not a grad school course, but the work of reading published books (for the purpose of commenting on them) and unpublished submissions (for the purpose of publishing them) formed a basis for the substance of the project. And what I learned from those experiences is best summed up this way: there isn’t and never was one monolithic South, but many Souths whose layers and facets are tangled up with each other to the point of being inseparable. The South can no more be embodied by Julia Sugarbaker than it can be by Joe Christmas, but it also can’t be fully what it is without them both. In this once-benighted and now-Sunbelted region, we see what we see, and to some extent what we choose to see, and sometimes we even insist that our unseens don’t exist. It has a lot to do with one’s beliefs, myths, and narratives.
My goal in first proposing then realizing this idea has been to share an array of Southern voices and experiences that allow us to examine (or re-examine) what we believe is true and how we act on those beliefs. For the fellowship, I could have proposed a writing project, rather than an editorial one, and proceeded to spend a year writing about what I believe. (I’ve been encouraged by people to step aside from telling or helping to tell other people’s stories and to tell my own.) But rather than trying to write a twenty-first century Turn in the South, I did with writers in the South what I often do with students in my classroom: I asked broadly, Hey, what do y’all think? The result of that call was a group of submissions, received during four separate time periods, and some of those made it into the anthology. Now, the initial compilation is complete.
For submissions, I put out calls on social media, in the mail, and on writing websites in an effort to draw writers’ attention. This being a digital project, I had benefit of seeing stats about visits and clicks, and found that the ratio of submissions-page visits to actual submissions received was about thirty-to-one. Geographically, I’m located in Alabama and our state arts organization supported the project, so I got a good number of submissions from writers nearby. A healthy number came from most other Southern states. However, I only got one submission related to Arkansas; works set in South Carolina didn’t come until late in the project; and I never did receive anything about Kentucky. Roughly two-thirds of submissions came from women writers, and very few came from writers of color. That latter fact was quite a surprise.
Finally, the project did bring a few other surprises, too— some unwanted. When running ads for the fourth reading period, a few antagonistic Trump supporters apparently saw the ad, checked out the site, then made it known in their own special way that they disapproved of my project, my work, and me in general. While that wasn’t shocking, it was shocking that I only received two submissions about sports— one about horse racing, one about small-town high school football. But not a single query about beliefs, myths, and narratives in college football, NASCAR, the Atlanta Braves . . .
As I leave this first phase and move on to phase two, I am proud of the forty-four essays collected here and am thankful for the opportunity to publish them. I can’t express how much I appreciate the Alabama State Council on the Arts helping me to pursue this project. The funding from the Literary Arts Fellowship enabled a range of work, including web maintenance, mailouts, and online publicity, that built the foundation for Nobody’s Home to not only be here but to continue into the future. I also can’t thank the forty-one contributors enough for their willingness to give a new project a chance, to cooperate on the editorial process, and to help share the anthology with wider audiences.
For now, I’m going to give myself a bit of time off. People can read and enjoy the works that are published here while I take a breather. In November, my editor’s blog Groundwork will have a word on Stephen Monroe’s new book Heritage and Hate, and by the end of the year, all lesson plans should be published. So, as the inimitable Forrest Gump put it, “That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”