Ava's Man

( 42 )


With the same emotional generosity and effortlessly compelling storytelling that made All Over But the Shoutin’ a national bestseller, Rick Bragg continues his personal history of the Deep South. This time he’s writing about his grandfather Charlie Bundrum, a man who died before Bragg was born but left an indelible imprint on the people who loved him. Drawing on their memories, Bragg reconstructs the life of an unlettered roofer who kept food on his family’s table through the worst of the Great Depression; a ...

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Ava's Man

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With the same emotional generosity and effortlessly compelling storytelling that made All Over But the Shoutin’ a national bestseller, Rick Bragg continues his personal history of the Deep South. This time he’s writing about his grandfather Charlie Bundrum, a man who died before Bragg was born but left an indelible imprint on the people who loved him. Drawing on their memories, Bragg reconstructs the life of an unlettered roofer who kept food on his family’s table through the worst of the Great Depression; a moonshiner who drank exactly one pint for every gallon he sold; an unregenerate brawler, who could sit for hours with a baby in the crook of his arm.

In telling Charlie’s story, Bragg conjures up the backwoods hamlets of Georgia and Alabama in the years when the roads were still dirt and real men never cussed in front of ladies. A masterly family chronicle and a human portrait so vivid you can smell the cornbread and whiskey, Ava’s Man is unforgettable.

Charlie Bundrum was a roofer, a carpenter, a whiskey-maker, a fisherman who knew every inch of the Coosa River, made boats out of car hoods and knew how to pack a wound with brown sugar to stop the blood. He could not read, but he asked his wife, Ava, to read him the paper every day so he would not be ignorant. He was a man who took giant steps in rundown boots, a true hero whom history would otherwise have overlooked.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Rick Bragg's Ava's Man is a no-blows-spared slice of life in hardscrabble Alabama and Georgia. Powerful and poignant, it will fire hearts and minds. Bragg's mother, Margaret's, self-sacrifice enabled him to become a prize-winning reporter-writer. Here, chronicling the desperately difficult life of her father (his grandfather), the one-of-a-kind Charlie Bundrum, Bragg also demonstrates what shaped his mother's life.

At 16, Charlie Bundrum faced life in the raw. His father, a moonshiner, was on the run; his mother was dead, her death hastened by a badly knit fractured hip. Beanpole Charlie possessed only the clothes he wore. He couldn't read, but through surviving he learned all he needed to know -- and then some. At 17, he married 16-year-old Ava, the steel-willed daughter of a Bible-bound small-time farmer. The prosperous post-WWI years were too few and their children too many to cushion the Bundrums through the Depression; 21 flits followed, milk cow in tow, landlords in pursuit. Life remained precarious until the 1950s, when rising national prosperity eased the family budget.

Into his searing account of Charlie and Ava's survival, Bragg weaves a history of regional folklore. Asides on cock- and dog-fighting, catfish and cornbread, midwives and birthing, and, not least, moonshine, "likkered" men and brutal sheriffs heighten his tale. Resourcefulness is a powerful subtext. Charlie knew what to do and how to do it. Ironically, drinking cost him his victory. He quit too late, dying at 50 in 1958.

Bragg illuminates the courage and dignity of a man who lived to the full, loved by and loving his own -- tough love though it often was. His full-blooded prose sings through hope, joy, and fear. He confirms that a family deemed dirt-poor can have an enviable wealth of spirit, and their hard-won successes match the gilded prizes of the privileged. (Peter Skinner)

Peter Skinner lives in New York City.

From the Publisher
“Grab[s] you from the first sentence....[and] stays with you long after you put it down....It is hard to think of a writer who reminds us more forcefully and wonderfully of what people and families are all about.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Earthy, mischievous, yet gorgeous. . . . [Bragg’s] tales . . . would not be out of place if they were told around a campfire.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“As toothsome as a catfish supper. [Bragg] is every bit the equal of . . . Harper Lee and Truman Capote.” —People

“[Bragg has] a true gift for great storytelling (the kind...that makes you think it’s just a plain old story, until he gets to the end and you’re either weeping or covered with goosebumps).” —New Orleans Times-Picayune

Publishers Weekly
In less capable hands, this biography could have been mawkish and mundane. Instead, Bragg's telling of his maternal grandfather's life is eloquent and touching, and his spare prose is alive with fresh metaphors and memorable sentences. Bragg never knew Charlie Bundrum, who died prematurely at age 51 in 1958; the story of this proud, flawed, loving and much-loved hero of Depression-era Appalachia is derived from family and community oral history. Interestingly, this book emerged because readers of Bragg's bestselling book about his mother, Ava (All Over but the Shoutin'), wanted to understand the force that drove her to be such a strong figure. Few actors could have read this work as well as the author has. Bragg's Appalachian accent, slightly polished by Northern living, adds authenticity to the fine, funny and painful anecdotes that made up his grandfather's life and to the feelings each story encompasses. His smooth reading enhances the rhythms and sounds of his prose, rendering with genuine sincerity his deep admiration for his people and for the vanishing culture they represent. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
When Bragg first turned his considerable journalistic talent to his family, he provided an unforgettable portrayal of the rural South in All Over but the Shoutin' (Pantheon, 1997). Here Bragg focuses on the life of his maternal grandfather, Charlie Bundrum, who died just one year before the author was born. Readers return to the Deep South during the years of the Great Depression and the legend of what it took to keep family together. Moving his family from place to place to find work, food, and shelter, Charlie was most proud of being a daddy. A roofer by trade, Charlie played and sang to a white-hot banjo, was no stranger to whiskey, and fought for what he felt was right. He is a backwoods tall-tale character at the very least. Bragg's wondrous style is filled with emotion and affection for his family members, the land they inhabited, and the stories they recalled. Although his memoir is recommended to all who enjoyed Bragg's first journey into his family's history, this volume reaches deeper into the heart of southern folk and might be used in cultural studies assignments. What made Charlie Bundrum act is a piece of Americana that Bragg highlights for all readers. Junior and senior high schoolers would benefit from reading this marvelous wit and social history. One might hope that Hollywood finds Bragg also. Photos. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P J S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2001, Knopf, 259p,
— Nancy Zachary
Library Journal
After the publication of Bragg's best-selling memoir All Over but the Shoutin', readers accused the author of "leaving out the good part." They wanted to know where he believed his mother's "heart and backbone came from, and where she inherited the strength and character to raise three boys alone." They also felt he had "short-shrifted" Charlie and Ava Bundrum, his mother's parents. Bragg's grandfather died before he was born, and his extended family, filled with fine storytellers, were conspicuously silent about his life. Upon questioning, he discovered that talking about his grandfather's life led to talking about his death and the grief all of his children still felt 42 years after he "was preached into the sky." On the day of Charlie's funeral, cars lined the blacktop for more than a mile. Deciding "a man like that deserved a book," Bragg interviewed family members and neighbors to tell his grandfather's story. As with his previous book, Bragg writes about poor people of the South with dignity and without condescension. The author reads with humor, affection, and pride; this is a splendid listening experience. Pam Kingsbury, Alabama Humanities Fdn., Florence Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The story of a man who could charm a bird off a wire, beat the tar out of a threat, dandle a baby, tend a still, and smile—no, live—right through the meanest poverty the South could throw at him, from New York Times reporter and Pulitzer-winner Bragg (All Over But the Shoutin'). Bragg's grandfather, Charlie Bundrum, died a year before Bragg was born, so the author "built him up from dirt level, using half-forgotten sayings, half-remembered stories, and a few yellowed, brittle, black-and-white photographs." Speaking in a lovely southern voice out of northern Georgia and Alabama, with a juke in its bones and metaphors to die for, Bragg brings not just Charlie but an entire time and place to life. Charlie was the son of another piece of work, a man who "largely disregarded any laws or influence outside his own will, and some people did not like to look him dead in the eye because it made them feel weak." No stranger to a dust-up himself, Charlie would take the law down a notch if it was too mettlesome, but he had a softer side—one that would play a white-hot banjo, buck-dance under the stars (and under the influence of his own good white whisky, which made him sing rather than cuss), and offer a helping hand whenever the need arose. Most important of Charlie's virtues, from the author's point of view, was the fact that "if he ever was good at one thing on this earth, it was being a daddy." Searching for work (sometimes, just for food), he'd move his family about the wild and dangerous South, a landscape of ridges and hollows and deep woods, ramshackle houses, muddy rivers, water moccasins, primeval catfish (which he caught from a boat made of two car hoods weldedtogether)—but he knew how to make his family feel secure and loved. A book that flashes with affection and respect for Charlie and the vanishing culture he represents, one we will be immensely the poorer for losing.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375724442
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/13/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 134,332
  • Lexile: 1150L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.17 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Rick Bragg

Rick Bragg is the best-selling author of All Over but the Shoutin’ and Somebody Told Me. A national correspondent for the The New York Times, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 1996. He lives in New Orleans.


Rick Bragg caught his first break as a journalist when the competition for his first newspaper job decided to stick with his current position in a fast-food restaurant. From there, Bragg has moved from small newspapers in Alabama to the likes of The St. Petersburg Times, the Los Angeles Times and, finally, The New York Times.

He eventually won a reputation in one newsroom as "the misery writer." His assignments: Hurricane Andrew, Miami rioting, Haiti, and Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman accused of drowning her two boys in 1994 by driving her car into a lake. In 1996, while at the Times, Bragg covered the terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City and won the Pulitzer Prize.

"I've really served at all stations of the cross," Bragg said in a December 2002 interview with Writer magazine. "I've been pretty much everywhere. I don't think there's a difference between writing for a newspaper or magazine and doing a chapter in a book. People who think there is something pedestrian about journalism are just ignorant. The best writers who have put pen to paper have often had a journalism background. There are these boutique writers out there who think if they are not writing their novels sitting at a bistro with their laptops, then they're not real writers. That's ridiculous."

[Bragg left The New York Times in 2003 after questions surfaced regarding his use of uncredited stringers for some of his reporting. Bragg's departure was part of a larger ethics scandal that also claimed the newspaper's top two editors.]

Bragg's memoir, All Over but the Shoutin', recounts these stations, particularly his hardscrabble youth in rural Alabama, where he was brought up by a single mother who sacrificed everything for her children.

"In his sad, beautiful, funny and moving memoir...Rick Bragg gives us a report from the forgotten heart of 'white trash' America, a sort of Pilgrim's Progress or Up from Slavery about how a clever and determined young man outwitted fate," The New York Times Book Review wrote in 1997. "The story he tells, of white suffering and disenfranchisement, is one too seldom heard. It is as if a descendant from one of the hollow-eyed children from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men had stepped out of a photograph to tell his own story, to narrate an experience that even Agee could not penetrate because he was not himself 'trash.' "

In 2001, Bragg went back a generation in his family's story and wrote about his grandfather, a hard-drinking fighter who made whiskey in backwoods stills along the Alabama-Georgia border and died at 51. His widow would rebuff her grandchildren's questions about remarrying: "No, hon, I ain't gonna get me no man...I had me one."

The Los Angeles Times called Ava's Man "a big book, at once tough and sentimental," while The New York Times said, "It is hard to think of a writer who reminds us more forcefully and wonderfully of what people and families are all about."

Bragg acknowledges that his language is stolen -- plucked from the mouths of the family members he has interviewed, filling notebooks and jotting stories on whatever was at hand -- the back of airplane tickets, for example. The biggest challenge, he would later say, was finding an order in the mess of folksy storytelling. "Talking to my people is like herding cats," he told The Kansas City Star in 2002. "You can't rely on them to walk down the road and not run into the bushes."

And, then, there would be the recollection that would come along just a little too late.

"The most agonizing thing was to finish the manuscript, know that I had pleased [the family], then have one of them say, ‘Oh, yeah, hon, I just thought of something else' -- and it would be the best story you ever heard," he told the Star.

Good To Know

Bragg brought his mother, Margaret, to New York for the Pulitzer Prize ceremony. She had never been to the city, never been on an airplane, never ridden on an escalator, and hadn't bought a dress for herself in 18 years.

In an interview with Writer, Bragg describes life as a newspaper correspondent: "If I travel for the paper, that means I fly to a city I've probably never been to, get off a plane, rent a car, drive out in bumper-to-bumper traffic heading for a little town that nobody knows the name of and can't give me directions to, and it's not on the map. When I get there, I try to get information in 15 minutes for a story I have to write in 45."

He wrote Ava's Man because his fans wanted to know more about his mother's childhood.

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    1. Hometown:
      New Orleans, Louisiana
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 26, 1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Possum Trot, Alabama
    1. Education:
      Attended Jacksonville State University for six months in 1970; attended Harvard University, 1992-1993

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter One:
The beatin’ of Blackie Lee

The foothills of the Appalachians
the 1930s

Ava met him at a box-lunch auction outside Gadsden, Alabama, when she was barely fifteen, when a skinny boy in freshly washed overalls stepped from the crowd of bidders, pointed to her and said, “I got one dollar, by God.” In the evening they danced in the grass to a fiddler and banjo picker, and Ava told all the other girls she was going to marry that boy someday, and she did. But to remind him that he was still hers, after the cotton rows aged her and the babies came, she had to whip a painted woman named Blackie Lee.

Maybe it isn’t quite right to say that she whipped her. To whip somebody, down here, means there was an altercation between two people, and somebody, the one still standing, won. This wasn’t that. This was a beatin’, and it is not a moment that glimmers in family history. But of all the stories I was told of their lives together, this one proves how Ava loved him, and hated him, and which emotion won out in the end.

Charlie Bundrum was what women here used to call a purty man, a man with thick, sandy hair and blue eyes that looked like something you would see on a rich woman’s bracelet. His face was as thin and spare as the rest of him, and he had a high-toned, chin-in-the-air presence like he had money, but he never did. His head had never quite caught up with his ears, which were still too big for most human beings, but the women of his time were not particular as to ears, I suppose.

He was also a man who was not averse to stopping off at the beer joint, now and again, and that was where he encountered a traveling woman with crimson lipstick and silk stockings named Blackie Lee. People called her Blackie because of her coal-black hair, and when she told my granddaddy that she surely was parched and tired and sure would ’preciate a place to wash her clothes and rest a spell before she moved on down the road, he told her she was welcome at his house.

They were living in north Georgia at that time, outside Rome. Ava and the five children—there was only James, William, Edna, Juanita and Margaret then—were a few miles away, working in Newt Morrison’s cotton field. Charlie always took in strays—dogs, men and women, who needed a place—but Blackie was a city woman and pretty, too, which set the stage for mayhem.

It all might have gone unnoticed. Blackie Lee might’ve washed her clothes, set a spell and then just moved along, if that was all that she was after. But we’ll never know. We’ll never know because she had the misfortune to hang her stockings on Ava Bundrum’s clothesline in front of God and everybody.

Miles away from there, Ava was hunched over in the cotton field, dragging a heavy sack, her fingers and thumbs on fire from the needle-sharp stickers on the cotton bolls. Newt Morrison’s daughter, Sis, came up alongside of her in the field, one row over, and lit the fuse.

“Ava,” said Sis, who had driven past Ava and Charlie’s house earlier that day, “did you get you some silk stockings?”

Ava said no she had not, what foolishness, and just picked on.

“Well,” Sis said, “is your sister Grace visitin’ you?”

No, Ava said, if Grace had come to visit, she would have written or sent word.

“Well,” said Sis, “I drove past y’all’s place and seen some silk stockings on the line, and I thought they must have been Grace’s, ’cause she’s the only one I could think of that would have silk stockings.”

Ava said well, maybe it was Grace, and picked on. Grace had wed a rich man and had silk stockings and a good car and may have come by, just on a whim. That must be it. Had to be.

Edna, then only a little girl, said her momma just kept her back bowed and her face down for a few more rows, then jerked bolt upright as if she had been stung by a bee, snatched the cotton sack from her neck and flung it, heavy as it was, across two rows.

Then she just started walking, and the children, puzzled, hurried after her. Even as an old woman Ava could walk most people plumb into the ground, and as a young woman she just lowered her head and swung her arms and kicked up dust as she powered down the dirt road to home.

When she swung into the yard, sometime later, it was almost dark and Blackie Lee was on the porch, cooling herself. Ava stopped and drew a breath and just looked at her for a moment, measuring her for her coffin. Then she stomped over to the woodpile and picked up the ax.

About that time it must have dawned on Blackie Lee who this young woman was, who these big-eyed children were, and she ran inside, put the latch down on the door and began to speak to Jesus.

Ava just stood there, breathing hard, her long hair half in and half out of her dew rag, and announced that the woman could either open the door and take her beatin’ or take her beatin’ after Ava hacked down her own door. And “you might not want me to walk in thar, with a’ ax in my hand.” Blackie Lee, hysterical, unlatched the door and stepped back, and Ava, as she promised, dropped the ax and stepped inside.

She might not have beat the woman quite so bad if it had not been for the dishpan. It had dirty water in it, from that woman’s clothes. No one, no one, washed their clothes in Ava’s dishpan.

Edna stood at the door, peeking.

Listen to her:

“Momma beat her all through the house. She beat her out onto the porch, beat her out into the yard and beat her down to the road, beat her so hard that her hands swelled up so big she couldn’t fit ’em in her apron pocket. Then she grabbed aholt of her with one hand and used the other hand to flag down a car that was comin’, and she jerked open that car door and flung that woman in and told the man drivin’ that car to get her ‘on outta here.’ And that man said, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ and drove off with Blackie Lee.”

Charlie was at work when this happened, which was very fortunate, so fortunate that, even now, his children swear that there was God’s hand in it. Even with temptation at his house, he went off to work, and made a living, and it saved him, it saved everything. A weak man would have just laid out that day, and if he had been home Ava would have killed him dead as Julius Caesar.

Ava and the five children went back to Newt Morrison’s to spend the night. Newt was distant kin and Ava knew she was welcome there. But first she walked inside her house and threw that dishpan out into the yard as far as she could.

That night, Charlie showed up to take them home. And Ava lit into him so hard and so fast that Charlie lost one of his shoes in the melee and had to fight from an uneven platform, which is bad when you have what seems to be a badger crawling and spittin’ around your head. They fought, Edna said, all the way down the hall, crashing hard into the wall, making a hellish racket and scaring everybody in there to death. Children screamed and dogs barked and Charlie just kept on hollerin’ over and over, “Dammit, Ava. Quit.” Finally they crashed onto a bed, and into the room walked the old man, Newt, barefoot, one of his overall galluses on and one off. Newt thought that it was Charlie who was beating his wife to death, instead of the other way around, and all he knew was that this boy, Charlie, kin or not, had invaded his home, rattled the walls and frightened his family.

Newt, stooped and gray and gnarly, was much too old to fistfight a man in his own house. So he reached into his overalls pocket, fished out his pocketknife and flicked out a blade long enough to cut watermelon.

Ava took one look at that knife and flung her body across her husband, to shield him. Then she looked up at Newt, and when she spoke there were spiders and broken glass in her voice.

“Don’t you touch him,” she hissed.

• *

Everybody has a moment like it. If they never did, they never did love nobody, truly. People who have lived a long, long time say it, so it must be so.

• *

They never spoke about it. They never had another moment like it again. They fought—my Lord, did they fight—for thirty years, until the children were mostly grown and gone. But they stuck. You go through as much as they did, you stick. I have seen old people do it out of spite, as if growing old together was some sweet revenge. Charlie and Ava did not get to grow old together. What they got was life condensed, something richer and sweeter and—yes—more bitter and violent, life with the dull moments just boiled or scorched away.

She never bowed to him, and he never made her, and they lived that way, in the time they had.

Every now and then, they would jab a little. She would stand over her new dishpan and recite a little poem as she gently rinsed her iron skillet and biscuit pans:

Single life is a happy life

Single life is a pleasure

I am single and no man’s wife

And no man can control me

He would pretend not to hear. And bide his time, to get even.

“Daddy,” Margaret asked him once, when she was still a little girl, “how come you haven’t bought us a radio?”

Charlie would just shake his head.

“Hon, we don’t need no radio,” he would say, and then he would point one of his long, bony fingers at Ava. “I already got a walkie-talkie.”

And on and on it went, them pretending, maybe out of pride, that they did not love each other, and need each other, as much as they did.

As time dragged on they would break out the banjo—Charlie was hell-hot on a banjo—and the guitar, which Ava played a lifetime. And in the light of an old kerosene lantern, as the children looked on from their beds, they would duel.

Charlie would do “Doin’ My Time”—his commentary on marriage—and grin while she stared hard at him from behind her spectacles:

On this ol’ rock pile

With a ball and chain

They call me by a number

Not my name

Gotta do my time

Lord, Lord

Gotta do my time

Then Ava would answer with “Wildwood Flower” or something like it:

I’ll sing and I’ll dance

And my laugh shall be gay

I’ll charm every heart

And the crowd I will sway

I’ll live yet to see him

Regret the dark hour

When he won and neglected

This frail wildwood flower

And Charlie would sing back at her with another song, about being on a chain gang, or doing time in a Yankee prison, or “All the Good Times Are Past and Gone”:

I wish to the Lord

I’d never been born

Or “Knoxville Girl”:

We went to take an evening walk

About a mile from town

I picked a stick up off the ground

And knocked that fair girl down

But it always ended in dancing, somehow. He would beat those banjo strings and she would buck-dance around the kitchen, her skirts in her hands, her heavy shoes smacking into the boards, and the children would laugh, because it is impossible not to when your momma acts so young.

• *

Much, much later, when she had passed seventy, she still played and she still sang but she could not really see how to tune her guitar, and her hand shook too much to do it right, anyway. She would miss a lick now and then, and she would always frown at what time had done to her. But she never forgot the words to “Wildwood Flower.”

I’ll think of him never

I’ll be wild and gay

I’ll cease this wild weeping,

Drive sorrow away

But I wake from my dreaming

My idol was clay

My visions of love

Have all vanished away

• *

It didn’t all start there, of course, with the beating of that unfortunate woman. The beginning of their story goes way, way back, beyond them, even beyond the first Bundrum to drift here, to these green foothills that straddle the Alabama-Georgia border. In it, I found not only the beginnings of a family history but a clue to our character.

All my life, I have heard the people of the foothills described as poor, humble people, and I knew that was dead wrong. My people were, surely, poor, but they were seldom humble. Charlie sure wasn’t, and his daddy wasn’t, and I suspect that his daddy’s daddy wasn’t humble a bit. And Ava, who married into that family, was no wilting flower, either. A little humility, a little meekness of spirit, might have spared us some pain, over the years, but the sad truth is, it’s just not in us. With the exception of my own mother, maybe, it never was.

For a family so often poor, we have, for a hundred years or more, refused to adapt our character very much. But then, if we had been willing to change just a little bit, we never would have gotten here in the first place.

We are here because our ancestors were too damn hardheaded to adapt, to assimilate. We are here because someone with a name very much like Bundrum picked a fight with the King of France, and the Church of Rome.

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“Grab[s] you from the first sentence . . . [and] stays with you long after you put it down. . . . It is hard to think of a writer who reminds us more forcefully and wonderfully of what people and families are all about.” —The New York Times Book Review

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Ava’s Man, Rick Bragg’s brilliant story of his grandfather’s unique life, the follow-up to his bestselling and deeply affectionate portrait of his mother, All Over but the Shoutin’.

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1) In the prologue, Rick Bragg wonders about his grandfather, “What kind of man was this . . . who is so beloved, so missed, that the mere mention of his death would make [his family] cry forty-two years after he was preached into the sky?” [p. 9] How does the book answer this question? What kind of man is Charlie Bundrum? Why does his memory evoke such powerful emotions in those who knew him?

2) Bragg says that he wrote this story “for a lot of reasons,” one of which was “to give one more glimpse into a vanishing culture” [p. 13]. How does he create a vivid picture of that culture? What does he admire about it? How is it different from “the new South”? What other reasons compelled Bragg to write about a grandfather he never knew?

3) Bragg says that Charlie Bundrum was “blessed with that beautiful, selective morality that we Southerners are famous for. Even as a boy, he thought people who steal were trash, real trash. . . . Yet he saw absolutely nothing wrong with downing a full pint of likker . . . before engaging in a fistfight that sometimes required hospitalization” [p. 53]. What kind of moral code does Charlie live by? Are his frequent acts of violence justifiable? In what sense can Charlie be called a hero?

4) Charlie is a man of great physical strength and courage, but what instances of kindness, generosity, and caring balance the violence and recklessness in his life? How does the inclusion of this kind of behavior in Bragg’s description create a richer and fuller portrait of the man?

5) In speaking of his grandfather’s legacy, Bragg says, “A man like Charlie Bundrumdoesn’t leave much else, not title or property, not even letters in the attic. There’s just stories, all told second- and thirdhand, as long as somebody remembers” [p. 18]. What is the value of preserving the kind of stories that Bragg gathers in Ava’s Man?

6) Ava’s Man is filled with dramatic confrontations and vivid scenes. What episodes stand out the most? What do these episodes reveal about the character of the Bundrum family?

7) In considering his grandfather’s drinking, Bragg writes, “I am not trying to excuse it. He did things that he shouldn’t have. I guess it takes someone who has outlived a mean drunk to appreciate a kind one” [p. 133]. What does this passage suggest about Bragg’s personal stake in reconnecting with his grandfather? What kind of portrait does he paint of his own father in Ava’s Man?

8) Charlie Bundrum “was a man who did the things more civilized men dream they could, who beat one man half to death for throwing a live snake at his son, who shot a large woman with a .410 shotgun when she tried to cut him with a butcher knife, who beat the hell out of two worrisome Georgia highway patrolmen and threw them headfirst out the front door of a beer joint called the Maple on the Hill” [p. 8]. In what ways is Charlie free from the constraints of society? What is the cost of this freedom? Is Bragg right in thinking that Charlie’s way of living is something that more civilized men envy?

9) Bragg writes that Ava could have had her sister Grace’s life, a life of relative wealth and comfort, of fine clothes, good food, and travel, instead of a life of rented houses, poverty, and hard labor in the cotton fields. “She could have hated her life,” Bragg admits [p. 153]. Why doesn’t she? What does Charlie give her that other men cannot? What kind of woman is she?

10) Why does Charlie take in Hootie? What does this reveal about his character? What does Hootie bring out in Charlie?

11) Bragg writes that Charlie “could charm a bird off a wire” [p. 45]. What are the charms of Bragg’s own storytelling style? Where else does he use colorful similes? In what ways is his narrative voice perfectly suited to his subject matter?

12) What does Ava’s Man reveal about how the Great Depression affected people in the Deep South, especially those who lived in the foothills? How did it affect the Bundrums specifically? How are they treated by landlords, sheriffs, and others in positions of power?

13) For centuries, recorded history has largely been the account of those who have had the greatest impact on world events. Why is the history of a man like Charlie Bundrum important? In what ways does it offer a door into American history and culture that more conventional histories cannot provide?

14) In the epilogue, Bragg argues that when compared with the new South, Charlie Bundrum seems larger than life, because of “his complete lack of shame. He was not ashamed of his clothes, his speech, his life. He not only thrived, he gloried in it” [p. 248]. What accounts for Charlie’s pride? Why is Bragg so proud of him? What does Ava’s Man suggest about the way in which inner character is more important than external circumstances?

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Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Author Essay
It took me less than two years to write about 40 chapters of a book about my grandfather's life, but almost six months to write just one chapter about his death. I wondered about that, since I had never seen him, never heard his voice. I had lived 41 years and never even missed him, not one day. How could I? He died the year before I was born. Then, a friend of mine explained it to me. "You made him," she explained. "It must have been hard to kill him off."

It was hard. For 18 months I had stared at the keyboard and pounded out his personality, his wit and his temper, his love for fishing and whiskey and babies and an old hermit named Hootie Clines. I re-created his relationship with my grandmother, Ava, and wrote on and on about his children and their love for him. I described his fights with the law and bad men, and retold his own stories -- though never as good as he could have done, if he had lived.

I did all that while laughing out loud, while grinning like an idiot. How great, how grand, for a 41-year-old man to get to build himself a grandfather, to give flesh and blood and heart and soul to a legend, a ghost, a man of dust and bones. With every line I saw him take shape in my mind's eye, saw him ball up his fists and stand like stone between his family and trouble, saw him break their hearts with every furtive pull he took on a jar of moonshine whiskey.

But even in the saddest parts of his life, there was dignity and decency and character, so that I began to look forward to the time I spent with my notebooks and journals and scraps of paper, where I had written down his life and times in countless interviews with his children and others who remembered him.

I watched him grow up and I watched him take a wife and I watched him lift babies, one by one by one, into his arms. I watched him fade from his youth into middle age, watched him reach for grandbabies now, even watched him find the Lord.

Then, one day, it was time for him to die.

And I just couldn't do it.

I sat and stared at that keyboard, now suddenly hateful, and no matter how hard I tried to write about his death and his funeral, I could not. His children, who loved him so much that they had blocked from their minds the circumstances of his death, did not like talking about his end, and I had to pry more than I would have liked just to get the information I needed to complete the book.

But mostly I was stymied by my own mind, which refused to work with me, to help me kill off this amazing man. It may have been, as my friend said, that I had invested so much in building him up, how could I just tear him down? But now, finally, I know it was more than that.

I could not kill him, with mere words, because he had become so much more than that to me.

He was not a character in a nonfiction book.

He was not a name on a page.

He was my grandfather.

He was a man who, if he had lived, would have toted me on his shoulders and helped me dig worms and bait my hook, who would have towered over me in kindness.

He was real. He was alive.

Or, at least, that was how it felt, for a little while, before I went ahead and finally did it, finally allowed his legs to buckle and allowed his tall, thin frame to fall into the new grass of a spring evening, allowed him to die -- again.

I hated that. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't do it, not on a bet, not for a gold monkey.

I would let him live on and on and on, forever.

I hope people see value in him, between his flaws. But even if Charlie Bundrum never touches anyone else the way his story did me, it was worth the time, worth the work, worth all of it.

For two years, I got to sit with my kin and talk about a man I never knew, a man with my same blood, my same temper, my same eyes and hair and hard-headedness and more.

And then I made me a grandfather.

How damn cool is that? (Rick Bragg)

Rick Bragg's Southern Grit
From the September/October 2001 issue of Book magazine.

He's got things to take care of, this man. Besides bailing a brother out of trouble and allaying the concerns of the mother he celebrated in All Over but the Shoutin', the preeminent chronicler of yesterday's South confronts his readers with the issue that nobody wants to discuss today: class.

Rick Bragg has just gotten off the phone in his small home office, walked through the large, open kitchen and entered the living room of his shotgun-style New Orleans home. He's holding a stamped, addressed envelope in his right hand and slowly waving it back and forth. "Bail money," he repeats.

He's a big man, nearly six foot three and heavyset, and when he gets agitated, you feel it. He's steadily pacing the room, walking off warring feelings of rage, concern and helplessness, stoicism and exasperation. He runs his hands through his thick brown hair, and it falls back into his face. The young, beautiful woman who has just flown in to spend the weekend with him is silent. Helplessness is on her face as well.

Bragg speaks again. "Some people, when they talk to the folks at home, they get, ‘Oh, hi, honey, it's so good to hear from you. How are you doing?' When my momma calls, it's, ‘Rick, Mark is in trouble again. Can you help him out?' "

It's as close as Bragg will ever come to saying anything remotely critical of his mother, the shimmering heroine of his first book, All Over but the Shoutin'. The saga of his mother's struggle to raise three boys amid the abject poverty of rural Alabama -- and to overcome the burden of a violent, alcoholic husband from whom she eventually is compelled to flee -- Shoutin', as Bragg invariably refers to it, is a powerful redemption song. By the book's end, his mother, Margaret, is safely ensconced in the first home she has ever owned. Bragg purchased the place for her after skyrocketing to success as a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times. Also, Bragg's older brother, Sam, settles into a dignified life as a workingman, a reliable rock of support to his family and community.

But like one of those disturbing characters who refuses to join the restored circle of humanity at the end of a Shakespeare comedy, Bragg's younger brother, Mark, has thus far rejected his place at the hearth. He's assumed, instead, his father's role as the seductive hell-raiser determined to unsettle any order he manages to stumble into. And, as her youngest son, he has proved to have as strong a hold on his mother as his father ever did.

"I tried that tough-love shit," Bragg explains as we drive in the pulverizing New Orleans heat to find a mailbox. "But then I'll get a call from my momma and she'll say, ‘Ricky, would you mind if I sold some of this furniture to get some money for Mark?' And that's not acceptable to me." He pauses, his hands tightly gripping the wheel. "I spent $24,000 getting him out of one jam or another last year." He pauses again, then repeats, "$24,000."

He continues to drive and eventually stops at Dunbar's, a ramshackle but spectacularly satisfying Creole restaurant in a devastated neighborhood. His dark eyes light up as he enters and contemplates the savory delights awaiting him. He energetically annotates the menu for his guests, gleefully concluding, "And I'm ordering the fried chicken 'cause I'm Ricky!" The meal more than lifts his spirits. He's smiling, laughing, and telling stories with the unfailing eye for detail that makes both Shoutin' and his writing for the Times so distinctive. His brother's travails seem a distant memory -- somebody else's life somewhere else. When he arrives home, Bragg realizes that he has forgotten to mail the check. (Anthony DeCurtis)

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Reading Group Guide


“Grab[s] you from the first sentence . . . [and] stays with you long after you put it down. . . . It is hard to think of a writer who reminds us more forcefully and wonderfully of what people and families are all about.” —The New York Times Book Review

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Ava’s Man, Rick Bragg’s brilliant story of his grandfather’s unique life, the follow-up to his bestselling and deeply affectionate portrait of his mother, All Over but the Shoutin’.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 42 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 42 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2008

    best book I ever read

    This is one of the best, if not the best book I have ever read. His other book, ...shoutin, is also excellent. I have just purchased an ARC of his newest, 'prince in frogtown', and hope it will be as enjoyable as his other two memoirs. His newspaper book was good, considering it is articles and not personal history. He writes so beautifully, anyone who can appreciate how a man values his family, will love rick bragg's work.outstanding!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2004

    A walk down memory lane

    Having been raised by grandparents and parents in Texas, I found the descriptions of daily life very touching. Words describing food that was cooked, old sayings used, and other old southern ways brought tears to my eyes. I could see my granddad plowing the field; my grandmother cooking cornbread in an iron skillet; and my mom sewing me a dress from a feed sack. Thanks Mr. Bragg.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2002

    Left me speechless

    Rick Bragg's account left me speechless and wanting more. This book, as well as All Over But The Shoutin', was simply amazing. I suggest that everyone read it. I passed it along to my mother and sister and next is my grandmom. Everyone should get the opportunity to read Bragg's words.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2002

    Mush mouth strikes again.

    You may as well be sitting at the counter of a Anniston coffee shop ease dropping in on the local chatter..... good writing, that writing of his. The clouds collect in our minds, the minds of the readers, his readers. His words come around, swirl around and sit with you, next to you like an old song that touches you each time it is in the wind, with, as he says, something beyond simple nostalgia. Thanks Rick, now I've been to Alabama when it was worth being there. AFJ

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2001

    We ain't in NY no mor'

    All you need to enjoy this book is a heart. Unlike 'Shoutin'', RB doesn't do any digressing into stories he covered in newspapers. This is pure country. I happen to have been born and raised in the suburbs of NY, but that didn't stop me from identifying with the book. It'll get ya' nostalgic, no matter where you're from. I also caught this guys act on 'Book TV', where they do a schpiel in front of an audience. He's ALLright, which in NY, is a compliment of the highest order.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2014


    Hm, Avalanche, you'll never hear it directly from him but he's proud of you and loves you dearly.<p>Question Six de Dix:<br>My favourite rp is...

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  • Posted March 27, 2013

    Love his style of writing, grabs you from the first sentence own

    Love his style of writing, grabs you from the first sentence own everyone of his books. When does he have new ones

    Coming out.


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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2013



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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2013


    Hey any one on

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  • Posted July 17, 2011

    I loved this book!

    I bought this book on sale not really sure, but thought I would give it a chance. This is one of the best books I have ever read! It sticks with you long after you have finished. I am soo mad that I gave my hard bound copy to a friend and never got it back. Now I am in search for another one. It is a book you want to read again and again...

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  • Posted February 23, 2011

    A real story about real people...

    When I started this book I gave some serious thought to getting rid of it. I'm glad I didn't. It took a while for me to get used to Rick's style of writing, but once I did I was able to enjoy not only the story, but his style of writing. I laughed, I cried, and I identified. We get to pick our friends, but not our family. A Southern writer gives this story a southern touch. You will surely enjoy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2010

    A southerner sharing his family history

    This homage to Rick Bragg's grandfather is a fitting sequel to All Over But The Shoutin' which I would recommend reading before Ava's Man. Having grown up in the south I have always been fascinated by southern families and found both of Bragg's books to be fascinating and much easier to read that anything written by the iconic southern writer, William Faulkner. Bragg's characters are not products of his imagination, but real family members from his past. Ava's Man is Rick Bragg's adoration of a grandfather he never knew.

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  • Posted April 6, 2009

    A very touching true story

    Having read this book before, and having relatives that live in that region of Georgia, I thought this was a perfect gift for our teenaged grandaughter. She is an avid reader and she devoured the books in this series.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2002

    Thank you, Rick Bragg...

    ...for sharing your family, especially your grandfather, with us. What struck me the most while reading this book was the love that came through each page - both from Mr. Bragg himself, and the rest of his family. This was a man who, although not a saint by any means, was loved, accepted, and respected. Definitely the best book I've read in a very, very long time.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2002

    One to hang onto...

    ... and pass around... I did not grow up in the South, nor have I spent any time there, but I believe that Rick Bragg made me feel as if I can understand the the South of that time much better now. The book would have been good if none of it was factual, but being a Memoir told through his family makes it great. The only thing that I regret is that I bought it in paperback; if I had it to do over, I would have bought the hardcover because it feels like an important book to me. (there is just something more substantial and important about a hardcover book) Read it, enjoy it and above all share it with others! They will thank you over and over again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2002

    Poignant, Enlightening, and Funny

    What a wonderful gift Mr. Bragg has given his readers with his story of Charlie. While being thoroughly entertaining, this book also teaches us about life in the south, the depression, and what people did to survive. This book feels like a good friend when you finish it, one you'd like to see again and again. I have recommended this book to everyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2002

    words you can taste, smell and feel!

    What an absolute treat this read was! I laughed, I wept. Rick has spun a world so real that having read it you will feel as if you have lived it. Luxuriously rich prose - I want more more more

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2002

    What a Granddaddy!

    Ava's Man is a story of the range of one man's influence in an extended family, an influence that continues even beyond his death within that family and in the local Alabama community. The first chapter gives a beautifully written bird's-eye view of the territory of the book, and each succeeding chapter unfolds another dimension of a fascinating and beloved man. Charlie Bragg is not perfect, but his humanity and uniqueness come shining through in these recollections. Rick Bragg¿s grandfather died before he was born, so he recreated his grandfather's life completely from secondary sources -- that is, from stories of relatives who did know his grandfather. This is a truly wonderful memoir.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2001

    A book for everyone you know to read.

    Finally a book that you must read every single word and then go over it again. What a wonderful writer and someone that writes about the South as I have never read about before. A book I want everyone I know to read. Makes you laugh out loud and cry to yourself.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2002

    Ava's Man-- Your Book!

    If you're here, then you're already interested in a winner. I read Ava's Man in part for research for one of my own upcoming novels, but was swept away instead by a bygone time filled with delightful characters I could almost 'see' through author Rick Bragg's eyes... How delightful to find an all-American man like Charlie in one's family tree and to be able to document portions of his life in such an open and honest manner as Rick has with easy-going prose describing late-summer eve back porch memories. Way to go, Rick. Can't wait for your next book!

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