essays & articles

World Without End


This kind of language doesn’t surprise me; I don’t even think to ask what danger, exactly, he’s anticipating coming our way. It seems we all—secular or religious, conservative or liberal—sense some tension that has to give, some ending on the horizon. When my friends and I commiserate about our low-paying jobs and skyrocketing debt, we joke about the absurdity of planning for the future. “My retirement plans,” I say, “consist entirely of assuming the world will no longer be habitable by the time I’m sixty-five.”

The Ark at the End of the World

The Bitter Southerner

In the faith tradition I grew up in, science and religion were compatible — not competing — sources of truth. This made any tensions I felt between the world and the church negotiable, a question of my ability to hold multiple perspectives in tension, rather than choosing one over the other. But the certainty, the demands, of a more conservative theology might be a more effective tool for retention rates. The religion I was raised in never demanded that I choose it and forsake all else, so I never did.

This is Paradise

The Bitter Southerner

In the long list of plants and animals facing similar challenges and dwindling numbers, it might seem hard to justify the amount of attention and resources that the Florida torreyas command. Focusing on one ailing species often feels like a choice to ignore another. Compared with the Florida yew, with its cancer-fighting potential, or the gopher tortoise, whose deep, winding tunnels protect other species fleeing fires, it’s hard to know what the Florida torreya offers — what it means — other than its role in a story projected onto it.

The Charged World 

Image Journal  

Catherine’s house was just across the street from where the accident happened. From her living-room window she could see the overturned grain auger, the power line, the patches of grass still flattened from the weight of the boys’ bodies.

Writing that Hurts

The Rumpus

These objects taught Doty how to love the world, and his descriptions demonstrate his argument: that the language of ideas is “a phantom language, lacking in the substance of worldly things, those containers of feeling and experience, memory and time”; that memory does what art does, “which is to take the world within us and somehow make it ours”; that description, borne of outward attention to the world, ultimately gives us back ourselves.

The Life I Have

The Bitter Southerner

When the sky goes dark before a storm, it resembles nothing so much as the roving darkness I saw on the ultrasound screen, revealing the inside of my body and the stranger growing there, heartbeat already tumbling.

Crying in Church

 Image Journal  

It should not surprise me, now, that my father seems so inseparable from the ritual of worship itself. But in the last year I’ve spent going to church, I’ve felt the rhythm of ritual becoming more persistent, insistent somehow, in my body, in my own burgeoning understanding of what faith might look like without my dad standing at the threshold and welcoming me inside.

The Last Time 


Each week, my father wrote his sermons at the dining room table with a worn Bible spread open before him, filling hundreds of notebooks with his tight, tiny script. Whenever I caught a glimpse of him hunched over his notebook, his work seemed as rare as dowsing, as specialized as horology, utterly mysterious to me.

Please Keep Doors Closed 

 Image Journal 

After the funeral, at my grandmother’s grave, a Methodist preacher wearing a rainbow-striped stole invited us to sing a hymn, Blessed be the Tie that Binds. When we sang what has always been my favorite line, “the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above,” it sounded like a far-off fantasy.

Memphis Burning 

Memphis Flyer 

The lynching of Ell Persons is a story no one told me about my home. I never heard Persons’ name in a history class or read about the lynching in a textbook. I first encountered Persons’ story in my own reading, years after I finished high school in Memphis and moved away for college. When I went looking for the site where Persons was lynched, there was nothing to suggest whether I was in the right place.

When a Green Book Site Goes Up For Sale 

The Atlantic's CityLab 

Despite new landscaping and sidewalks, Henry Street appears bombed out—deliberately attacked. Some Gainsboro residents think that is, in fact, the case—that the urban renewal projects which decimated the neighborhood were targeting Henry Street and the revenue of its black businesses. “This was war,” a community leader recently told me, “plain and simple.”

When Memphis Fell for a Pyramid Scheme

The Atlantic's CityLab 

Articles spanning the last 50 years of Pinch history often described it as on the cusp of something: The neighborhood was “making a modest comeback,” “slowly coming back to life,” “poised for a Renaissance,” “nearly dormant,” “once-thriving,” “coming back,” and “not dead yet.” But wherever the Pinch was headed, it never seemed to arrive.

The Economics of Lynching in Memphis

MLK50: Justice Through Journalism

In the yearlong anticipation of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, there has been plenty of conversation about the way Memphis has or has not changed over the course of the past half-century. But 124 years after Walker was lynched after begging for food, Memphis remains a place where panhandling is prohibited and poverty is criminalized.

A Parable of Produce

Gravy Quarterly 

Meanwhile, the fruits and vegetables produced each year at David’s and Billy’s gardens would not be enough to feed the households in their own neighborhoods. Much of the yield of gardens like Billy’s and David’s is not measured: Before the food can be counted or weighed, it has already been whisked away to be cooked in the school cafeteria, carried home in children’s backpacks, or sold at farmers’ markets for next to nothing.


Where do we go from here? A Q&A with Journalist Jelani Cobb at Facing History and Ourselves 

The Ecstatic Vision of Sally Mann in The Hollins Critic 

Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary: Interviews with Sally Mann and Karen Bender in Hollins Magazine 

The Way Life is Lived: a Profile of Mary Carter Bishop in Hollins Magazine

On Don’t You Ever: My Mother and Her Secret Son in The Kenyon Review 

Nonprofit Bakery to Experiment with a Living Wage in MLK50: Justice Through Journalism

CHOICES Chooses a Living Wage in MLK50: Justice Through Journalism

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