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Rick Bragg Receives Harper Lee Award

By Penne J. Laubenthal

At the 12th Annual Alabama Writers Symposium held earlier this month in Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, author and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Rick Bragg was awarded the Harper Lee Award for Fiction. Previous recipients of the Harper Lee Award For A Distinguished Alabama Writer include Albert Murray, Madison Jones, Sena Jeter Naslund, Mary Ward Brown, Sonia Sanchez, and William Cobb among others.

This prestigious award is presented in honor of another Pulitzer Prize winning writer Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Lee ,who still resides in Monroeville, was a close friend of Truman Capote and a lifelong friend of playwright Horton Foote. Foote, who died in February of this year, wrote the screenplay for the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Rick Bragg grew up in Jacksonville, Alabama, not far from his birthplace of Piedmont, and received the1996 Pulitzer Prize for Journalism while he was a correspondent for the New York Times. Since 1996, Bragg has published five books, three of which are based on his family and the area in which he grew up in northeast Alabama: All Over but the Shoutin' (about his childhood and his abusive alcoholic father), Ava's Man (about the grandfather he never really knew), and The Prince of Frogtown (about his late life marriage and his journey to fatherhood). Bragg’s other books are I am a Soldier Too: The Jessica Lynch Story, and a collection of his newspaper stories entitled Somebody Told Me. In addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize, Bragg has won over fifty writing awards in the past twenty years.

In his acceptance speech for the Harper Lee Award, Bragg who is known for his wit and humor said "Don Noble  [the host of the TV show Bookmark] is my acid test…But he likes everything I write. One day, I'm going to write a book that Don Noble doesn't like, ad then I'm going to leave the country."

Bragg learned to tell stories by listening to the masters, the people of the foothills of the Appalachians. They talked of the sadness, poverty, cruelty, kindness, hope, hopelessness, faith, anger and joy of their everyday lives in the haze of the evening as work faded into story-telling.

In 2001 Bragg had this to say in his biography on the web site BookBrowse: “…the best thing that happened to me in 1996 was the contract for this book [All Over But The Shoutin'], which allowed me to keep a promise I had made to my mother—a woman who picked cotton, scrubbed floors and took in washing and ironing—who went 18 years without a new dress so I could have school clothes. With the advance from this book, I bought her a house, the first house she ever owned. “

He continued, “I was born in a small town hospital in northeastern Alabama on July 26, 1959. My momma went into labor about three-quarters of the way through The Ten Commandments, which was showing at the Midway Drive-In. I am not making this up. I think it's in Chapter Four.” And he concluded, “I am seldom at home. I am not married. If I had a dog, it would starve.”

Rick Bragg has come a long way from the cotton fields and mill towns of northeast Alabama. Since 2001 he has married and is the step-father of a teenaged boy. To quote Huckleberry Finn, the story is “all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.” For the latest in his life and letters, read Bragg’s most recent book The Prince of Frogtown. 

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