By SHANNON HEUPEL, Montgomery Advertiser
MONTGOMERY, Alabama (AP) – Winning awards is nothing new for Rick Bragg, a prolific author and journalist from Pelham’s Alabama who even won a Pulitzer Prize.
But this new one is a little more special. After all, it’s named after Bragg’s favorite author, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“People have always asked me what Fitzgerald meant to me as a writer,” said Bragg, who frequently visits Montgomery but has never seen the Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in town before.
“It’s always been easy to answer because, you know, I grew up on the pulpwood roads. I grew up among the cotton fields. I’m not trying to be rustic. This is just how I grew up. My first job was collecting and shoveling, collecting hay, digging ditches. I worked on a farm, ”said Bragg. “Reading Fitzgerald opened up a different world to me. Especially “The Great Gatsby”. I know they called it the Jazz Age, but for me it was kind of that golden age of parties and big cars and old money, new money.
On September 24, Bragg, a longtime journalist and author of 11 books, said he was eager to be part of Fitzgerald’s legacy as the sixth recipient of the Fitzgerald Museum Literary Prize for Excellence in Writing.
“We have worked very hard to design a fun, safe and interactive evening for Rick and his fans that takes advantage of the beautiful outdoor space of the museum’s lawns to allow for distancing and fresh air,” said the museum’s general manager, the Dr. Alaina Doten. “With all the stress right now, the comfort and joy Rick delivers through his words is the type of medicine that many of us really need to lift our spirits.”
Guests can obtain autographed copies of Bragg’s new book, “Spotted Beauty: A Dog and His People, Lost and Found”. This is the story of his canine companion Speck, who will not be present. If you read the book, you will understand why.
“In the book, you tend to hit the most interesting places,” Bragg said of his actual misadventures with Speck. “The things that don’t make the book were just as bad. They just weren’t that interesting.
Bragg has the honor of being the only person Speck has bitten since his rescue, though the dog chases after every delivery man or worker who approaches him. “He nailed me a few good times, but never anyone else,” Bragg said.
While there is a lot of humor in Bragg’s new novel, it also touches on sadness. Bragg’s brother, Sam, who was a major figure in the book. died near the end of his writing from pancreatic cancer.
“He got sick towards the end of the book, and I wasn’t going to write about my brother’s death in a book about dogs. I just wasn’t going to do it, ”Bragg said. “But it had to be fixed because he was such a big role, with his interactions with Speck. He didn’t like Speck at first. I discovered towards the end of the book that I could say certain things about my brother that I always wanted to say … Towards the end, they came to like each other.
In addition to the award ceremony, the event serves as a celebration of Fitzgerald’s 125th birthday.
“Well, someone older than me,” Bragg said.
The ceremony takes place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in a tent in the museum’s outdoor area, 919 Felder Ave., Montgomery. Tickets for the event, which also celebrates Fitzgerald’s 125th birthday, are available between $ 55 and $ 75 at thefitzgeraldmuseum.org.
Previous literary award winners have been Equal Justice Initiative Founder Bryan Stevenson (2020), Alabama Alabama Writers Frye Gaillard (2019), Wayne Flynt (2018), Katherine Clark (2017) and Kim Cross (2016).
Bragg took the time to answer a few questions about his life, his dog, and his writing:
Q: Have you ever been to Montgomery before?
A: “I have been coming and going from Montgomery since I was five years old. We always got lost in Montgomery on our way to Pensacola. . . We always stopped at Montgomery and had lunch. We stopped at those old concrete picnic tables on the 21st. That always meant fried chicken and getting lost. We would manage to get lost at least once.
Q: Did you write a lot when you were very young?
A: “No. When I was little, I grew up with great storytellers. I mean the best storytellers on the planet. But they were talkers, not writers. They could make you hear the change clicking in the pocket of the member who is chasing you down a dirt road. My Uncle James and Uncle Bill and my other uncles were just big talkers.
“I would never have started writing without the high school newspaper. I skipped drawing lessons in business school because I couldn’t do math. I always wanted to be an architect, but I couldn’t do the math. I just didn’t have it in me. I would watch a long division and lose my mind. A friend of mine told me that if I was doing journalism I wouldn’t have to do math. I joined the school newspaper and started writing stories. I finally discovered that you could tell a story with the color, the images and the details of how my uncles told a story.
He said journalism was also beating manual jobs. “You’re not going to fall off the roof of a house writing a story,” Bragg said.
Q: Have you always been a fan of dogs?
A: “I’ve always liked dogs, and I’ve always liked the idea of dogs. I grew up with dogs. I had a Weimaraner puppy with one eye, a basset and a hundred mongrels … I had dogs until I started working for newspapers, before going to work at Birmingham News. Then all of a sudden I was working 18 hours and on the road, living in apartments. I just didn’t have the heart to put a dog in a small apartment. I haven’t had another dog for 30 years. Maybe longer.
Q: So tell us about Speck.
A: “I found Speck starving on a ridge line behind the Calhoun County house, behind my mother’s cabin. He had been there for about two or three days, just waiting to die. He had been torn apart, and we believe he fled by the stray dogs he was roaming with. He was looking just down, up the ridge about a hundred yards, just watching the house. After a few days, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I went to get him. It probably wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made. He was a good dog as he regained his strength. But as soon as he regained his strength, he tore everything apart for two miles. He terrorized cats, trampled donkeys and fought other dogs … He managed to wallow in all forms of manure that can be found on a farm.
Q: As a longtime journalist, have you ever felt this style of writing with The Associated Press rules creeping into your work?
A: “Oh, everyday. Oh yes. I still have editors at Knoph whose first thing is to change my manuscript to AP style. They use the Chicago style more. I don’t really know how to write otherwise. Now I am so confused that I would probably fail an AP style test.
Q: As a writer, has the year and a half spent in pandemic conditions been a time to work on new projects?
A: “It is not, and I will tell the truth about it. It might have given me more time, but it’s a terrible, terrible time. There is something about fear and worry. I’m not talking about a single person who gets sick. I’m talking about every person in your family. I took my mom across counties to get her COVID shot because we could get it a bit quicker there. Worrying about being with people, I don’t think that’s all good for writing. I didn’t answer it very well.
Q: Something I have wondered over the years is, will writers ever retire? Do you ever see yourself not writing?
A: “It would be a little shameful to quit a job as easily as this one. Again, I did some shovel and picking work. I once remember having to carry concrete blocks up a ladder … and I remember thinking, man, whatever I do with my life, it’s gonna be easier than that. Write to me, even though it’s hard, and even though you can sweat it really doesn’t compare to what most people do … I guess I’ll write as long as I have something to say, and then maybe one day I’ll wake up and decide I have nothing to say. Then I’m going to get myself a lawn chair and a Zebco 202 fishing rod, and maybe a good dog. Maybe Speck will last that long. Maybe he and me will come down and pretend to fish.
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