- BRAGG: To read from the hardest book he's ever written.
Rick Bragg — via his books “All Over But the Shoutin',” “Ava's Man,” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning feature stories he once wrote as a reporter for the New York Times — has spent his whole life telling stories about other people. In his new memoir, “The Prince of Frogtown,” Bragg turns the lens on himself; specifically, by looking at his relationship with his stepson Jake. It's a bond that is at all times covered by the shadow of Bragg's own violent and alcoholic father, who drank himself to death when Rick was a child. The result is a powerful, heartfelt and luminescent book; a true work of art that handily completes the bittersweet circle he started in “Ava” and “Shoutin' .”
As part of the Arkansas Literary Festival, Bragg will read from his book “The Prince of Frogtown” at noon on Friday, April 17 at the Darragh Center in the Main Library downtown.
Bragg said “Prince” was the hardest book he's ever written. It took him five years, a good bit of which was spent trekking door to door, asking old friends, enemies and acquaintances about his father. In “All Over But the Shoutin',” Bragg said, his father came across as not much more than a one-dimensional demon. But as he talked to old-timers who knew the man, his faith in his father's goodness began to grow.
“It took years to finally to land on the half dozen people who were willing to tell me good stories about my dad,” he said. “I knew the bad stories. I knew just about all of them. Of course, what happens is that you get bad stories too, and you can't ignore them. I got some really dark stories about daddy, but I also got stories from people who believed my Daddy had tremendous value on this planet.”
Though Bragg has said in other interviews that “The Prince of Frogtown” will be his last book about his family, he said he has one more in him: a book of essays that will expand on the lives of some of the people seen in his Alabama trilogy of memoirs. After that, he said, he will be writing a novel for publisher Knopf. While Bragg said he isn't far enough along in the writing process to know how he feels about fiction, he does admit there's a certain freedom to it.
The problem with nonfiction, Bragg said, is that “people you love are going to come to you, and they're going to decide: Either you have done them a service of some kind, or you have done them an injustice … there's that fear that you're gonna be clumsy; that you're going to hurt somebody without meaning to hurt them by telling an awful story. That vanishes with fiction. It's like having this great weight lifted off your shoulders.”
Read a longer Q&A with Rick Bragg at our website: www.arktimes.com.