BY HANNAH LESTER
The Women’s Philanthropy Board of Auburn University hosted southern author Rick Bragg last week on a stage set with rocking chairs, goats, a picnic basket, a tire swing and a background of fireflies.
The scene was set as a perfect summer background. A scene from one of Bragg’s memories perhaps, or just a common denominator for warm nights in the south.
The inaugural Summer Nights event was held at the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center and was the first in-person event for the WPB since before the beginning of COVID-19.
“As we gather today to hear from a wonderful storyteller, I hope you are transported to places familiar and comforting,” said Susan Hubbard, dean of the College of Human Sciences. “Rick’s tales have a way of reminding us of what we have in common and help us to celebrate the little things that tie our lives together.”
Bragg said he was honored to be invited to Auburn, despite having never attended Auburn himself.
“I have been disappointing women from Auburn for 43 years,” he said. “I have been set free in my life by 47 good women. Twenty % of them were from Auburn. This tonight will be the only time in my life that I will look upon women with an Auburn connection without scorn, anger or bitter disappointment. So, thank you for that opportunity.”
Bragg works as a professor of writing at the University of Alabama and took the opportunity to share with the Auburn audience members how much they are disliked in Tuscaloosa.
“Man, they really don’t like ya’ll over there,” he said, which, despite the rivalry, garnered a laugh from the audience. “I’m serious. I have no affiliation, but I can be bought … I went to a party, as I like to sum up most of houses in this world as houses and rich folks’ houses. This was rich folks’ houses. And everybody in there, if they were in Texas, they would all have been wearing big hats. And everybody in there had a storied history. And man, they were letting y’all have it. I mean, they were letting y’all have it. And I hope you appreciate me because I stood up for ya’ll. I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to.
“But I said to this one old man, who was very well placed. You would know him if I gave you his name. But I won’t, because they might kill me. I said, ‘You know, I think you’re being a little rough on Auburn. I myself,’ and I mentioned my dating history, ‘I have been set free by several wonderful people from Auburn.’ And without missing a beat, he just kind of cocked his head and said, ‘Well son, that’s how you learn.’ So, you’re on your own now. I’ve done all I can do.”
Bragg, a journalist and Pulitzer-prize winning novelist, tells stories with his words. In particular, stories of the South. His memories — his recollections — of his life, and of his family.
“I remember tomato sandwiches wrapped in twice-used aluminum foil,” he said. “And if you say that you don’t know what that looks like then you are obviously putting on airs.”
Bragg has written a total of 17 books.
“All of them have been writing with, I hope, love, but with grit, because you can’t live in the deep south and not know what the rough edges of this old life are like,” he said.
The writer said that he didn’t want to disappoint his gathered audience because they were making a difference in young people’s lives and deserved a nice night.
Bragg shared stories of his brother, writing in the press box at Jordan-Hare, plane rides with working-class men and some of his favorite childhood recipes — such as ham and pinto beans.
Before leaving the stage for the night, and moving into a portion of the evening dedicated for book signings, Bragg took the opportunity to do something he had told the audience he wanted to do. He pushed the tire swing on stage. And of course, like the rest of the evening, the room filled with laughter.