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Oxford omnivorian

OA’s new ‘Southern Food’ issue hits stands, plus Dewayne Graham rides again.

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Diners and readers alike have something to smile about this week, as the new “Southern Food” issue of the Conway-based Oxford American magazine hits the stands. A first for the magazine, which has built much of its fan base around themed issues like its annual “Southern Music” feature, the Food issue was guest-edited by critic and scholar John T. Edge, who has written an award-winning cookbook and appears regularly on NPR. Edge also has written tomes on the history of fried chicken and apple pie in the American South. In addition to regular columns, the new issue features a series of “Ode to …” stories written by some of our greatest Southern writers about their favorite down-home foods. Highlights include Pulitzer Prize-winner James Alan McPherson’s love song for crab cakes and low country boil, Arkansas writer and artist Donald Harington on chicken and dumplings, a timeline of events in the history of Southern food (as in — “1901: Howell Campbell of Nashville names his marshmallow, milk chocolate, peanut and caramel confection the Goo Goo Cluster.”) and a previously unpublished essay by the novelist Carson McCullers on the food of her native Georgia. OA editor Marc Smirnoff admitted that writing about food is mostly boring to him, so in pulling the issue together, he said, every article in the magazine had to strike him as good writing, period. “I’m not a foodie at all,” Smirnoff said. “But there was so much interest in this topic. When we first discussed it, we got a bigger response from writers and readers than we even got for the music issue.” Given that attitude during the early stages of compiling the issue, Smirnoff said he found the end result surprisingly readable. Mostly, he said, that’s because the writers selected for the issue approached their topics not as food items, but as something that changes the way the diner feels. “That’s how you write about food,” he said. “Not about recipes, but about how it affects us in so many other ways.” Next up for Smirnoff and the Oxford American is the ever-popular music issue, which comes packaged with a CD. During work on the food issue, Smirnoff said the staff of the OA hashed out who they’d like to see on the CD, which ultimately determines what ends up in the magazine. Though Smirnoff wouldn’t talk about what’s in store for OA readers (and listeners), he said that in Nashville his co-compiler has started acquiring the rights to the songs for 2005. “There’s a few surprises,” he said. “I wish I could tell you, but there is some pretty strange stuff that we’re looking at right now.” Dewayne Graham, who parted ways with KLRT-TV’s Fox 16 News in January over creative differences (mostly, he said, the fear of being put on “rat and roach patrol” by the station), is back in the saddle again. On March 28, Graham debuted in a new show for KWBF-TV, WB42, titled “Graham on Your Side.” Appear-ing daily at 6:30 p.m., Graham hopes his new show will continue his long-standing career as a community advocate and investigative journalist. According to Graham, the “driving force” of the 30-minute show is the live on-air call-in, where consumers are allowed to vent their complaints and seek Graham’s advice and help (he said this might even include three-way calls in which he aconnects disgruntled callers live on the air with the politician or businessman who is the subject of their frustration). As anyone who has worked in a newspaper office could have told him, opening the lines to every yahoo with a telephone and a gripe might not be the best idea. From the episodes we’ve watched, he gets more than his fair share of kooks. Recent sessions have found Graham forced to listen ad-nauseam as callers complained about everything from credit card rates to (and we’re not making this up) a big lump of goo found in a carton of buttermilk. While we don’t know if that adds up to fighting for truth, justice and the American way, it is a sincere effort at helping the underdog, and we’ve got to give him props for that. Please leave a message after the beep. david@arktimes.com

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