By Mollie Smith Waters
“Something like what Rick Bragg does for Southern Living,” said Andy Brown, managing editor of Camellia Magazine, when he and I discussed what type of material he was looking for me to do for my new column “Perceptions.” I have to tell you that Andy’s words made me smile because ever since I read my first Rick Bragg book, I have wanted to write like him. Yet, that’s a lot easier said than done.
Now some of you may be wondering just who in the world is Rick Bragg, and why would I want to write like him? Mr. Bragg grew up in the little community of Possum Trot near Jacksonville, Alabama. A journalist who covered several controversial trials during the 1990s, he is better known to most Alabamians as the author of such non-fiction works as All Over But the Shoutin’ and Ava’s Man. He has won a Pulitzer Prize, several other writing awards, and even a fellowship to Harvard University. Currently, he teaches writing courses at the University of Alabama.
If you aren’t familiar with Rick Bragg, don’t beat yourself up over it. I had never heard of him until 2009 when I volunteered at the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery. That year, he was doing a reading from his novel The Prince of Frogtown.
For my volunteer job, I got the plum assignment of working in the author’s reception room, a place where the authors relaxed and had refreshments before their speaking engagements. I was excited to get this job because it meant I would have time to talk with the authors one-on-one.
At one point, I found myself alone with Mr. Bragg, who was the top-billed speaker for the festival. What struck me most about him during our ten-minute conversation was just how amiable and down-to-earth he was. We discussed some of his works, none of which I had read at that point, and I asked him what it was he liked best about being a writer. He said he loved being able to tell a story and to have it resonate with a reader. When I went home after the festival, I borrowed all of his books from the library, and I devoured each one.
For sure, Rick Bragg’s works will resonate with you if you have ever experienced any trials or tribulations, or if you have ever overcome adversity. The stories he recounts from his impoverished childhood are beautifully crafted, and when you get through reading something by him, you just feel like you know him.
Of all the living Alabama writers, Rick Bragg is the one whose writing-style I most admire. His language is very simple and direct; he isn’t showy. Yet, for all of his simplicity, he is able to weave a tale that draws you in and refuses to let you go until it ends. So of course, you can understand why I want to write like Rick Bragg.
For all of my admiration and desire to write something like Rick Bragg, I have come to the realization that I will never be able to do it. Why not? Well, because I’m not him. He has a storyteller’s voice and heart, and while I hope I do as well, my stories will just never sound like his, but that’s okay. Each of us has a tale to tell and a distinctive way of telling it, and I hope over the next installments of “Perceptions” in the Camellia Magazine, my voice and heart will be something you won’t mind reading. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even say something that resonates with some of you.
No, I’ll never write like Rick Bragg, but a girl can always dream! So, welcome to “Perceptions,” and please know that I am glad to have you along for the ride, wherever it may take us.