“Larry Brown, Writer,” and a Place Called Tula

Larry Brown (stock photo)

Essay by Rob McDonald


I lived almost ten years of my early life beside a railroad track in Memphis, and I never stopped longing to live in Mississippi, where I was born, and to be in the country, a place like this. . . . It’s one thing to have a life in a place, and to be happy in it is quite another.

—Larry Brown, “By the Pond”


How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.

—William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying



“Kick Ass.”

That’s how Larry Brown expressed his literary ambition, on a slip of paper taped to the top of the typewriter he’d set up inside a converted utility room off the carport at his home in Yocona, Mississippi.

There were two notes, actually.

The other one said “Think of Tula.”


Brown wrote his first story just before he turned thirty years old. When he died of a heart attack the day before Thanksgiving in 2004, he was fifty-three. He had published eight books—short stories, novels, and nonfiction—and gained a reputation as perhaps the greatest contemporary practitioner in a line of unbridled Southern storytelling running from Erskine Caldwell straight through to his contemporary idols, Harry Crews and Barry Hannah. His publisher, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, touted him as the “King of Grit Lit,” and with each new book, reviewers seemed to delight in coming up with fresh appellations to characterize his approach to portraying rural, mostly white, working-class Mississippi: “The Fire Engine Redneck,” “The Bubba of Bleak,” “The Bard of the Bottoms,” “The King of White Trash.” Brown once kidded his daughter, LeAnne, that if he was “The King,” he reckoned that made her “The Princess of White Trash.”[1]

The man had a sense of humor. But I have often wondered how he might really have felt about the way those clever labels seemed to trivialize his intentions. His rise to literary celebrity was phenomenal. In 1989, the year after he published his first book, Jane Pauley interviewed him on the Today Show, profiling a small-town firefighter who had failed senior English, joined the Marines instead of going to college, and then, one spring afternoon the year before he turned the decisive age of thirty, decided he would start trying to write fiction. He quit the fire department in 1990 because he wanted to focus on his craft, but also because he had grown weary of the tendency to introduce him and his writing as some sort of backwoods spectacle. “A fireman-turned-writer from Oxford, Miss., Faulkner’s hometown, Brown uses vernacular speech to good effect in these 10 raw, festering tales of the Deep South,” begins the Publisher’s Weekly review of his first book, the story collection Facing the Music.[2]  He longed to be taken seriously. “I wanted to be known as Larry Brown, writer,” he declared.[3]

Click here to purchase

His books do leave readers grasping for ways to respond. “Stunning” is a word that appears often in reviews. “Brilliant,” too. “Blunt and brilliant,” the novelist Daniel Woodrell says in a New York Times review of Brown’s recently published collected short stories, Tiny Love.[4]  These are interesting terms because they describe physical effects: the idea that reading Brown is an experience that’s more than entertaining or intellectual. Planning for the release of his first book, Shannon Ravenel, Brown’s long-time editor at Algonquin, thought he should come out initially with a novel, which would unfold over time, allowing readers space to react and recover as characters and narratives developed. The short story form pronounced what was both original and difficult about Brown’s inclination to “powerful grimness.” “There [is] something almost lethally debilitating about reading one gut-raking story after another,” she told him.[5]

She was not wrong. In the title story in Facing the Music, a man struggles with the loss of sexual attraction for his wife after her mastectomy. She craves attention, intimacy, but he feels trapped and unable to respond.

“I could do something for you,” she says. She’s teasing but she means it. I have to smile. One of those frozen ones. I feel like shooting both of us because she’s fixed her hair up nice and she’s got on a new nightgown.[6]

The story grinds toward concession, but not resolution: “She turns the light off, and we reach to find each other in the darkness like people who are blind.”[7] The collection is filled out with assorted portraits of alcoholism, blue-collar malaise, and broken relationships. Two stories turn on the central image of a dead dog, pathetic totem of a sorry life. One of those, “Old Frank and Jesus,” is made all the more depressing when Mr. Parker, the protagonist, is made to shoot his companion fyce, named Old Frank, because his wife fears rabies. The entire story may be read as Parker’s spiraling toward his own end as images of dead Old Frank punctuate an internal monologue of all else that’s amiss in his existence.

The longer works all deliver Brown’s characteristic punch too. His first novel, Dirty Work, focuses on the lifelong miseries of two Vietnam veterans, unlikely roommates in a VA hospital twenty or so years after the war made one a paraplegic and the other’s face was blown apart by shrapnel. There are goodness and relief in the friendship that develops—notably, one of the soldiers is black, the other white, both from Mississippi—but the overall effect is of a visceral extended portrait of waste and loss. Later books depend heavily on atmosphere and what Brown called “sandbagging” his characters—giving them some great problem to handle and seeing how they respond. Take his 1991 novel, Joe. Set like most of his work on home turf, a fictionalized Lafayette County, Mississippi, the narrative begins like this, with a family of itinerants, walking east from Texas. There is a boy, his older sister, their exhausted and deranged mother, and the father, surely one of the most degenerate and irredeemable (yet terribly believable) characters in recent literature:

The road lay long and black ahead of them and the heat was coming now through the thin soles of their shoes. There were young beans pushing up from the dry brown fields, tiny rows of green sprigs that stretched way in the distance. They trudged on beneath the burning sun, but anyone watching would have seen that they were almost beaten. They passed over a bridge spanning a creek that held no water as their feet sounded weak drumbeats, erratic and small in the silence that surrounded them. . . .[8]

It’s an atmosphere of enervation, of impending doom, that perfectly predicts the terrible story that follows.


If there is an antithesis of the bleak emotional landscape Larry Brown drew in his fiction, it’s a north central Mississippi hamlet he loved, called Tula.

Though the name refers to a geographical place—native Chickasaw territory ceded to the federal government and opened for white settlement in the 1840s—Brown invoked Tula both specifically and metaphorically throughout his adult life as home, a place of refuge and rejuvenation. When he was three, Brown’s parents moved the family from Oxford, where Larry was born, to Memphis so his father could take a job with the Freuhauf Trailer Company that promised both security and a degree of uplift that sharecropping could not. Those were not particularly happy years. The city was noisy, cramped, and confining for a boy who longed to hunt and fish and, perhaps above all, “have a dog.”[9]  Ten years later, when they moved back to Mississippi, the family by-passed Oxford and settled twenty minutes outside town, in bucolic Tula, where relatives on both sides had lived for generations. At fourteen, Brown was living in the first place he regarded as home.

Click here to purchase

As an adult, Brown expressed an existential connection to Tula. Perhaps it’s because he spent so much of his adult life in flux. After high school and the Marines, he came back to Mississippi, married young, and had to scramble to piece together “shit jobs” in order to provide some fabric of existence for his young family.[10]  He told his old friend Tom Rankin that he thought of Tula as the place where he had “roots.”[11] And by 1990, the year he felt secure enough that he could retire from the Oxford Fire Department and support his family exclusively with his writing, he discovered that a small farm in Tula he remembered visiting in his youth was for sale. He put together the eight thousand dollars it took to buy the place. “I have wanted it for a long time. It’s where I was raised,” he wrote to a friend.[12] There were eight fenced acres of rural idyll, with an old farmhouse, a dilapidated barn, stands of ancient trees, and the centerpiece, a long pond. He had plans to turn the house into a writing studio and visions of spending long afternoons pulling crappie and catfish from the water.

Brown rhapsodized about the north Mississippi landscape in his memoir, On Fire:

I love the land I was born to and I never tire of seeing the seasons and the weather change over it, or the hawks that sit high in the trees, or the rabbits that bound across the road, or the coons that band together in spring when they are rutting, or later at night, the owls that swoop low across the ditches or fly down to light in the road in front of you with mice caught in their talons, owls that glare at you with a hateful look before gathering their prey and swooping back up into a black and rainy night on their huge beating wings.[13]

The parcel at Tula epitomized the best of that world, and he threw himself into tending to the parts that had fallen into disrepair. He dredged the pond, restocked it with “tiny black crappie, channel catfish, and a hundred Florida bass,” released an army of bullfrogs to repopulate the territory, and built a dock for sitting and thinking and fishing; he cut back the briars and tick-ridden brush that had overtaken the landscape. Ultimately, he had to tear down the old house—home to a woman named Miss Lutee when he had known the place as a boy—but he soon had the idea to replace it. “I may not ever own much else in my life, but this is enough. Or almost enough,” he wrote in in a 1995 essay, “By the Pond.” “One of these days . . . I’m going to start building a little cabin right over there above the pond, up in the deep part of that shade.”[14]

In the final section of Billy Ray’s Farm: Essays from a Place Called Tula, Brown describes the evolution of the idea to build the structure he would ultimately call not a cabin but “The Shack”:

For a long time it lies buried in the brain like a seed: a vague idea of a little place somewhere off to itself, four walls to get inside, a roof to keep you from the rain, but where you can sit and watch it come down.[15]

Click here to purchase

When Mary Annie, Larry’s wife, pointed out a natural recess in the trees on the far side of the pond, the concept came clear. Though the underbrush was thick with poison ivy, honeysuckle, and other tenacious wild growth, the site was framed and shaded by towering pines, elms, and one singularly impressive cedar. If he built a small structure there, he thought, “I could make the house fit the land. I kind of began to see it. I kind of began to have a vision.”[16] He began looking through books about “tiny houses” and studied an old textbook titled Modern Carpentry: Building Construction Details in Easy-to-Understand Form (1969). Protracted bouts of daydreaming—“I wouldn’t mention it so much if it hadn’t gone on for so long”—fed obsessive practical calculations, until at last:

In my head and on paper I’d figured it: The house would be ten by twelve, and the floor frame would be built of treated two-by-eight joints, doubled on the edges, spaced on eighteen-inch centers, the backs of them butting into a doubled two-by-twelve treated beam. The bottom of them, two feet back from the front wall, would rest on another beam. Both beams would be supported by concrete blocks set into the ground or on top of it, depending on what it took to get it level.[17]

Confidence flared, and he began construction in fall 1998. “Some people think a writer can’t drive a nail. Look at Thoreau and you know that’s bullshit,” he declared.[18]

What Tula meant to Larry Brown is, to use a word that would probably make him laugh, ineffable. He wrote in On Fire:

I get over to Tula and everything is peaceful and placid. When I get there I know why Thoreau went where he did. I think someday I might write a book called On Miss Lutee’s Pond. It would be about the peace and tranquility that’s available at the little house I own over there. . . . It would be about how nice it is to sit out on the front porch when the sun is going down and drink a glass of whiskey. It would be about owning a piece of land where the pines are tall and the cedars are thick and the ticks are thick. . . .[19]

During the making of the documentary The Rough South of Larry Brown, Mary Annie told filmmaker Guy Hawkins that the farm at Tula was “Larry’s little world.”  We might fairly detect a hint of bitterness in that characterization; she was understandably frustrated by the inattention to the family that his writing could cause. “I didn’t marry Larry the writer,” Mary Annie explained. “That came later.”  However, she had made a kind of peace with what his choice meant for their lives. “He likes to be off at Tula and I like to be home with the kids and that’s the way it’s been all our married life,” she told Hawkins. “Larry’s always wanted a place over there to go write, to go to, peace and quiet, his own little place. As we all said, Larry’s always been in his own little world. Well that’s Larry’s little world at Tula.”[20]

In interviews and letters, Brown liked to compare his appreciation for Tula and Henry David Thoreau’s “experiment” at Walden Pond. While the allusions to solitude and simplicity hold, his outlook differs from Thoreau’s in that owning the land, not just occupying it, mattered to him. Thoreau was content to inhabit the landscape by observation and “imagination” alone, invoking the meditative English poet William Cowper: “I am monarch of all I survey, / My right there is none to dispute.”[21] But for Brown, possession was symbolic. Tom Rankin explained to Brown’s biographer, Jean Cash, what the place represented for the sharecropper’s son who had found success, a self-described “twelfth-grade flunkout” could never have imagined. It was “[proof] that he had achieved something he wanted to achieve . . . the kind of Old South notion, that you’re not a sharecropper, you’re not a tenant,” Rankin surmised. “Larry’s not a farmer, at this point; he owns his own place” (100). I’m reminded of the displaced Oklahoma tenant farmer confronting a tractor driver early in The Grapes of Wrath:

If a man owns a little property, that property is him, it’s part of him, and it’s like him. If he owns property only so he can walk on it and handle it and be said when it isn’t doing well, and feel fine when the rain falls on it that property is him, and some way he’s bigger because he owns it.[22]

Rob McDonald

It’s not clear that Larry Brown felt bigger because he owned Tula, but he surely treasured the access. In August 2004, he wrote to Cash, “I’ve got my shack finished on the inside and moved a little furniture in and I’ve been enjoying working on the novel [A Miracle of Catfish] in longhand over there, then transcribing it over here [at the house in Yocona] on the computer. There’s nothing but crickets and splashing fish and the music I play to hear over there at Tula. It makes a tremendous difference.”[23]


In late July 2008, Jean Cash invited me to join her in Oxford while she was there conducting research for the book that would become for Larry Brown: A Writer’s Life. She had encouraged me to include Brown in a project of my own, a long-term photographic series called Native Ground that explores the relationship between place and literary imagination. Many of the installments in the series focus on writers’ homes, and I began to imagine exploring the landscape and brick ranch house on Highway 334 in Yocona, midway between Oxford and Tula, that Larry and Mary Annie had built together. He had used some of his earliest royalties to pay for the construction, enabling them to move their young family from a house that was owned by Mary Annie’s parents into a place that was certifiably their own. It was where he had claimed space for his work, setting up that narrow writing room off the garage, dubbed The Cool Pad—but then I remembered, it was also where he had posted the note on his Smith-Corona.

“Think of Tula.”

My interest shifted.

Jean offered to drive us out to the farm, and though she had been there just once before, several years earlier, she found the spot easily, using the Tula Baptist Church as a landmark. The gate was locked, but Mary Annie had given her the key, and although there were no tracks or other evidence that anyone had been there recently, we followed the suggestion of a grassy path that sloped downward, south across a gently rolling landscape, straight toward the pond. We parked, and I looked back across the field at the old barn and then toward the road, remembering Larry’s joke about hanging a “No Visitors” sign to prevent people like us from showing up unannounced when he was writing—though other times, he had said, all were welcome. I also noticed, off to our left, the headstone of Larry’s grave. Even with Mary Annie’s permission, I experienced a brief moment wondering whether we were trespassers or acceptable as fellow travelers hoping to witness the specialness of this landscape that Larry had telegraphed in conversations and in his writing.

Awash in humidity and heat and what I can only describe as an unfolding sense of recognition, I wandered around the pond—the centerpiece of the property—surveying its contours and details through the lens of a quirky film camera whose plastic lens softened the edges enough to challenge perception. Near where we had left the car was evidence of Larry’s famous hospitality: a picnic table, a smoker-grill, a heap of plastic lounge chairs folded at the base of an oak tree, a barrel brimming with long-emptied beer bottles and cans. The small dock he’d built was set with a bench and chairs, and there were, inexplicably, two fishing poles with lines left in the water, florescent corks floating near the water’s edge. Close by was the jon boat I’d once seen in a portrait by Tom Rankin of Larry fishing in the pond, looking relaxed and enjoying a cigarette while tracking the line of his rod and reel—or maybe just posing pensively for the camera. The boat was barely out of the water and flipped over, possibly exactly where Brown left it the last time he was there. The pond, shaped something like a drunkenly drawn right triangle, was longer than it was wide at any point, and the water was perfectly still. It was the color of my granddaddy’s farm pond in South Carolina, clear-brown, like strong tea. Cicadas sang in the fecund and heavy air. There were dragonflies and I swatted mosquitoes, but don’t remember another thing moving.

The cabin sat just as Larry had described it, nested among a great stand of trees, across the pond, and I followed a path along the levee, cleared wide enough for a vehicle to pass, to reach it. Given Brown’s description of that part of the property before he began building, I was surprised to find the ground neatly cleared and a simple footbridge over a gulley. A sign overhead announced “The Shack.” The little building was perched on the hillside, balanced on cinderblock pillars, like the ones that prop up mobile homes. The entrance was on the side, and the door was unlocked. My camera didn’t have a flash, and although a battery had been rigged to juice a cheap stereo, there was no electricity in the cabin and therefore no light for my photographs. The walls were painted bordello red, and I could only imagine the place at night, glowing with the dozens of candles lining the window ledges and ringing a chandelier that could be lowered and lifted with a hand-pulley. There was a low couch and beside the stereo an old-fashioned webbed aluminum lawn chair. A side table held an assortment of CDs that reflected Brown’s love of Southern rock and roots music: Slobberbone, ZZ Top, Allison Kraus, Jon Dee Graham, and a 1999 tribute album for Gram Parsons called Return of the Grievous Angel. Left opened on the couch, there was one book, In the Country of Country: A Journey to the Roots of American Music (1997). I later learned that while he was finishing the novel A Miracle of Catfish, at the time he died, Brown was also developing the idea for a nonfiction book about Hank Williams Jr.

Click here to purchase

Out back, there was junk I’m sure Larry would have carted away in time: rusted paint cans, bits and pieces left from the construction. Undergrowth spiked by sprigs of poison ivy threatened, but I could overlook it all. Standing there, the woods appeared deep, dense, and enfolding. I walked down to the pond, noticing how from that point of view the farm across the water seemed to extend forever—looking up the hill, the road we had followed to this place was not visible and the land merged with the horizon. As I approached the water’s edge, on a wing-shaped inlet I came upon a bench, a two-by-six board nailed to the top of a cedar trunk. The water was too shallow to fish, so it could only be a spot to sit and muse. I thought about taking a seat myself there for a moment, just to see how it felt, what the view might reveal, but resisted.


Earlier I proposed Tula as the antithesis of the landscape Larry Brown portrays in his writing, but now I am thinking that is not quite right. Maybe the word is closer to antidote. How else to reconcile the quiet beauty and tranquility of this place with a world in which, Brown once said, “there is just no way for some lives to have a happy ending.”[24]  In recent (virtual) talk at the University of Alabama, Dorothy Allison described the community she knew growing up on the edges of poverty in rural Greenville, South Carolina, those she recast in her fiction, as “people who believed themselves damned at birth.” That outlook required few checks on their actions. They could move about as virtual “outlaws,” she said.[25] Those are Larry Brown’s people, too. And like Allison, he treats them as damned, often damnable, but in perhaps every instance, ultimately worthy of compassion. Brown’s characters didn’t make their lot in life, even if they fall victim to consequences of their own self-destructive actions. The novelist Jonathan Miles, a family friend so close that Larry considered him an adopted son, writes in the foreword to Brown’s collected stories:

Larry never sought for us to admire his characters, or even to side with them; but he refused to let us scorn or pity them either. What he asked us to afford them was the same thing he applied, rigorously, to their creation: unsparing empathy. . . . his clear and tender regard for human frailties, his adherence to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s assertion that both good and bad people are invariably less so than they seem.[26]

Which brings me back to Tula, the landscape, the pond.

Among the most quietly illuminative moments in all of Brown’s work occurs midway through Father and Son. Having slow-rolled back into town after being released from prison, and proceeding to eliminate (read murder, in cold blood) an old nemesis, Glen Davis visits a friend who is serving as caretaker for a beautiful piece of property—500 acres of pristine hunting land owned by a rich man who rarely visits. Near the small house where Roy lives is a body of water that is the first thing Glen notices as he drives up. “Just looking at the lake made him feel better,” we learn. The friends catch up while grilling chicken and drinking a lot of ice-cold Budweiser, and decide to finish the visit by taking boats out for an easy bit of fishing. The atmosphere changes, however, when, almost immediately, “the water swirled around Glen’s lure and the rod bowed hard.” He works the line until he exhausts a massive fish enough that he is able to bring it into the boat. “Good god, what a fish, Glen,” Roy exclaims. “For a few moments,” Brown writes, “they just looked at it.” [27]

Glen’s response is curious, even mysterious. First, he thinks how he would like to show the fish to his father, the man whose infidelities and transgressions seem to have set the terms for his son’s life of mistakes and misfortune. Just before he arrives at Roy’s, Glen is wishing for some whisky as a balm against a chafing awareness of how his life has shaped up and played out: “He only wanted things to be easier somehow, for his life not to be so wrong.”[28]  It would be nice to show the fish to his father, a kind of trophy. “I lost one about this big when I was ten and he like to never got over it,” Glen tells Roy. But instead of stringing the fish to carry home, Glenn has another idea:

“Let’s turn him loose.”

“Turn him loose? Hell, Glen, lot of people fish all of their lives and don’t never catch a fish like this. . . . You can’t turn him loose.”

The fish lay in the bottom of the boat, the gill plats rising and falling. His dark green color was starting to fade under the merciless sun.

“I just don’t want to kill him,” Glen said. “He never done nothing to me.”

Whatever evils Glen goes on to perpetrate in the novel—and there are plenty, fueled by relentless personal demons and a distorted sense of justice—we must mark this moment. We know that this man is not only the sum of his actions, but also something besides, a human being whose life might have turned out another way under different circumstances. Roy tells him, “You’re a good man, Glen.”  “No, I ain’t,” Glen replies “to the water,” as Brown takes care to note.[29]  It’s a confessional in a one-man boat, addressed to the watery heart of the landscape that has exposed a humanizing moment of charity.

Larry Brown understood men like Glen Davis. He and Glen are citizens of the same country, who have absorbed the romantic ideal of a rural landscape’s capacity to soothe and inspire, to summon qualities that may be stifled, even perverted, by the complexities of relationships and too much human traffic. Tula held that promise for Brown. He envisioned it as a place that would enable reflection, a home base connecting his literary imagination to basic truths, Faulkner’s “verities of the human heart.” Since he died just a few months after completing the Shack, we are left to wonder how working there might have mattered to his writing. His son Shane, himself an aspiring writer, has speculated about that on occasion in columns for an alternative Oxford-based online news site:

He had planned to write here, write at Tula. . . . He would have had these windows cranked open with candle flames dancing off these red bright walls. . . . He would have heard these crickets and fronts sound like they were on top of his shoulders screaming in his hear. His truck would have been parked on the levee with the radio blaring a Robert Earl Keen song or a Cary Hudson; two of his homies talking to him and playing their guitars over the pond’s calm. Smoke from an ashtray would have curled and twisted to the pitched ceiling while keyboard buttons were clicking. The clicking would stop for a drag or two, or a peek through the opened windows to see the moon glowing off the pond water. That’s the only thing that would have stopped. All the other joys would have continued. He’d be sitting right here where I am right now matching words and sentences; making “good guys” have tough times. . . . This place spoke to him and it does to me too.[30]

That last line is probably an understatement on both counts. For Larry, the farm was a personal “Mecca,” as he wrote to a friend just after he purchased the property (Cash 100). As for Shane, he and his wife have a new baby, born this past summer. Her name is Tula Rose Brown.

About the Photographs

Although the text above recounts only my first visit, the following photographs were made on three trips to Tula. Photographers depend on light, especially those of us who use rudimentary hand-held film cameras and no flash or other equipment. When Jean Cash and I arrived around 3 p.m. that Monday afternoon, July 28, 2008, the temperature was approaching 97 degrees, and the humidity caused a haze that seemed to block the sun. I was drenched in sweat within thirty minutes but made several good images on the north bank (where we parked) and around the perimeter of the pond. The Shack, however, was disappointingly dark inside, so I got no photographs there.

Hoping for better, when Jean and I stopped by her house to return the key, I asked Mary Annie if I could go back early the next morning, and she agreed warmly. (“Just come on in and leave the keys on the bar here when you are done. I don’t lock the door.”)  Alone, I arrived around 6 a.m. and spent perhaps three hours shooting twenty-four frames of film. The Mississippi heat was already bearing down again, but the morning sun illuminated the place in whole new way, and I had the benefit of having spent almost the entirety of the previous afternoon/early evening taking in the lay of the land. Most of the photographs here were made that morning, including the precious few inside the Shack. When I earlier described the building as being set in dense woods, I was not exaggerating. A little light made it through to help me, but not much.

The third visit was spontaneous. I was in Oxford for a talk and exhibition of the Native Ground series at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture on the campus of the University of Mississippi. I had a little time to burn and thought I’d like to try to find Tula again. First, however, I had to find Mary Annie, which I did, after a bit of asking around town. She was working in the county courts building, and when I showed up and reminded her who I was, she said it would be just fine if I wanted to go back out there with my camera. She gave me quick directions; the gate was unlocked. I was a little surprised by how easily I found my way. Driving down toward the pond, I experienced a moment of confusion when I noticed a small white cabin built on the near bank, near where I had photographed Larry’s jon boat. I later learned that Mary Annie had it built as a recreational cabin for the family sometime around 2001. I noticed a variety of children’s toys, chairs, grills, fishing tackle, and other evidence that the place was a comfortable spot for socializing. I didn’t make any photographs because my focus was on the place as Larry had known it. Now, I am thinking that was a mistake. What sweeter testament to the power of this little parcel of land than its capacity to draw the generations of Browns together.


[1] Jean W. Cash, Larry Brown: A Writer’s Life (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011), 193.

[2] Review of Facing the Music: Stories, by Larry Brown, Publishers Weekly (September 1, 1988), accessed October 15, 2019. https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-912697-91-8

[3] Keith Perry, “‘Building’ Larry Brown(s) at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill,” in Larry Brown and the Blue Collar South, edited by Jean W. Cash and Keith Perry (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008), 132.

[4] Daniel Woodrell, “Southern Scamps and Scoundrels in the Fiction of Larry Brown,” review of Tiny Love: The Complete Stories, by Larry Brown, New York Times, November 26, 2019, accessed November 26, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/26/books/review/tiny-love-the-complete-stories-of-larry-brown.html

[5] Cash, Larry Brown, 59.

[6] Larry Brown, “Facing the Music,” in Facing the Music: Stories, by Larry Brown (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 1998), 3.

[7] Brown, “Facing the Music,” 9.

[8] Larry Brown, Joe (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 1991), 1.

[9] Cash, Larry Brown, 18.

[10] The Rough South of Larry Brown, directed by Gary Hawkins (Durham, NC: Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University, 2002), DVD.

[11] Larry Brown, interviewed by Tom Rankin, “On the Home Front: Larry Brown’s Narrative Landscapes,” in Conversations with Larry Brown, edited by Jay Watson (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 108.

[12] Cash, Larry Brown, 100.

[13] Larry Brown, On Fire: A Personal Account of Life and Death Choices (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 1994), 112.

[14] Larry Brown, “By the Pond,” in Billy Ray’s Farm: Essays from a Place Called Tula (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2001), 10-11.

[15] Larry Brown, “Shack,” in Billy Ray’s Farm: Essays from a Place Called Tula (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2001), 174.

[16] Brown, “Shack,” 177.

[17] Brown, “Shack,” 183.

[18] Brown, “Shack,” 190.

[19] Brown, On Fire, 137.

[20] Hawkins, Rough South.

[21] Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854; Project Gutenberg, 2018), 74. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/205/205-h/205-h.htm

[22] John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939; New York, Penguin, 2002), 37.

[23] Robert Barrier, “Home and the Open Road: The Nonfiction of Larry Brown,” Cash and Perry, 97.

[24] Cash, Larry Brown, 77.

[25] Dorothy Allison, “Telling Stories in Interesting Times,” virtual lecture, Department of English, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, November 10, 2020.

[26] Jonathan Miles, Foreword, Tiny Love: The Complete Stories, by Larry Brown (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2019), x.

[27] Larry Brown, Father and Son (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 1996), 222-23.

[28] Brown, Father and Son, 217.

[29] Brown, Father and Son, 224-25.

[30] Shane Brown, “The Shack,” HottyToddy.com (April 13, 1995), accessed October 23, 2019. https://www.hottytoddy.com/2015/04/13/the-shack-by-shane-brown





  1. This is a great article, just thought I should say so.

  2. I appreciate you sharing this wonderful Larry Brown quote. Motivational statements possess immense power. Which part of Larry Brown’s quote most speaks to you, and how has it changed the way you think or behave?

Leave a Reply