Rick Bragg Book Signing
The Prince of Frogtown
Knopf. 251 pages. $24.
Thursday, May 29. 7 p.m.
832 Orleans Road, West Ashley
Everything I knew about being a father, almost everything, was wrong, twisted.
—Rick Bragg in The Prince of Frogtown
Rick Bragg already knew plenty about facing up to the challenge at hand. He made his way from the foothills of the Appalachians to top writing jobs in New Orleans and New York, crafting the stories of the people he met. He brought home a Pulitzer, bought his mama a house to thank her for carrying him and his brothers through the rough times alone, and became a best-selling author.
Then he fell in love with a lady who had a little boy. This was a whole new kind of challenge.
He understood that he'd have to dig down deep into himself — make some kind of peace with his own memories of growing up with an alcoholic, often absent, daddy — in order to do right by the child who, by virtue of his courtship of the boy's mother, he assumed responsibility for.
He realized that he needed to understand his own father as more than just the damage caused by the man.
That's probably not the easiest thing to do.
In The Prince of Frogtown, the book he wrote to put the ghost of his own father to rest, Bragg concludes the set of family tales he began with All Over But the Shoutin' and expanded on in Ava's Man. He digs through the past, unearthing a Southern land of long ago, and places the artifacts he finds side by side with the stuff of modern day.
Then, like a good writer should, he just steps back and lets the reader have a look.
Here's an excerpt from our recent interview with Bragg:
City Paper: Let's talk about The Prince of Frogtown. It's a powerful story. For those who grew up without a father, this book is going to hit hard.
Rick Bragg: I tell you, I think there's a whole lot of us running around out there in about the same situation.
CP: You mention, in the acknowledgements, that you can let things lie now. Tell me about that, about when you realized that you had found what you needed to find.
RB: Before, when I thought about my dad, he was just the blunt object that I used to pound out the story about my mom. I thought about the pain and deprivations he caused in regard to my mother. But I knew that wasn't all he was. That's not all anybody is. I just wanted people to tell me one good story about my daddy. And they did. He meant something good to some people. Now, when I think about him, I think about that, and that's got to be worth something. But I'll tell you something else, and this is the main thing, my daddy drank himself to death. But you talk to enough people, find the right people, and you learn why he drank himself to death. He did have regrets, and he talked about it all the time. And that has to be worth something too.
CP: It's a challenge to what we so commonly do, which is to look for a way to summarize or dismiss the people who've hurt us. It had to be hard to push past that.
RB: Everyone wants things to be pat. Well, this isn't pat. Someone asked me if I had forgiven my father, and it took me 15 minutes to try to answer it. The gist of it was, you never forgive him for it. My mama took in laundry. I'm never going to forgive him for that. She did without, shouldered everything, absorbed everything.
CP: Your writing has such a smooth storytelling style. How much of it just flows out naturally for you?
RB: The language and the phrases and the colors are really just taken from the storytellers I grew up with. That language is there, and it mixes with all the good writers I ever read. I won't say it's easy, but at least it comes pretty quickly.