Though the first submissions period didn’t open until October 1, 2020, the website for Nobody’s Home was up and running earlier that summer. I already had plans for the project when I got the news in June 2020 that I had been awarded a Literary Arts Fellowship to move forward with it. This month, July 2022, marks the two-year anniversary of the project’s launch.
It has long interested me how and why some Southerners believe the things they do. I’m even more interested in how they behave based on those beliefs. Whether one takes a religious bent and calls it the “Christ-haunted landscape” or a more secular approach to call it a “land of myth,” the South is absolutely saturated with beliefs so embedded that to dispute – or worse, disprove – them only makes some people cling to them more strongly. (They’re trying to change our way of life, we hear.) Despite myriad pieces of evidence showing clearly how unproductive, and even counterproductive some of our Southern ways of life are, the culture remains resistant and anti-intellectual, holding fast to folklore and tradition instead. Some of the beliefs, myths, and narratives often defy logic, reason, and even common sense, leaving our most severe systemic problems to continue unabated, while the futilitarian bravado marches on.
As I planned for a project about this, I couldn’t have imagined in late 2019, when I proposed this project for the fellowship, how significant our beliefs, myths, and narratives would become and how soon. In the latter years of the 2010s, our whole nation seemed to be increasingly dominated by a distinctly Southern kind of us-versus-them mentality. The columnist Kyle Whitmire had gone so far as calling it the “Alabamafication of America.” To readers of Southern history, this idea wasn’t new – John Egerton had a book, published in 1974, called The Americanization of Dixie: the Southernization of America – and to watchers of Southern culture, the facts to support such an assessment were already apparent. Then, in 2020 and 2021, America had a Southern-style, you-can’t-tell-us-what-to-do, anti-federal-government, us-versus-them hissy fit— if I don’t agree with it, then it’s a grave injustice that tramples on my rights! In early to mid-2020, beliefs about COVID-19 divided people, then in late 2020, narratives about the presidential election cut another chasm. While this was going on, I was receiving and evaluating submissions for the anthology and reading some eerily prescient commentaries from earlier decades in the books on my editor’s reading list.
Now, with COVID-19 and the 2020 election in the rearview mirror, Nobody’s Home has published forty-four essays, and a few more are coming soon. My editor’s blog Groundwork has posts about the culture, some travels, and my readings. At this point, there’s plenty here to keep an inquisitive mind busy. And for those high school teachers who are interested, the essays have lesson plans to accompany them, so they could be easier to use in the classroom.
Last but not least, I want to thank the Alabama State Council on the Arts for helping to get the project started, as well as the contributors who’ve included their work in the anthology. I’m grateful to everyone, including the readers and teachers, who’ve joined in experiencing what Nobody’s Home has to offer.