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Rick Bragg recalls growing ...
Rick Bragg recalls growing up dirt-poor in Alabama.
Bragg, who was born in 1959, is poetic and convincing on his family's poverty and how it chipped away at their dreams "to the point that the hopelessness show[ed] through." His father, violent and an alcoholic, figures here, as do his siblings, but this is above all a son's story of love and respect for a mother who picked cotton, cleaned houses, and took in washing and ironing, determined to secure for her children the chance at a successful life that poverty had denied her. Bragg explores the ambivalence he felt about leaving home and his growing awareness that such choices will allow him to achieve at a level he's scarcely imagined. His labors lead eventually to a job at the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times', and then to Harvard in 1992, when he receives a Nieman Fellowship that allows him to make up in reading and coursework some of what he'd missed by having left college early. Bragg won his Pulitzer in 1996 for his human interest stories, profiles of such figures as a courageous bodega owner, defying robbers, and of the 87-year-old Mississippi washerwoman who donated her life savings to a university. He realizes a long-cherished plan when he has enough money to buy a home for his mother. Says Bragg, "you do the best you can for the people . . . you love with all the strength in your body, once you finally figure out that they are who you are, and, in many ways, all there is."
Bragg, who now lives in Atlanta, has a strong voice and a sweeping style that, like his approach to newspaper writing, is rich, empathetic, and compelling. His memoir is a model of humility combined with pride in one's accomplishments.