Episode Eight: Brigitte

This week, iconic Atlanta drag performer Brigitte Bidet joins Gina for a conversation about all things drag in the South. Brigitte is a classically trained dancer, a favorite host for southern queer publication WUSSY Mag, and a founding member of Legendary Children ATL. You may even have seen her as Dolly Parton #5 in the Netflix original film Dumplin’, starring Jennifer Anniston.


Brigitte on stage at MSR in Atlanta. Photo credit: Mark Morin

Brigitte on stage at MSR in Atlanta. Photo credit: Mark Morin


Brigitte is originally from the South and went to school for dance in Chicago. When she finished school, Brigitte felt like a small fish in a big pond. After stint working under Guillermo Gómez-Peña, the first Chicano artist to receive the MacArthur Fellowship, Brigitte made her way back to Atlanta feeling inspired. “I saw that people [in Atlanta] were able to do stuff here on their own, and I thought I was going to do that,” she says. “I thought I was going to be some sort of radical queer performance artist, and then that led to being a drag queen.”

Brigitte considers herself southern-adjacent. Her parents are from the North, and she didn’t do the stereotypically “southern things” her classmates did, like hunt or fish. “I never felt I like was representing the South. I just know that I live here and as a result, [I’m] infused with southern ideas,” she says. While older women she grew up around have influenced her performance identity, so have Broadway divas and pop stars, including Britney Spears, who’s from the South, as Gina points out.

“Yeah, but she’s not like a blue-haired lady,” Brigitte says.

“She will be. Just give it time,” Gina laughs.


Video by http://www.starlightcabaret.com (Stefan Shagwell). Entertainer "Brigitte Bidet" lip-synching and dancing to "Rose's Turn (from Gypsy) - Lehman Engel " on stage the Starlight Cabaret Drag Queen & King Show 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia USA at Piedmont Park . The 47th annual chapter of Atlanta Pride Festival 2017 has been written and is already legendary.

Brigitte’s had a great career and her fame has spread intercontinentally, but the drag scene she helped revive in Atlanta is once again under threat. The go-to bars for drag have shuttered one after another, queer-friendly neighborhoods are becoming too expensive for the people who made them desirable, and the city’s remaining gay bars aren’t exactly happy to share their space — or their profits — with drag performers. 

Brigitte is a different kind of performer than many of the older, pre-Ru Paul’s Drag Race queens. In the so-called glory days, queens coveted the divine feminine silhouette: large breasts, tiny waists, and wide hips. Brigitte, on the other hand, is flat-chested, lean, and muscular. Her shows include splits, tricks, headstands, and other clear calls back to her formal dance training. Nonetheless, it’s drag and it’s entertaining. “I do want to offer my knowledge and my abilities to drag. If that means not wearing breasts, whatever,” Brigitte says. “There are women out there who’ve had double mastectomies. Are they not women anymore?”


Brigette in 2019. Photo credit: Savana Ogburn

Brigette in 2019. Photo credit: Savana Ogburn


There’s no room for such antiquated ideals if we’re pushing for equality in the drag world, she offers. Brigitte bucks tradition in other ways, too. She hosts drag bingo in front of very straight, very masculine men and always brings up social issues during hosting gigs, whether or not the audience is receptive. Last year, the owners of a local gay bar where Brigitte regularly performed were exposed as racist. Brigitte and her friends turned their backs immediately, even though it was one of the few remaining places for drag in Atlanta. And so, in many ways Brigitte demonstrates a radical drag – one deeply aware of inclusivity and not divorced from politics – one that understands that this work in the South is radical politics, even when it’s a damn good show. 

You can fins Brigitte @brigeitebidet on all of your favorite social media platforms. Check her out at the 2019 Atlanta Pride Celebration on October 12-13.

Episode Seven: Two, Mississippi

In this week’s episode of About South, we present the second half of our two-part conversation with policy advocate and longtime friend Sanford Johnson. We cover a wide variety of Mississippi-related topics, including the Jackson ICE raids, the 2020 election, and the defacing of the Emmett Till historical marker.


The Tallahatchie River where Till’s body was found. Photo credit: M. Susan Orr-Klopfer via Wikimedia Commons

The Tallahatchie River where Till’s body was found. Photo credit: M. Susan Orr-Klopfer via Wikimedia Commons


But first, we pick up where we left off -- with the obstacles facing the Mississippi education system. Sanford wants to see the people of Mississippi engaged, aware, and holding lawmakers accountable for their shortcomings; he uses the state’s lack of a fully-funded school system as one example wherein elected officials certainly fail their constituents, particularly those groups that are most in need of resources--low income, ESL, high school, and gifted students suffer significantly more from an underfunded school system than their peers, and yet loopholes persist that allow higher income areas to keep more funding than they need, despite the promises of lawmakers. Ensuring that elected officials suffer the political consequences for their open neglect and indifference means change can occur for the state of Mississippi, and there is hope on the horizon--we’ll get to that shortly.

Before we do, we discuss the recent suspension of three University of Mississippi students who were photographed posing with rifles in front of a bullet-riddled Emmett Till historical marker. Bullethole vandalism is a gruesome and continuing recurrence for the monument, a symptom of institutional racism still very much alive in present-day Mississippi. “We’re not being deliberate enough in making sure that we’re building inclusive spaces,” Sanford says. “[We need to] talk about what it means to be in a place of diversity, what it means to treat people who may not look like you with respect, what it means to understand the history of the place you’re in and understand your role in the history around you. There are certain things you just don’t do.” In the age of Trumpism, wherein such individuals feel emboldened enough to commit acts of terroristic racism more openly and frequently than in recent decades, we must decide what kind of country we want to be going forward -- do we want to be a multicultural, affirming, welcoming place, Sanford asks. Or will we revert to an era of white supremacy? Unfortunately, there still exists a segment American society that wishes to see that backward vision of the United States come to fruition.


Headlines about the vandalism by the University of Mississippi students made national news.

Headlines about the vandalism by the University of Mississippi students made national news.


And speaking of Trumpism, the ICE raids in Jackson, Miss. are still fresh on everyone’s mind. Though Sanford can’t say for sure why Jackson was selected by ICE, he does know that a pattern is emerging regarding the jobs these deported immigrants leave behind. These positions were once filled by black Americans, who worked in grueling conditions for poor wages to provide cheap labor to big businesses. When a demand for better compensation and fair labor practices arose, rather than comply, businesses sought out another group to exploit. Now that that group is being forced out, Sanford again asks what kind of country we want to be going forward. Will we improve wages and working conditions? Or will we simply find another group to exploit?


Nearly 700 undocumented workers taken into custody across central Mississippi. Subscribe to WAPT on YouTube now for more: http://bit.ly/1hYcJNa


But again, there is hope on the horizon. A competitive 2020 Democratic race is in the works, and with plenty of decent candidates to choose from, the possibility of positive change is stronger now than in years before. Though it’s easy to become confused with the sheer number of aspirants who have come out of the woodwork to run for office, Sanford keeps a handy series going on Facebook to cut through the chaos; he often likens the Democratic race for the presidency to a family cookout, where some candidates sit in the dining room, some sit on the floor at the coffee table, some sit outside in the yard, and some probably just need to take their sandwich bag and go. Whichever candidate we choose, these conversations need to continue -- if not for our own entertainment, then for the discourse surrounding diversity, progressivism, and representation in our politics. Follow his commentary at “Notes From the Cookout.”


Sanford’s helpful graphic for 2020 Democratic hopefuls.

Sanford’s helpful graphic for 2020 Democratic hopefuls.


For bonus clips of our conversation with Sanford Johnson (in what we’ve dubbed “the accidental Sanford and Caison Auburn football hour”), visit us here.

Episode Six: One, Mississippi

In this week’s episode, we travel to Clarksdale, Mississippi to sit down with education policy advocate Sanford Johnson for a conversation so good, we had to bring it to you in two parts. In part one, we reminisce about student government at Auburn, discuss education reform in the Mississippi Delta, and dive into that viral video that had everybody talking about safe shoe-wear activity.


The Delta.

The Delta.


In Sanford’s fifteen years of advocacy in his home state of Mississippi, he has been instrumental in building positive education reform, from supporting the establishment of state-funded pre-Kindergarten programs to promoting the enactment of responsible charter school legislation. His job has not come without challenges; when he first began working for Teach for America in the Mississippi Delta, the area was home to some of the lowest performing low income students in the country, and the state ranked at the bottom when it came to sex education -- Sanford taught in a county with a 1 in 10 pregnancy rate among teenage girls, a clear sign that the strict abstinence-only education policy mandated by the state was failing its students. In the years that followed, Sanford worked on getting inclusive and medically accurate sex education in Mississippi schools, which included not only included STD education/prevention education, but safe sex and proper condom use.

Which brings us to a conversation about footwear, or rather, how to humorously subvert the Mississippi Education Department’s strict ban on condom demonstrations. Sanford explains that after a training exercise, in which an educator was instructed not to pantomime the accurate application of a condom, they filmed a tongue-in-cheek video wherein Sanford demonstrates how to safely put a sock before engaging in “shoe activities.” What started out as an amusing clip became a viral sensation, making the rounds across the internet before being featured on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight (the original video currently sits at a whopping 1.5 million views on YouTube). Though the sock demonstration was made in jest, it has since become an example of the lengths educators often go to ensure that students recieve adequate sex education, and opens a dialogue about demonstrating safe sex practices in the classroom.


Mississippi's new sex education law prevents teachers from showing teens how to use condoms. However, they CAN show kids how to protect their feet through correct and consistent sock use.

We also discuss the introduction of comprehensive charter school legislation in Mississippi, an issue that Sanford oversaw during his time at the nonprofit organization Mississippi First. To prevent the pitfalls of racial and socioeconomic segregation, adequate state policy was necessary to ensure high standards and accountability in what could easily become an irresponsible education market. Sanford explains that by implementing a rigorous application process, as well as placing clear restrictions on private and for-profit schools, Mississippi can safeguard itself against both modern segregation academies and low-performing charter institutions. If correctly monitored, charter schools and public schools can coexist together and find opportunities to cooperate, setting an educational standard that may inspire other states to enact charter school reform.


The Delta’s charter school, Clarksdale Collegiate.

The Delta’s charter school, Clarksdale Collegiate.


Join us next week, when we continue with part two of our conversation with Sanford Johnson. We’ll cover other current events in Mississippi, including the recent ICE raids in Jackson, the vandalism of the Emmit Till historical marker, and the upcoming Democratic primary.

In the meantime, you can listen to Gina and Sanford discuss the speculation and superstition that is the College football pre-season. (It’s not really an hour, but that sounded better than “twenty minutes.”)

Episode Five: Handmaid Justice

This week, Sara Patenaude of the Handmaid Coalition of Georgia joins Gina for a discussion of reproductive rights in the state and beyond and what it means to stage a successful protest in the U.S. South.

The National Handmaid Coalition is a loosely organized group that formed after the 2016 election. Volunteers don white bonnets and red cloaks, a riff on Margaret Atwood’s novel (and award-winning Hulu television show) The Handmaid’s Tale, to bring attention to issues of reproductive health and justice. In Atwood’s dystopian future, some women have trouble having kids and an underclass of women is forced into surrogacy. “The symbol of a handmaid has really become deeply ingrained in this idea of people protesting against the walkback of abortion rights,” Sara says.


The Handmaid Coalition of Georgia. Photo Credit: Steve Steve Eberhardt

The Handmaid Coalition of Georgia. Photo Credit: Steve Steve Eberhardt


The Handmaid Coalition of Georgia formed in 2017 during a national 50 maids in 50 states protest where handmaids showed up at state capitols across the country in handmaid garb. Georgia’s chapter is one of the most active largely because of HB481, six-week abortion ban introduced this past legislative session. Each day of the session, handmaids showed up at the capitol and silently protested. Protests ranged from a couple to a couple dozen handmaids lining hallways, stairs and the capitol rotunda. Georgia’s governor signed HB481 into law, and if court challenges fail, the law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.  

“What it does is effectively stops women from being able to access abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, which is really just two weeks after your missed period,” Sara says. “It’s far too fast for most women to even know that they’re pregnant, especially too fast for women to access abortion if that’s what they need.”


A Handmaid in Georgia. Photo Credit: Steve Eberhardt

A Handmaid in Georgia. Photo Credit: Steve Eberhardt


HB481 is among several anti-abortion bills that made their way through state legislatures, including in Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah. “What they’re trying to do is to dismantle abortion rights in our entire country,” Sara says. The laws target and could potentially overturn monumental abortion rights precedents like Roe v. Wade and Parenthood v. Casey, making abortion access a state-level issue. “It maybe seems expected in the Southeast, but this is happening everywhere,” Gina notes. 

Sara was drawn to the Handmaid Coalition for a variety of reasons. She holds degrees in English and history; she loves Atwood’s novel and its exploration of women’s bodily autonomy; she does advovacy work behind-the-scenes; and she’s among the one in four women who’ve had an abortion. When she heard about the protests, it just made sense for her to get involved. “The number one thing you can do to limit women is to limit their reproductive choices,” she says.


handmaid resist.jpg

Sara says the Handmaids have gotten a wide range of reactions, including from lawmakers, but generally people are either very much for their cause or very much against it. One male lawmaker told them the women in The Handmaid’s Tale can’t have babbies because they’ve had too many abortions. The real reason? Male sterility. “Ugh,” Gina replies.

If you’d like to support the people fighting the rollbacks of women’s reproductive rights, please visit the following members of the Georgia Reproductive Health and Justice Coalition:

Sister Song

SisterLove, Inc.

Feminist Women's Health Center

URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity

SPARK Reproductive Justice Now

NARAL Pro-choice Georgia

Planned Parenthood Southeast

We’d like to thank Sara for joining us for this conversation. Her work also recently appeared in the Washington Post in response to Trump’s racist remarks about Baltimore and Representative Elijah Cummings.

Episode Four: A Postsouthern World

In this week’s episode, we travel to Copenhagen, Denmark to sit down with Martyn Bone, a southern studies scholar and Associate Professor at the University of Copenhagen, to discuss globalism and a postsouthern idea on an international scale. We touch on everything from  overseas interest in U.S. Southern literature to the U.S. South’s long history with immigration, as well as our hometown Atlanta’s role in this international conversation.


Martyn Bone’s latest work from UGA Press.

Martyn Bone’s latest work from UGA Press.


Many students of the southern studies discipline may recognize Martyn Bone’s association with the term “postsouthern.” Martyn explains his role in the postsouthern conversation, citing the scholarship of Lewis P. Simpson and Michael Kreyling as progenitors of the term. Martyn’s goal was to reconnect the term to the material geography of the region, particularly as a term that could help contextualize the socio-economic and demographic change of the U.S. South, as well as reconceptualize the representation and feticization of southern space through postmodern critical theory. 

Though the postsouthern concept does indicate change, Martyn emphasizes that the “post” does not mean a complete “moving on” or “breaking away from” -- rather, the term “postsouthern” invites us to rethink the South and its sense of place, particularly on an international level. Globalization is not a new occurence in the South, Martyn explains, and in regards to slavery, immigration, and trans-Atlantic economics, it carries quite a large presence in the geographic region. Though the U.S. South for many decades remained largely unappealing to immigrants, the 1970’s and 1980’s brought on a large wave of immigration, both trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific, and the changing demographics continue to impact how we view the South both as a concept and as an identity. Often, literature helps us understand this phenomenon in a way that numbers and statistics will not allow us to relate to. Martyn outlines how the novel, often written through a first-person narrative, creates a strong emotional response in a reader, and that connection can convey nebulous concepts like migration and demographic change in a more meaningful way than simple data.


Martyn’s Bone first book from LSU Press.

Martyn’s Bone first book from LSU Press.


Sometimes we cannot help but wonder what international interest the U.S. South and it’s literature could possibly generate for scholars in other parts of the U.S., let alone abroad (indeed, the fact that our humble podcast has attracted an international audience is a pleasant surprise to us!). Perhaps it is the impact of mass media, such as film and music, that has garnered this attention of overseas. Martyn recalls watching Dukes of Hazzard on the BBC in his youth, and the undeniable influence of rock n’ roll on British culture. Perhaps, he speculates, it is the perceived exoticism of the South, with cities such as New Orleans drawing international intrigue. Whatever the reason, these perceptions and images make the U.S. South an area of interest for international scholarship, and through their understanding, a clearer picture of this region emerges as a space characterized by immigration, globalization, and continual demographic change.

For more of Martyn Bone’s work, check out his books The Postsouthern Sense of Place in Contemporary Fiction  and Where the New World Is: Literature about the U.S. South at Global Scales.

Episode Three: Radio Free Georgia

This week we’re bringing you a local story about independent community radio station WRFG-89.3FM. Gina sits down with station co-founder Harlon Joye at WRFG’s Little Five Points studio to discuss the history of station as well progressive media in the city, the region, and the nation.


A newsletter from WRFG’s early days. Photo by Gina Caison. Archive courtesy of Harlon Joye.

A newsletter from WRFG’s early days. Photo by Gina Caison. Archive courtesy of Harlon Joye.


“We wanted to start something big,” Joye says. WRFG began airing at 89.3FM in Atlanta in 1972. It was Atlanta’s answer to Pacifica Radio’s WBAI in New York, and the first of its kind for the city. WABE didn’t play jazz, WREC was more interested in technical things, WRAS was still figuring itself out, and Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) didn’t have a radio station yet. Just as WBAI was for New Yorkers, WRFG became the go-to for what was happening and where the demonstrations were taking place. “We were a station that would give voice to certain particular groups that were excluded from the airwaves for reasons of class, sex, etc.”

Back in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, the founders of WRFG weren’t calling themselves socialists, progressives, or radicals. But they knew they were farther left than most were comfortable with, and that was the point. As Joye explains, “We don’t want to be a radio station; we want to be a leftradio station. There’s a difference.”

Commitment to diversity and social justice were — and still are — part of WRFG’s mission, and it even made them a target or the Atlanta Police Department’s communist alert unit, The Red Squad. They called WRFG “a mixture of Trotskyists, communists, weathermen (terrorists), homos, Black Panthers, and dope smokers,” Joye recalls. “Somebody said, ‘Well, they got about 50% right,’” Joye laughs.


WRFG’s mission statement. Photo by Gina Caison.

WRFG’s mission statement. Photo by Gina Caison.


In November 1987, the Atlanta prison uprising unexpectedly pushed WRFG into the spotlight. Thousands of Cuban refugees from the 1980 Mariel boat lift were being held at prisons across the country, including at the U.S. Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta. Then, the U.S. government announced it was sending them back.

At the time, WRFG had two programs aimed at detainees, specifically the ones in federal captivity, and would take calls from detainees on the air. When the riots started, WRFG programs were the only way the Cuban refugees knew they could communicate with their families. They didn’t trust mainstream media. Families would visit WRFG’s studio and go on the air, directing their words to their incarcerated loved ones. The station made national headlines, Joye recalls, and even helped persuade prisoners to let some of the hostages go as a sign of goodwill. 


New York Times  coverage of the Cuban Atlanta Prison Uprising in 1987.

New York Times coverage of the Cuban Atlanta Prison Uprising in 1987.


Equally as unexpected but rewarding all the same are the Living Atlanta! programs that Joye produced at WRFG from 1978 to 1980. Joye received a grant through the National Endowment for the Humanities to produce 50 programs on every aspect of life in a segregated Atlanta from WWI-WWII. Joye and his team interviewed about 150 people. “We covered everything about Atlanta, from Black baseball to police to hospitals, music. You name it,” he says.


IMG_1497.jpg

The program guide for Living Atlanta! Photo by Gina Caison. Archive credit: Harlon Joye.


WRFG is still primarily a classic, terrestrial station, but Joye and others at WRFG are working to push it into the future. Plans include a second stream, engaging listeners on social media, and broadcasting from special events, such as the Labor Day barbecue. Help them out by following along on their website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


WRFG continues their progressive programming today.

WRFG continues their progressive programming today.


We’d like to thank Harlon Joye, Christopher Hollis, and the entire WRFG community for allowing us to record this episode at their studios.



Episode Two: King, 1967

In this week’s episode, we sit down with Brian Ward, historian and Professor in American Studies at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, to discuss his 2017 book Martin Luther King: In Newcastle Upon Tyne about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s landmark 1967 visit to Newcastle University. Brian explains what makes this brief yet historic visit to northeastern England so exceptional, and we discuss the context of King’s journey, his motivation for coming to Newcastle, and the impact his presence continues to have on race relations in the northeast of England today. 


The statue of King on the campus of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

The statue of King on the campus of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.


At first glance, Newcastle seems like and unlikely place for King to visit—even today, the transatlantic journey to northeastern England involves layovers and costly travel expenses. 1967 was considered one of the busiest years of King’s life, and between his packed traveling schedule and the physical toll of his incarceration, certainly one of his most stressful. Why make the lengthy voyage to Newcastle to spend only a handful of hours there? 

Brian speculates that King had many reasons to feel both “embattled and exhausted” in the preceding months. His anti-war stance on the Vietnam conflict landed him in hot water with black moderates, and wealthy white liberals expressed increasing alarm at his radical stance towards economic inequality –particularly his involvement with the Poor Peoples Campaign. Rising tensions within the Civil Rights community left King under immense pressure, and accusations of communism from the FBI, CIA, and Johnson administration often put King on the defense. Though King maintained his calm demeanor and unshakeable charisma, he was racked with doubts about the future of the movement he created; when an invitation arrived from Newcastle from an enthusiastic group of people who admired both King and his cause, he wholeheartedly accepted. The journey, though rushed, left him re-energized, giving him the courage to continue.


Newcastle University was the only British University to award Dr Martin Luther King (Defender of American Civil Rights) an Honorary Degree. He was awarded his Honorary Degree at Newcastle, on 13th November 1967, another 'first' for that great English City of Newcastle upon Tyne. Sadly, only five months later when back in America, Dr King was assasinated.


Brian recounts uncovering the clip in the unlikeliest of places—not on one of the many transatlantic trips required of a British historian dedicated to studying the African American struggle for freedom and equality in the U.S. south, but a mere five-hundred feet from his workplace in Newcastle, sitting untouched in two tins in a medical archive. This rediscovery of this priceless record offers insight into King’s relationship with the emerging British Civil Rights movement as he bestows advice and encouragement to those in attendance.

The northeast of England, Brian explains, possesses a rich history of abolitionism and progressivism, attracting the likes of Olaudah Equiano, William Wells Brown, Frederick Douglass, and Ida B. Wells. The welcoming reputation of the area, which is overwhelmingly white, goes back centuries, partly due to the Quaker/pacifist population heavily interested in women’s suffrage, economic equality, race relations, and other progressive movements. However, that reputation is not without criticism—race riots are recorded throughout the early to middle 20th century, and modern-day xenophobia and Islamophobic fearmongering unfortunately persist. With this in mind, we learn why it is important to contextualize, not romanticize, the Northeast’s welcoming reputation, while still recognizing its undeniable attraction to the marginalized, oppressed, and underrepresented.


The plaque honoring Frederick Douglass outside the residence where he stayed during his time in newcastle upon Tyne.

The plaque honoring Frederick Douglass outside the residence where he stayed during his time in newcastle upon Tyne.


Though the subsequent twenty-two minutes of King’s speech are missing today (likely cut, spliced, and scattered amongst the various British media outlets of the time), the impact of his words on the British struggle for racial and social equality cannot be understated. 

You can buy Brian’s book here. We’d like to offer him a huge thank you for sitting down for this conversation.

Episode One: North and South Elsewhere

About South kicks off its farewell season with a trip to England where we talk to Dr. Gavan Lennon, a professor at Canterbury Christ Church University, about southern studies in the UK. Gavan highlights the sense of solidarity those from Ireland and the UK might feel with the vibrant and productive history of African American resistance and cultural production in the U.S. South. Our guest also describes some of the problems with how white southerners use the term “Scotch-Irish” as well as the similarities between ultra-conservativism in the U.S. and Brexit in the United Kingdom. 


Frederick Douglass Mural on the “Solidarity Wall” in Belfast. Image via Wikimedia Commons; photo credit: Laurence.

Frederick Douglass Mural on the “Solidarity Wall” in Belfast. Image via Wikimedia Commons; photo credit: Laurence.


Gavan describes how he first encountered American culture from its music and literature and then realized in his graduate degrees that he was interested in studying the U.S. South. He describes how many people in the UK think of the U.S. South as a repository for the cultural elements that the nation does not want to embrace: monocultural conservatism, white racism, intellectual backwardness. In contrast to the sneering side, he also sees a strong sense of solidarity: an understanding that the U.S. South does have a history of violence and repression, but it also has a vibrant, productive history of resistance and cultural production. One of Gavan’s favorite public art pieces in the world is a mural in Belfast depicting Frederick Douglass and other African American leaders that conveys a sense of solidarity with anti-colonialist movements in Ireland.

Describing two boys dueling at Warkworth Castle, Gina notes similarities between how the Scottish people are depicted in England and how Indigenous people are depicted in the U.S.: both simultaneously demonized and romanticized on plaques and in historical landmarks. They discuss how white people in the U.S. South will sometimes identify as “Scotch-Irish” with a sense that the identity is somehow a defense against pure Anglo-Saxonism and / or a sense that they are descended from this righteously rebellious group of Scottish / Irish people. That fantasy often allows white people to claim a sense of both oppression and nobility.


Interpretative signage at The Castle in Newcastle upon Tyne. Photo by Gina Caison.

Interpretative signage at The Castle in Newcastle upon Tyne. Photo by Gina Caison.


Discussing some of the problems with Scotch-Irish identity, Gavan describes how the term allows people to pick and mix the kinds of whiteness they want to identify with: rebellious, strong, naturally of the earth. They then discard the parts of those identities they don’t like (e.g. Catholicism). This allows people to preserve what they like about these terms without contending with the historical and cultural messiness, which flattens the region’s history and specificity.

Gina and Gavan briefly discuss the many valences of class in England, and how class is often used as a shorthand for pleasantness and desirability. They talk about Jersey Shore, and it’s UK analog, Geordie Shore, and how these shows tend to present its subjects as working class people who are overly concerned with their looks, and heavy drinkers. Viewers, in turn, can watch the show and are reassured that they are more organized and sophisticated. Gina notes how these shows interpolate class and region in interesting ways. Gavan and Gina then turn to a brief discussion of Common People: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers, and Gavan explains that although “commoner” use to mean that one was not descended from nobility or clergy, the contemporary meaning is a little looser and will often just mean “uncouth, unrefined, or unpleasant.”


51KQ45WYPoL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

The anthology includes both white and non-white UK writers, and a writer from the series who is the daughter of immigrants detailed an instance of verbal harassment on the way to a discussion about the book, describing how someone told her to “go back where [she] came from.” This leads to a conversation about similarities between Brexit politics in the UK and deep conservatism in the U.S. and how these two political ideologies seem to be borne from a similar tension that is often expressed in violent ways against people who are perceived as different. Gavan notes that in England many working class people have justifiable anger about being treated poorly, but instead of pointing their anger toward the Tory government, conservatism, and all of the structures we know are built to harm poor and working class people, they find somewhere else to direct their anger, and it is often politically redirected toward non-white and immigrant populations.


Discover more about this classic song and the Different Class album here: https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/pulp-race-to-no-1-after-17-years Listen to more from Pulp: https://pulp.lnk.to/Essentials Stream a playlist of Pulp's biggest tracks: https://Pulp.lnk.to/BestOf Follow Pulp https://www.facebook.com/pulppeople/ https://twitter.com/pulp2011 Music video by Pulp performing Common People. (C) 1996 Universal Island Records Ltd. A Universal Music Company.

Thank you to Gavan Lennon for sitting down for this conversation. You can learn more about Gavan’s work here. And listen to him talk about his new book here:


The image that inspired the beginning of this episode.

The image that inspired the beginning of this episode.








Episode Sixteen: Trahlyta

This week we’re wrapping season 3 of About South with a conversation about the legend of Trahlyta, a pice of folklore that says a “Cherokee princess” is buried under a pile of rocks in Dahlonega, GA. Gina and Allison Yost discuss the tale’s origins, why people are so connected to it, and the ways it mirrors many troubling ideas about Native identity in the South.


Trahlyta’s Grave | Photo by Thomson200 via Wikimedia Commons

Trahlyta’s Grave | Photo by Thomson200 via Wikimedia Commons


A historical marker at the intersection of two highways in Dahlonega, in the mountains of North Georgia, recounts the legend of Tralyta. Legend has it that Trahlyta’s tribe knew the secrets eternal youth in the springs of Cedar Mountain. A man she rejected kidnapped Trahlyta, and once she was away from home, Trahlyta lost her beauty and died. Her body was buried back home at the springs, and a custom of passersbys marking her with a stone for good fortune began.

Allison came across the legend of Trahlyta when she was a student at the University of North Georgia. While in undergrad, Allison became fascinated by places like Dahlonega that have Cherokee namesakes. Allison read about the stones and researched the phenomenon in her graduate studies. 


Screen Shot 2018-11-15 at 11.42.40 PM.png

The pile of rocks is massive, taller than a person, and people often decorate and paint the stones that they leave. Over time, the magical elements of the story have changed, Allison notes. In the beginning, people left stones on Trahlyta’s grave out of respect; now they do it out of fear — the grave is said to be cursed. The legend’s most common origin story is that a guy heard it from “his Cherokee friend.” 

“Is any of this real,” Gina asks? “Well, real is such a complicated word,” Allison replies. 

The stones are real, the historical marker is real, and the connection people feel to the story is real … but there’s not exactly a body buried under there, and there’s a very, very slim chance the story actually originated in Cherokee oral tradition. Elements of the story are seen throughout white ideations of Native peoples: the vanishing Indian and the romanticization of and oneness with nature.

It’s a story that many non-Native people connect with easily, and the physical space associated with it draws people in more than an oral tradition alone, Allison says. People make pilgrimages to connect with the land, tugged by the idea that to be connected with nature is akin to being Native. The site also works to alleviate white guilt. People want a place to mourn and to distance themselves from the white people who came before them. Placing a stone on Trahlyta’s grave is like acknowledging the suffering of all Native people. Of course, Gina notes, the compassion for the fake sacred site in Dahlonega doesn’t extend to actual sacred sites throughout the South that are destroyed to make way for development.

Episode Fifteen: Activism, Y'all

We get a little bit meta in this week’s episode as we sit down for a conversation with Michelle Khouri, host of The Cultured Podcast and owner of FRQNCY Media Company, a first-of-its-kind podcast production and marketing company in Atlanta, Georgia. Michelle talks about how her background as a writer compelled her to find a medium to tell stories more deeply, eventually leading her to podcasting. Through FRQNCY Media, Michelle hopes to create a podcasting hub in Atlanta that will connect the city’s sonic legacy to its contemporary technological and creative innovations. 


FRQNCY-profile-pic.png

 We begin with a discussion of Michelle’s extensive history in the South. She grew up in Miami, “a sunny place for shady people.” She grew up immersed in her own culture and taking it fore granted before moving to Orlando and then West Palm Beach. Although she loved Miami, she never felt at home in other Floridian cities. When the opportunity presented itself, she moved to Atlanta and fell in love with the city. She moved through a variety of marketing and public relations jobs in the city before she took a job as the Public Relations Manager for the Atlanta Convention of Visitors Bureau. This particular job allowed her to learn everything that she could about the city so that she could communicate points of interest to visiting journalists and businesspeople. She notes that while Miami has a very clear vision of itself, Atlanta is so many disparate things to so many people. She sees this Atlanta’s disparate culture as an outcropping of its history of segregation: not just black/white segregation, but the segregation of Atlanta’s many different cultures into separate niches across the city. 

Michelle notes that while the city hasn’t yet chosen its identity, it is, most of all, a creative city. She also notes that Atlanta’s ability to rebuild, redefine itself, and create something completely new in the aftermath of disasters and devastating fires colors the city’s character throughout its history. With her new company, FRQNCY Media, Michelle hopes to harness the creative and technology booms happening in Atlanta right now. Michelle’s vision for FRQNCY Media is to create a full-service podcast production company and community hub. They will also be building a physical studio space with recording studios, co-working space, and workshops for podcasters. Referring back to Atlanta’s robust sonic legacy, Michelle describes her hope to create a podcasting community hub in Atlanta. Gina then describes her impetus for beginning About South as a response to the massive southern culture industry, which trades matters of real political importance for southern kitsch. Although she knew what she wanted the message to be, she and Kelly knew very little about podcasting as a medium. She emphasizes how helpful it would have been to have had someone to call up for advice. 


Cultured-artwork_sq-1250.jpg

While Atlanta is home to so much creative energy, Michelle discusses how the city doesn’t necessarily recognize and support its artistic talent. She notes that people generally take their money to New York or Los Angeles because those places are more accommodating for artists, and talented Atlantans follow that money to those other locations. Additionally, the local government caters to outsiders, creating policies that are designed to bring in outside dollars instead of aiding creatives who are already here. Even with the creative drain caused by local policies, we still have so much talent residing in Atlanta. Michelle asserts that people love this city, and they are determined to succeed despite the local government. Local residents and citizens have created this ecosystem where people help each other out. Though we could create venues for more collaboration, the fact that we are still here is a testament to our determination. 


Michelle Khouri, host of The Cultured Podcast and founder of FRQNCY Media

Michelle Khouri, host of The Cultured Podcast and founder of FRQNCY Media


Episode Fourteen: No More Silence

This week we talk with Malinda Maynor Lowery and William Sturkey, both professors of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, about the recent removal of the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam. The monument was erected in 1913 on the upper quad known as McCorkle Place ostensibly to remember "the sons of the University who died for their beloved Southland 1861-1865.” Malinda and William note the important distinction between a memorial and a monument: a memorial honors a loss whereas a monument celebrates some new entity or concept. This distinction is vital when considering the timeline of Silent Sam’s installation on campus. Nearly 50 years after the end of the Civil War, did the administration truly intend to memorialize the dead or did it wish to declare the campus a space for celebrating Confederate values and Jim Crow practices?  


The pedestal of Silent Sam after it was removed on August 20, 2018. Photo by Hameltion via Wikimedia Commons.

The pedestal of Silent Sam after it was removed on August 20, 2018. Photo by Hameltion via Wikimedia Commons.


The removal of Confederate monuments has been a slow process lasting several decades, but the fight has picked up speed after nine people were murdered by white supremacist Dylan Roof in Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that “visitors to Charleston have long been treated to South Carolina’s attempt to clean its history and depict its secession as something other than a war to guarantee the enslavement of the majority of its residents” (source). He urged for the removal of the Confederate flag from capitol grounds in Columbia. Activist Bree Newsome removed the flag from South Carolina’s state house grounds in an act of civil disobedience in the summer 2015. Eventually, South Carolina officially removed the flag that had inspired and encouraged terrorism.

These acts of horrific violence reignited the decades-old fight to remove Confederate monuments that embolden and elevate Confederate values. In 2017, New Orleans removed four confederate monuments, including P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee. The statue of Beauregard was removed in the middle of the night by a team bound in bullet-proof gear. Mayor Mitch Landrieu said that the statue of “Robert E. Lee was used as an example to send a message to the rest of the country, and to all the people that lived here, that the Confederacy was a noble cause. And that's just not true” (source).

Furthermore, the North Carolina legislature enacted a law amidst this 2017 climate that “prevents removing, relocating, or altering monuments, memorials, plaques and other markers that are on public property without permission from the N.C. Historical Commission” (source.) Shortly after this, a group of activists took town a statue dedicated to “the boys who wore grey” in Durham, North Carolina. Like Silent Sam, this statue was erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy many years after the end of the Civil War (source). 


Plaque on the pedestal of Silent Sam. Photo by Hameltion via Wikimedia Commons

Plaque on the pedestal of Silent Sam. Photo by Hameltion via Wikimedia Commons


Malinda and William discuss what this history means for the UNC Chapel Hill campus. For many, the town of Chapel Hill and the University community has long represneted one of North Carolina’s most “progressive” spaces. However, as they explain the University’s Board of Governors is a highly politicized and partisan entity that has used the controversy about the statue as a “bargaining chip” in other debates about the role of public education in the state. On August 20, 2018 protestors toppled the statue. Currently, it does not stand on campus, but there has been a debate about its potential reinstallation. What does it mean to re-erect a Confederate monument on public grounds in 2018?

As educators, Malinda and William also express their concerns about UNC students’ safety and well-being as well as the role of historians in contextualizing these issues for the larger public. Ultimately, the presence of Confederate monuments dictates who has claim on a space. As Malinda says in this episode, Silent Sam was erected by a university administration that never expected UNC Chapel Hill would someday, finally, be integrated.


University Ephemera Collection, North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library , University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill via Wikimedia Commons.

University Ephemera Collection, North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill via Wikimedia Commons.


We’d like to think Malinda, William, and the Center for the Study of the American South for joining us for this conversation. We’d also like to thank Goliath the pit bull for his general good cheer and wonderful recording etiquette.


Episode Thirteen: Grow

This week, we talk pumpkins-- giant pumpkins. Randi R. Byrd serves as the Community Engagement Coordinator for the American Indian Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and facilitates the Healthy Native North Carolinians Network. She is also an award-winning grower of giant pumpkins. 


sept 6.jpg

Although Randi always had a green thumb, she only connected her interest in agricultural practice to her fascination with pumpkins in 2009. Growing a 700-pound pumpkin is a difficult feat that often requires the support of family and friends. Randi talks about the community she found not only in fellow growers of giant pumpkins, but the local Indigenous community as well as her online friends that encouraged her pursuit, performed ceremony on the land with her, and physically tilled the soil from which actual magic could grow.


peter.jpg

Pumpkins are the perfect harbinger of fall. Around the end of September, they start appearing rapidly in grocery stores, on front porches, and in our food. For growers of giant pumpkins, however, the fruit is not a seasonal occupation. Growing pumpkins of this size requires months of planning and hard work. You must select a site in full sunlight, where the soil must be monitored and brought to the ideal pH level. The seeds should have the ideal genetics, as big pumpkins beget bigger pumpkins. Once in the ground, you must train the vines and cover them with soil to promote secondary root growth, while also watching carefully for signs of Vine Borer. A giant pumpkin takes at least 130 days to grow and each day is more vital than the last as your giant pumpkin grows into something incredible.

Growers capture the imagination of audiences at state fairs and weigh-ins, but it’s more than that — growers work to share their knowledge and seeds with other growers, promoting a community of those interested in mixing genetics and hard work to produce the stuff of fairytale. Although there is competition in the growing community, what it comes down to is cultivating land to produce more than fruit.


leaf.jpg

P.S. As Randi says, growing real magic isn’t about winning. In case you’re curious, though, the world record for giant pumpkins was in fact a whopping 2,6246 pounds set by grower Mathia Willemijn in 2016 (source).

More about our guest: Randi R. Byrd is unapologetic cultivator of love, community and absurdly large pumpkins. At the American Indian Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she serves at the Community Engagement Coordinator and facilitates the Healthy Native North Carolinians Network. she collaborates with diverse indigenous communities in North Carolina and beyond around health and wellness through a holistic community lens, community grassroots organizing that values indigenous ways of knowing and practices, by facilitating and promoting tribally-vetted and culturally appropriate curricula about Native Peoples, and affirming tribal self-determination. In 2016 she was recognized by the university with the C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award, celebrating “unusual, meritorious or superior contributions.” Her hobbies include growing competition-sized giant pumpkins, fishing, poetry, and creating beautiful trouble with those who dare. She is currently working towards certification as a Horticultural Therapist through the NC Botanical Garden at UNC Chapel Hill and serves on the Advisory Committee for the North Carolina Native American Ethnobotany Project.


From Instagram, #giantpumpkin:

Gallery Block
This is an example. To display your Instagram posts, double-click here to add an account or select an existing connected account. Learn more

Episode Twelve: Environmental Tell-All

This week, we’re back in Boone — well, Banner Elk — North Carolina. We sat down with Zackary Vernon, an assistant professor in the Department of English at Appalachian State University. Zack has lived in Boone for three years and chronicled his early days in the high country in the essay, “Adventures of a Bad Environmentalist.” The piece was published in the North Carolina Literary Review and won the first Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize. We talked with Zack about what it means to be an environmentalist and the problematic nature of environmentalism.


Looking out from Zack’s front yard.

Looking out from Zack’s front yard.


Banner Elk, Boone, West Jefferson, and Blowing Rock, all nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, comprise the “high country” of southern Appalachia. Each town in the high country has a different population and a different feel, from wealthy second homers and retirees to ski resorts and financially challenged college students. 

When Zack moved to Boone, he was excited to live among nature, have a small farm, raise chickens, and the like. Environmentalism sounded good, but it turned out to be much messier and far less idyllic than Zack had imagined. In environmental circles, Zack says, there’s a tendency to romanticize oneness with nature. That all wore off when he found himself playing judge, jury, and executioner of the creatures around him.


Zack Vernon, admitted “bad environmentalist”

Zack Vernon, admitted “bad environmentalist”


Zack reads from his piece, “Boone Summer: Adventures of a Bad Environmentalist.” He ruminates on his somewhat eccentric neighbor, Larry, and the feces-filled realities of being a good environmental steward.

After the reading, Gina and Zack discuss his forthcoming environmental tell-all book, in which Zack pulls the curtain back on how messy and uncomfortable environmentalism is. “Sometimes it feels like you’re violating your most basic principles in order to live this principled life you envisioned for yourself,” he says. 

Sound Note: There is a small sound glitch around minute 20:45 of this episode. We apologize for this hiccup in the original recording. Sometimes computers fail us. Zack says, “We see no tracks in the garden, but there is a pile of shit out in the garden.”

 

Episode Eleven: ᏙᎯᏧ

In this episode, Gina visits Dr. Ben Frey, a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and a professor in the American Studies department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ben talks about the current state of the Cherokee language and revitalization efforts in North Carolina. As Cherokee is the only surviving language in the Southern Iroquoian language family, it is remarkably unique. The Cherokee language is only about as similar to its nearest linguistic relative as English is to Russian. Ben discusses the importance of the language not only linguistically, but also as a tool to view his peoples’ knowledge about how to live in harmony with one another and the world.


Ben Frey started a Cherokee language coffee hour at UNC.

Ben Frey started a Cherokee language coffee hour at UNC.


The language is spoken by the three federally recognized nations of the Cherokee people: the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in present-day North Carolina, the Cherokee Nation in present-day Oklahoma, and the United Keetoowah Band also in present-day Oklahoma. Because of historical bias against Indigenous languages, the Cherokee language is endangered with approximately only 12,000 Cherokee speakers remaining across over 300,000 Cherokee citizens. Only 230 members of the Eastern Band speak the language. Many of the speakers are over the age of 65, and the language has not been passed on to younger generations. Although the language is publicly visible on street signs, store signs, and pottery, it is rarely spoken in public life. 

Ben emphasizes the connection between the Cherokee language and the Cherokee people. He describes how his Cherokee elders posit that all things are endowed by the Creator with a particular vibration, and the Cherokee language is the vibration given to the Cherokee people as the sound with which they are supposed to vibrate. To him, that sound feels particularly southern, and it is tied to a specific place: the southern Appalachians, which are meant to echo with the sound of the Cherokee language. 


Street Sign in Cherokee, NC | Photo by Billy Hathorn via Wikimedia Commons

Street Sign in Cherokee, NC | Photo by Billy Hathorn via Wikimedia Commons


Ben then turns to a discussion of current revitalization efforts. In both current-day Oklahoma and North Carolina, Cherokee people have created language immersion schools with the goal of exposing infants as young as six months old to the Cherokee language eight hours a day, five days a week. It began as a childcare program and developed into New Kituwah Academy in North Carolina. As the children have grown, the schools have added grades, teaching students all of their academic subjects in the Cherokee language. The immersion school in North Carolina recently graduated its first class of sixth graders, and the school in Oklahoma recently graduated its first class of high schoolers. Ben would like to encourage those high schoolers to come study with him at UNC Chapel Hill, offering “ᏙᏳᏛ ᎠᎭᏂ ᏤᏓᏍᏗ ᎠᏆᏚᎵ.”

Ben notes that although the language is endangered today, it wasn’t always that way. It was spoken regularly for over 14,000 years. As late as 1955 half of the community in Big Cove spoke the Cherokee language at home. He wonders how we might move beyond Anglo-centric bias to create a world where understanding Cherokee is meaningful and useful. 

Ben urges both Cherokee people and non-Native speakers who would like to learn Cherokee to consider their motivations. Particularly because the language is endangered, studying it can be depressing or feel like an obligation, and for Indigenous people, it may bring up negative feelings about contemporary and historical traumas, but Ben encourages language learners to find their joy. And he suggests that non-Cherokee learners ask themselves what they can bring to the community as a language learner. He also urges those learning the language to set a small goal and develop a habit — to learn a few phrases and try to order a cup of coffee knowing that they will make mistakes, but understanding that they can laugh at these mistakes. 


Ben Frey who will be translating Drake’s latest album into ᏣᎳᎩ.

Ben Frey who will be translating Drake’s latest album into ᏣᎳᎩ.


We close this episode with a discussion of what Ben loves about the language and why he thinks the Cherokee language is important. He uses the phrase ᏙᎯᏧ to illustrate how the language creates and shapes relationships between people. Although this phrase might be translated into English as “how’s it going?,” the word ᏙᎯ means peace, slowness, and restfulness. The shift in emphasis in the Cherokee phrase marks a different kind of relationship between people. 

Ben asserts that learning the Cherokee language is important because it gives us “a tool to view how our ancestors knew that they were supposed to live in the world.” He emphasizes that Indigenous cultures worldwide lasted for as long as they have and are still here because they were doing something right. That knowledge is encapsulated in Indigenous languages, and by caring for these languages, we care for this knowledge. In an era of climate change, hurricanes, deforestation, and violence against one another, Ben suggests that the whole world might benefit from learning Indigenous ways.

 We would like to thank Ben for his time, and Mr. Ed Fields for all of his wonderful language work and his “Cherokee glasses.”



** During this episode, Ben discusses briefly the problematic term “Cherokee Princess,” noting that the term “Cherokee Princess” should set off alarm bells when we hear it because the Cherokee people do not have royal families. Furthermore, the etymology of the term might very well emerge from a time when Cherokee women were kidnapped and sold into sex slavery by people who “marketed” them as “Cherokee Princesses.” The term implies that one might have been forced into sex slavery, part of a history of violence against indigenous women which persists today, as indigenous women are disproportionately reported missing or murdered in both the United States and Canada.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Database: https://www.mmiwdatabase.com

Episode Ten: Theater Everywhere

This week, we talk with the founder and Executive/Artistic Director of the Serenbe Playhouse, Brian Clowdus. Brian is known for building immersive, site-specific productions using the “playhouse” of the grounds of Serenbe, a small curated community just outside of Newnan, Georgia. We talk about how outdoor theater both inspires innovation and provides for more accessible theater in the U.S. South and beyond and how Brian’s productions have created room for outdoor drama to grow.


From the recent production of  The Seagull .

From the recent production of The Seagull.


Like many professional theater artists, Brian went to school in the northeast and moved to New York to pursue his career. After a revelation that working in New York wasn’t for him, Brian moved back to the south to be close to family and to have the space to pursue the type of theater that he wanted to create. And then he visited Serenbe.


Brian Clowdus as Sir Walter Raleigh in the outdoor drama  The Lost Colony  in 2009, the summer Gina & Brian met. Photo courtesy of the Roanoke Island Historical Association

Brian Clowdus as Sir Walter Raleigh in the outdoor drama The Lost Colony in 2009, the summer Gina & Brian met. Photo courtesy of the Roanoke Island Historical Association


Serenbe is described “a wellness community connected to nature on the edge of Atlanta... a neighborhood full of fresh food, fresh air and focused on wellbeing.” Serenbe’s Playhouse has over 50,000 visitors a season and only a small percentage are Serenbe community members. People travel from all over Georgia and beyond to see famous titles including Peter Pan and, recently, Titanic — each produced with inventive design and directorial choices. Brian discusses how the unique challenges of the outdoor play space both inspire and encourage the whole team at Serenbe Playhouse to think big, often announcing new ideas before they’re entirely sure how to make them reality.

Since founding Serenbe Playhouse, Brian has gone on to share his process with other locations as Brian Clowdus Experiences. Having theater outdoors allows companies of all sizes to mount productions fit for their budgets, artistic goals, and cast. Brian shares the value of theater uninhibited by space with areas all over the country as an option that is both financially and creatively more accessible for theater makers. By focusing on connecting with audiences -- for if it weren’t for audiences, there would be no show -- Brian understands how to produce theater that everyone can experience.


Titanic: The Musical at Serenbe Playhouse Music & Lyrics by Maury Yeston, Book by Peter Stone Directed by Brian Clowdus


Each season has six productions, including annual shows The Sleepy Hollow Experience (running September 26 to November 4) and The Snow Queen (running from November 28 to December 30). You can learn more about Brian and the Serenbe Playhouse by visiting their website, www.serenbeplayhouse.com. If you’re in the Atlanta area, we encourage you to check out The Edgar Allan Poe Experience, which will run at The Wren’s Nest from October 17-31.


See The Edgar Allan Poe Experience at The Wren’s Nest this fall.

See The Edgar Allan Poe Experience at The Wren’s Nest this fall.


We would like to thank Brian for taking the time to talk with us and share more about his incredible work and Ed Thrower for assembling sound clips for the episode.

Episode Nine: Plan B(oone), Meat Camp

This week Gina, Kelly, and Adjoa took a trip to Boone, North Carolina, a city in the southern Appalachian Mountains with its fair share of mythology and nostalgia from its namesake, Daniel Boone, to its contemporary tourist economy. Although Boone and Watauga County were largely spared from the ravages of mining and mountaintop removal, it is nevertheless a complicated space mired in controversies about gentrification that eerily echo Watauga County’s colonial history. As your About South team travels through the county, they visit the famous Mast General Store and end up in Meat Camp. All the while they try to pin down what’s real about southern Appalachia and the tourist economy and speculate about the future of a place with an apocryphal past. 


Mast General Store, a real place. Sort of.

Mast General Store, a real place. Sort of.


On the way to Boone, the team talks about the history of the city and the history of Daniel Boone, the city’s namesake. Gina helps to clear up some of the confusion and differentiate Daniel Boone from other famous and infamous “frontiersman” such as Johnny Appleseed and Davy Crockett. Using the line “more room, Daniel Boone” from a poem, Gina explains how Daniel Boone took white settlers beyond the Yadkin Valley and across the Cumberland Gap, trespassing into Cherokee territory and then into Shawnee territory and violating treaties between the British and Native nations. Eventually, as Gina explains, Daniel Boone’s “exploration” and the land speculation that followed him became a factor in the American Revolution. 


Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers Through the Cumberland Gap  by George Caleb Bingham, 1851-1852

Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers Through the Cumberland Gap by George Caleb Bingham, 1851-1852


 After arriving in Boone, the local hosts, Jessica Martell and Zackary Vernon, recommend taking a trip to Plan B in Meat Camp. Gina, Kelly and Adjoa are intrigued by the name of the place, so they decided to go. On the way, they stop at the Lucky Pickle in Valle Crucis for lunch and run into Cody Miller who tells them a little more about Meat Camp. Cody confirms that it was a place to hunt and process or dress meat, but he calls into question its affiliation with Daniel Boone. 

Before arriving at Meat Camp, the team — accompanied by Zach — takes a quick detour to walk through the Mast General Store, a general store and post office built in 1882 and later purchased by the Mast family. On the road to Meat Camp, they discuss how the store trades in nostalgia for a time that never actually existed.


Meat Camp

Meat Camp


 At Meat Camp, the About South team spends some time sitting on the stoop and talking with locals. They meet Samantha Bradshaw, a cashier at Plan B, who tells them about the history of the store and Meat Camp in general. They then meet up with Zackary’s coworkers, Jessie Blackburn and Billy Schumann who are kind enough to invite them into their yard to visit with their sheep and to learn more about Meat Camp. Billy, who is the Director of the Center for Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University, describes how gentrification has become a problem in Watauga County as houses in the county are purchased by vacationers looking for second homes, which, in turn, prices long-term residents out of the housing market. In parting, Billy offers some sage wisdom about Hillbilly Elegy, the recent controversial New York Times bestseller about the region:“Everyone is entitled to talk about their truth and their experience, but it’s never a good idea to extrapolate the whole of a region of 205,000 square miles and 25 million people out of that.” 

We would like to thank Zack Vernon and Jessica Martell for their exceptional hospitality. We would also like to thank Cory Miller, Samantha Bradshaw, Wayne Pennington, Jessie Blackburn, and Billy Schumann for their contributions to this episode. 


Episode Eight: Upstairs, 1973

On June 24, 1973, an arsonist set fire to the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Dozens of people lost their lives that night, but the event isn’t widely-known about. This week, we sit down with Ryan Prechter, a visiting lecturer in Georgia State University’s History Department. Ryan studies queer history in the south, particularly in New Orleans. We revisit the tragedy with Ryan to better understand why it happened and how it relates to where we are now.


The memorial plaque located at the site of the fire. Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Prechter

The memorial plaque located at the site of the fire. Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Prechter


The Upstairs Lounge was situated in the heart of the French quarter in an unassuming spot, as gay-friendly bars were at the time. June 24, 1973, a Sunday, the Upstairs Lounge hosted an all-day drinking event. The bar got crowded and the crowd got intoxicated. Patrons reported a man in the restroom for “bothering” people, declining to go into specifics, and he was removed from the bar. A while later, someone incessantly rang the bar’s doorbell, usually a signal that a patron’s ride had arrived to escort them home. But that night, there wasn’t a car waiting. On the other side of the bar’s main entrance were flames. 

A bartender was able to get some people to safety through the emergency exit in the back, but the bar itself was a fire hazard. As the fire department tried to quell the flames, it became apparent that there were still several people inside the building, trapped behind bar-covered windows. Those on the street could only watch. Thirty-two people died. In the aftermath, the Times-Picayune likened the scene to Hitler’s incinerators on its front page. Nobody in the city could figure out if that many people had died from fire in New Orleans before. No one was ever arrested or charged for the fire, but the man who was booted from the Upstairs Lounge is widely believed to be the arsonist.


The Upstairs Lounge is now unassuming office space. Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Prechter

The Upstairs Lounge is now unassuming office space. Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Prechter


The fire at the Upstairs Lounge is an important moment in gay history, but many people, gay or not, don’t know about it. Ryan heard about it for the first time shortly after the 40th anniversary in 2013. He wondered how he’d never known about the incident even though he’d spent a good amount of time in gay spaces and around gay people in the French Quarter. “The fact that I didn’t know about this, I knew other people must not know about this as well,” he says. 

The Stonewall protests in New York City galvanized gay people and gay rights’ activism. The fire at the Upstairs Lounge did neither of those things for New Orleans. Gay liberation groups and safe spaces existed, but “radical politicization had not found its way to New Orleans,” Ryan says. Additionally, the anti-gay sentiments that caused Stonewall weren’t to blame for the events at the Upstairs Lounge — the person who set the fire was likely a gay man — and the shame of homosexuality persisted. Many people didn’t claim their gay relatives’ remains to lay them to rest. 

Ryan attributes the more recent revisiting of the Upstairs Lounge by historians and scholars to a collective desire to bring justice to the situation after the 40th anniversary in 2013. He cites Skylar Fein's work, "Remember the Upstairs Lounge" as an important node in the memorialization.  New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, son of the mayor at the time of the event, memorialized the fire at the Upstairs Lounge almost as if to make good since his father decided not to return from vacation after the tragedy in 1973. The Archdiocese of New Orleans, which largely ignored the fire at the Upstairs Lounge, released an apology. Today, the door that led to the Upstairs Lounge remains. The plaque that commemorates the fire is as unassuming as the bar once was, a bit of history hidden in plain sight that largely goes unnoticed.


The door today. Photo Courtesy of Ryan Precter

The door today. Photo Courtesy of Ryan Precter


We'd like to thank Ryan for sitting down with us to talk about this event. The Huffington Post collected images of the Upstairs Lounge before the fire. You can see them hereThe View Upstairs (an off-broadway musical about the Upstairs Lounge) by Max Vernon just closed in May. Learn more about the show here

Episode Seven: Birds in the City


 A Blue Heron in Piedmont Park, Atlanta

 A Blue Heron in Piedmont Park, Atlanta


It may seem obvious, but Jason reiterates that birds care little for our sense of cartographic regionalism. They are, however, influenced greatly by eco-regionalism. Depending on the needs of the species, some birds can live as easily in the North Georgia mountains as they can in parts of Canada. Urban development, although certainly devastating to some ecosystems, may provide new shelters for generalist/opportunistic birds like the “Sky Lamborghini,” the Peregrine Falcon, who is able to substitute skyscrapers for cliff faces. Other species build their nests in the nooks and crannies of modern architecture and find easily-replenished food sources in our daily city life.  


Sky Lamborghini via Wikimedia Commons (Photo: Francisco M. Marzoa Alonso)

Sky Lamborghini via Wikimedia Commons (Photo: Francisco M. Marzoa Alonso)


Because the southeast has so much old growth forest, there is a great variety of species. Atlanta is commonly referred to as “the city within the forest,” and Jason says it is because of this that Atlanta allows for such diverse birding. Piedmont Park alone has over 200 species over the course of the year -- enough to make even novice birders excited. With so much bird life in and around the city, almost everyone has a bird story to tell, a moment in their daily lives where actual dinosaurs did something amazing. 

Why make birds political? Well, because everything is political. In his article “The Woods are My Safe Haven-- But That’s Not True For Everyone” on Audubon, Jason writes, “we celebrate [nature’s] majesty and encourage others to go out and experience it. And yet, the targets of this encouragement seem to be calculated. Whether it’s on ads for outdoor gear and apparel or in mainstream media, you typically don’t see depictions of black people enjoying the outdoors.” 


Screen Shot 2018-08-23 at 7.02.19 PM.png

This lack of representation limits access to a space that should be available for everyone. We naturally gravitate towards images that look like us and allow those images to outline our own interests. A space that is defined by its openness, nature is guarded by depictions of who should enjoy its “majesty.” This issue becomes more complicated when we understand that nature is not exclusive to rural, secluded spaces -- that nature is, in fact, everywhere we go.

Through his work in the education department at the Atlanta Zoo, Jason visits schools around Atlanta to teach kids about animals and encourage them to pursue their scientific interests. As birding becomes more popular -- both in Atlanta and at large -- Jason is optimistic that the birding space will grow to be more inclusive, diverse, and accessible. 

Visit Jason on Twitter, and play #TrickyBirdID with him every week!

 

Episode Six: Puppets!

This week, we went down the road to the Center for Puppetry Arts, the only center of its kind in the country. When we think of puppets, Jim Henson -- Father of the Muppets and Mississippian -- usually comes to mind. The Center is home to the largest collection of Jim Henson puppets and props, but it’s also much more than that. Gina spoke with Museum Director Jill Nash Malool and Producer Kristin Haverty about the importance of the Center’s location in Georgia, what it means to support the arts in local communities and internationally, and what we still have to learn from puppets.


The Center for Puppetry Arts showcases contemporary puppetry, a rich global historical collection, and your old friend Kermit.

The Center for Puppetry Arts showcases contemporary puppetry, a rich global historical collection, and your old friend Kermit.


But first, what exactly is a puppet? Puppets are things that you can pick up and manipulate and turn into a character. Jill admits that definition is … pretty vague, but that’s on purpose. People who visit the museum usually don’t realize just how connected their lives are to puppetry. Puppets can be made from clay, wood, or textiles. They can be stop-motion and for one-time use. The museum’s founder, Vincent Anthony, decided he wanted to put together a center where you could have puppetry live, puppetry as a static fine art, and puppetry as a craft for the public. Larger cities usually have a ballet, an opera, or both, but very few have a dedicated place to experience puppetry.

The Center for Puppetry Arts has two permanent galleries: the Global Collection Gallery and Jim Henson Collection Gallery. The Global Gallery teaches visitors about puppetry as a global tradition. The puppets in this collection include ones from The Lion King on Broadway, marionettes from China, a leather shadow puppet from Cambodia, and more.


Cambodian leather shadow puppet

Cambodian leather shadow puppet


Puppets are displayed as fine art throughout the Center, which means, like at most museums, you can’t play with them. This also means they have to cared for and conserved like pieces of fine art. In 2007, when Jim Henson’s family decided the Center would be home to the world’s largest collection of Jim Henson puppets (including the Fraggles, the Muppets, and your friends from Sesame Street!), props, and costumes, the center had to renovate its storage area to include things like climate control to meet museum standards — and keep the puppets around as long as possible for future generations. At the the Center, there’s always something new to see: most items are only put on display once every two years.


Dance your cares away!

Dance your cares away!


People usually don’t think of the arts as having a home in the south, Gina notes. But the Center is very well known in the international puppetry scene, and in domestic traditional arts scenes. “There’s definitely a sense of Atlanta and the center having a very prominent role in puppetry,” Kristin says. Kristin loves that the center has a long history of inviting guest artists to share ideas and techniques and create an exchange of ideas and introduce people to the south once they choose to venture outside of the world’s busiest airport.

Even though it’s off the beaten path for traditional art purveyors, the the Center is a destination for puppeteers from around the world. Kristen doesn’t think Georgia’s low per capita spending for arts means audiences aren’t interested in experiencing new and innovative art. Kristen says audience interest and appreciation despite low arts budgeting makes it even more important that the Center is in Atlanta. The center instills a sense of excitement about the arts into children and features adult programming and shows people of all ages how to incorporate the arts into their own lives.


War Horse, a puppet worn by two puppeteers and sturdy enough for a human actor to ride.

War Horse, a puppet worn by two puppeteers and sturdy enough for a human actor to ride.


In 1983, the Center created Experimental Puppet Theater (XPT) as a way for puppeteers doing shows at the Center to have fun together, branch out, and try new things. Before long, the Center added more people and structure to the program. Now, every January, applicants (mostly local) submit their XPT ideas. Selected candidates, visual artists, performers, and other interested parties come together to develop a group show and individual pieces. It all hits the stage every May. XPT participants have taken the unique puppet-centric platform and formed art collectives and ventured into film and television work after the program.



One of the annual highlights of the Center's programming is The Ghastly Dreadfuls. Kristin calls it a synthesis of great aspects of puppetry because it showcases great storytelling and uses different styles of puppetry, creating an all-around fun evening of theater. But that show is only around Halloween, so we recommend marking your calendar now.

And on August 30th, the Center hosts the Dark Crystal Ball to celebrate the opening of the exhibit for one of Henson's most beloved non-Muppet masterpieces. 


From Instagram #puppets:

Gallery Block
This is an example. To display your Instagram posts, double-click here to add an account or select an existing connected account. Learn more

Episode Five: Hospitality

In this episode, we talk about the myth of southern hospitality with Tony Szczesiul, Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and author of The Southern Hospitality Myth: Ethics, Politics, Race, and American Memory. Tony traces the long history of the myth and explores how it is embedded with the region’s other non-hospitable traits including enslavement and segregation. Tracing the history of southern hospitality throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries reveals its importance to contemporary debates about immigration, tourism, and the culture industry.


The Southern Hospitality Myth: Ethics, Politics, Race, and American Memory  from UGA Press

The Southern Hospitality Myth: Ethics, Politics, Race, and American Memory from UGA Press


Southern hospitality is one of the most pervasive and persistent myths about the U.S. South, and it is used to convey a lot of values and ideals and send certain messages about the region. We think of hospitality as a positive value associated with welcoming, manners, kindness, and generosity. However, hospitality is also about exclusion: defining who belongs and who does not. Stories told about southern hospitality were appealing to white people and welcoming to white people. However, as Tony argues, enslaved people made southern hospitality possible: wealthy white planters could not extend the hospitality without a contingent of forced laborers. When the phrase “southern hospitality” emerges in the 1820s, it debuts in debates about slavery, where it is clearly linked to the slave economy and made possible through slave labor, becoming a shorthand for the justification of southern plantation life as the pinnacle of manners, tradition, and ritual. The myth becomes a compelling propaganda tool, and stories about southern hospitality become an important part of the defense of slavery. 

While we think of hospitality as either taking place in a domestic space between individuals, Tony invites us to also think about how hospitality involves relationships across borders and countries. In his book, he explores how hospitality factors into how Americans responded to the Fugitive Slave Law and Negro Seaman Acts. The Fugitive Slave Law made it illegal to exercise hospitality to runaway slaves. Because many Christians saw hospitality as a biblical imperative, they viewed the law as an infringement on their right to practice their Christian beliefs and to control the threshold of their own homes. Some Americans who were on the fence about slavery became active abolitionists, and the law spurred a national debate about how we defined citizenship. Interestingly, both sides of the debate cited St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon to justify their position with slaveholders noting that St. Paul sent a runaway slave back to his owner and abolitionists noting that St. Paul sent the slave back as a brother in Christ. The same biblical imperative to be hospitable is referenced in contemporary immigration debates, and has inspired some southern evangelicals to make stronger demands about how the United States treats immigrants. 


A portrait of the fugitive slave Anthony Burns, whose arrest and trial under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 touched off riots and protests by abolitionists and citizens of Boston in the spring of 1854.

A portrait of the fugitive slave Anthony Burns, whose arrest and trial under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 touched off riots and protests by abolitionists and citizens of Boston in the spring of 1854.


Although the myth has complicated origins in slavery, it evolves to assume a variety of meanings over time. References to southern hospitality proliferate throughout the twentieth century, undergirding southern cultural endeavors that we can still see on the pages of Southern Living today. Beginning in the 1920s, southern hospitality is deployed to develop southern tourism and foreign investment in the region. Tony urges us to remember that southern hospitality has always had an economic imperative. The myth was created by southern slaveholders to justify their lifestyle, and it has paid off for generations of white southerners. Tony relates a story about how Thomas Jefferson who had a reputation for hospitality, hid slave labor from guests using dumbwaiters. He sees this story as a metaphor for the myth itself: unseen labor went into the construction of the myth and unseen strangers were relied on for their labor but never welcomed. Ultimately, Tony argues that southern hospitality is not ethically possible until after the Civil Rights Movement. 

While the history of southern hospitality involves white people welcoming other white people and excluding others on the basis of their race, Tony also discusses how alternative frameworks for hospitality were happening in non-white communities at the same time. For example, the Negro Motorist Green Book published between 1936 and 1966 provided African Americans with a way to navigate through segregated facilities as they travelled through the United States. Tony notes that according to the Green Book, many prominent southern towns known for their “hospitality” did not have a single hotel where African Americans could stop and stay for the night. However, the book did include “tourist homes” where families welcomed travelers who contacted them in advance. 


Cover of the 1940 edition.

Cover of the 1940 edition.


We would like to thank Tony Szczesiul for talking with us this week. We would also like to thank all of our friends in Lowell, Massachusetts: Sue, Paula, and everyone who came out to the panel in April about why southern studies matters everywhere.