Writing Words that Sing

You might not want to read this, for I’m leading you to something that – at first glance – seems to foment a stereotype of the American South.

Yet, once you allow your eyes to skim over the first words, you may react as I did, by pulling your chair closer to the screen in front of your face, rubbing at your glasses (if you wear them), unable to stop scrolling for more.

You’ll see what I mean when you dive into Taylor Brown’s “Rednecks: A Short Fiction of the South: 1920 to the Present Day.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The seed of this story, for North Carolina novelist Taylor Brown, was planted on August 12, 2017, when the so-called “Unite the Right” rally turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia. For Brown, Charlottesville summoned echoes of another deadly Southern conflict, from almost a century ago — the Battle of Blair Mountain. ‘The average person has never heard of the Battle of Blair Mountain,”’ Brown told me. But he knew the history well because writer Jason Frye, his longtime collaborator, grew up in Logan County, West Virginia, where the battle happened. ‘When Jason was a kid, instead of looking for arrowheads, they’d be looking for bullet casings. They fired a million rounds at the Battle of Blair Mountain.’

In that 1921 battle, 10,000 mine workers took up arms against 3,000 policemen and strikebreakers whose directive was to break the workers’ union. The battle ended only after President Warren G. Harding sent in the U.S. Army. The workers — a vast mix of white folks, African-Americans, Poles, Italians, and other immigrants — had no uniforms, save for one article. They all wore red bandanas. Herewith, we bring you a piece of fiction, in a historical setting, that feels, somehow, as relevant as the news.

— Chuck Reece


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