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All over but the Shoutin'

All over but the Shoutin'

4.1 80
by Rick Bragg

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When childhood is complicated by poverty and an abusive, alcoholic father, it vecomes focused on survival. Were it not for the dedication and strength of his mother, Rick Bragg may have never left northeast Alabama and become a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter. His memoir captures the essence of the South, explores the bonds and responsibilities of family, and, in


When childhood is complicated by poverty and an abusive, alcoholic father, it vecomes focused on survival. Were it not for the dedication and strength of his mother, Rick Bragg may have never left northeast Alabama and become a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter. His memoir captures the essence of the South, explores the bonds and responsibilities of family, and, in the end, celebrates his own coming-of-age.

Editorial Reviews

Stephanie Zacharek

There's one thing for sure about the life story of New York Times national correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg, as he tells it in this angry memoir: He hasn't had it easy. All Over but the Shoutin' details a childhood spent dirt-poor and fatherless in Alabama, protected by a loving mother who sacrificed everything for her children. It's the story of a have-not, resentful of the haves, who overcomes crushing limitations to become a newspaper reporter and who eventually scrambles his way into a job at what he calls "the temple" of his profession, the New York Times. In the end he triumphs, buying his mother the decent house she's always wanted -- with cash.

It's a tough story all right -- too bad that from the first page you can hear Bragg, in the measured spit-and-polish prose newspapermen use when they're being sensitive, milking it for all it's worth. The novelist Lee Smith, and Dolly Parton (in a number like her "Coat of Many Colors"), understand the power of understatement when it comes to conveying the heartbreak of poverty, and that's what makes their work so rich. But Bragg's litany of major bummers reads like a bid for sympathy. It's as if he believes that piled-on layers of hardship and woe are likely to wrench that many more tears out of us, as if we should be wowed by the sheer bulk and weight of his experiences.

He recalls how his mother "scraped together money for my high school class ring, even though her toes poked out of her old sneakers and she was wearing clothes from the Salvation Army bin in the parking lot of the A&P. It was not real gold, that ring, just some kind of fake, shiny metal crowned with a lump of red glass, but I was proud of it ... If the sunlight caught it just right, it looked almost real." In case that reference to his mother's holey sneakers slips by you the first time, Bragg mentions them at least twice more during the course of the book.

What makes All Over but the Shoutin' truly annoying, though, are Bragg's rooster-size ego and his sanctimoniousness about his profession. Of course, all journalists have big egos -- it comes with the territory. And on some level, you can't blame Bragg for being proud that he was able to crack the stuffy establishment that is the New York Times. But after he's mentioned his numerous journalism awards for the third time, and after you've caught onto his trick of sprinkling down-home cracker words like "ain't" amid his crisp, crafty Times-style prose, the whole thing starts to smell like yesterday's catfish. Bragg tells how he got a promotion at one of his pre-Times newspaper jobs by purposely "overwriting" a story about a chicken that fought off a bobcat. "The moral, I suppose, was this: Do not, on purpose, write a bunch of overwritten crap if it looks so much like the overwritten crap you usually write that the editors think you have merely reached new heights in your craft." Bragg thinks he's making a funny at his own expense, but by the time you read those words, a good two-thirds of the way through the book, you may wonder if the joke is really on you. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
'A common condition of being poor white trash,' explains New York Times correspondent Bragg on learning he won a Pulitzer Prize last year, is that 'you are always afraid that the good things in your life are temporary, that someone can take them away.'" Having won that prize for stories about others, he tells his own here in a mixture of moving anecdotes and almost masochistic self-analysis. He brings alive his childhood of Southern poverty, his absentee father dead at 40, one brother scavenging coal for the family at nine, the other in and out of jail. Someone advised Bragg, '[T]o tell a story right you have to lean the words against each other so that they don't all fall down,' and his gift for language shines through every scene of violence and deprivation. If only he would let events speak for themselves, but all too often the tone falters and Bragg takes time out to excoriate some long-gone colleague and to pass out guilt badges. What saves this uneven, jolting narrative is his love and respect for his mother, who dragged him behind her as a toddler while she picked cotton in the fields. His ambition to buy her a house was realized last year: 'She never had a wedding ring, or a decent car, or even a set of furniture that matched. Or teeth that fit. But she had a home now... of her own.'
School Library Journal
On Palm Sunday, 1994, a tornado ripped through a church in Piedmont, AL, killing 20 people. This is Bragg's hometown, and he began his story on the tragedy for the New York Times as follows: '"This is a place where grandmothers hold babies on their laps under the stars and whisper in their ears that the lights in the sky are holes in the floor of heaven. This is a place where the song 'Jesus Loves Me' has rocked generations to sleep, and heaven is not a concept, but a destination.' It is writing of this quality that won the author his job as a national correspondent and the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. He grew up in poverty, the second of three sons of an alcoholic, abusive father and a loving mother. The early chapters give a beautiful description of warm and happy moments he enjoyed with her and his family even as she struggled to provide for them after they'd been abandoned. Teens will enjoy reading about the resourceful, talented, and lucky young man's career as he moved from local reporter to working for regional and national papers. -- Patricia Noonan, Prince William Public Library, VA.
Constitution Atlanta Journal
. . .[T]ells about the South with such power and bone-naked love. . .that he will make you cry.
Chicago Tribune
Deeply affecting.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A grand memoir...[Bragg] tells about the South with such power and bone-naked love...that he will make you cry.
Kirkus Reviews
A celebrated Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter turns his investigative attention to his own past: growing up poor and making his way from rural Alabama to the top of his profession. 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 tonewspaper writing, is rich, empathetic, and compelling. His memoir is a model of humility combined with pride in one's accomplishments.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.55(w) x 9.65(h) x 1.22(d)

Read an Excerpt

He was living in a little house in Jacksonville, Alabama, a college and mill town that was the closest urban center--with its stoplights and a high school and two supermarkets--to the country roads we roamed in our raggedy cars. He lived in the mill village, in one of those houses the mills subsidized for their workers, back when companies still did things like that. It was not much of a place, but better than anything we had ever lived in as a family. I knocked and a voice like an old woman's, punctuated with a cough that sounded like it came from deep in the guts, told me to come on in, it ain't locked.
It was dark inside, but light enough to see what looked like a bundle of quilts on the corner of a sofa. Deep inside them was a ghost of a man, his hair and beard long and going dirty gray, his face pale and cut with deep grooves. I knew I was in the right house because my daddy's only real possessions, a velvet-covered board pinned with medals, sat inside a glass cabinet on a table. But this couldn't be him.

He coughed again, spit into a can and struggled to his feet, but stopped somewhere short of standing straight up, as if a stoop was all he could manage. "Hey, Cotton Top," he said, and then I knew. My daddy, who was supposed to be a still-young man, looked like the walking dead, not just old but damaged, poisoned, used up, crumpled up and thrown in a corner to die. I thought that the man I would see would be the trim, swaggering, high-toned little rooster of a man who stared back at me from the pages of my mother's photo album, the young soldier clowning around in Korea, the arrow-straight, good-looking boy who posed beside my mother back before the fields and mophandle and the rest of it took her looks. The man I remembered had always dressed nice even when there was no cornmeal left, whose black hair always shone with oil, whose chin, even when it wobbled from the beer, was always angled up, high.

I thought he would greet me with that strong voice that sounded so fine when he laughed and so evil when, slurred by a quart of corn likker, he whirled through the house and cried and shrieked, tormented by things we could not see or even imagine. I thought he would be the man and monster of my childhood. But that man was as dead as a man could be, and this was what remained, like when a snake sheds its skin and leaves a dry and brittle husk of itself hanging in the Johnson grass.

"It's all over but the shoutin' now, ain't it, boy," he said, and when he let the quilt slide from his shoulders I saw how he had wasted away, how the bones seemed to poke out of his clothes, and I could see how it killed his pride to look this way, unclean, and he looked away from me for a moment, ashamed.

He made a halfhearted try to shake my hand but had a coughing fit again that lasted a minute, coughing up his life, his lungs, and after that I did not want to touch him. I stared at the tops of my sneakers, ashamed to look at his face. He had a dark streak in his beard below his lip, and I wondered why, because he had never liked snuff. Now I know it was blood.

I remember much of what he had to say that day. When you don't see someone for eight, nine years, when you see that person's life red on their lips and know that you will never see them beyond this day, you listen close, even if what you want most of all is to run away.

"Your momma, she alright?" he said.

I said I reckon so.

"The other boys? They alright?"

I said I reckon so.

Then he was quiet for a minute, as if trying to find the words to a question to which he did not really want an answer.

"They ain't never come to see me. How come?"

I remember thinking, fool, why do you think? But I just choked down my words, and in doing so I gave up the only real chance I would ever have to accuse him, to attack him with the facts of his own sorry nature and the price it had cost us all. The opportunity hung perfectly still in the air in front of my face and fists, and I held my temper and let it float on by. I could have no more challenged him, berated him, hurt him than I could have kicked some three-legged dog. Life had kicked his ass pretty good.

"How come?"

I just shrugged.

For the next few hours--unless I was mistaken, having never had one before--he tried to be my father. Between coughing and long pauses when he fought for air to generate his words, he asked me if I liked school, if I had ever gotten any better at math, the one thing that just flat evaded me. He asked me if I ever got even with the boy who blacked my eye ten years ago, and nodded his head, approvingly, as I described how I followed him into the boys' bathroom and knocked his dick string up to his watch pocket, and would have dunked his head in the urinal if the aging principal, Mr. Hand, had not had to pee and caught me dragging him across the concrete floor.

He asked me about basketball and baseball, said he had heard I had a good game against Cedar Springs, and I said pretty good, but it was two years ago, anyway. He asked if I had a girlfriend and I said, "One," and he said, "Just one?" For the slimmest of seconds he almost grinned and the young, swaggering man peeked through, but disappeared again in the disease that cloaked him. He talked and talked and never said a word, at least not the words I wanted.

He never said he was sorry.

He never said he wished things had turned out different.

He never acted like he did anything wrong.

Part of it, I know, was culture. Men did not talk about their feelings in his hard world. I did not expect, even for a second, that he would bare his soul. All I wanted was a simple acknowledgment that he was wrong, or least too drunk to notice that he left his pretty wife and sons alone again and again, with no food, no money, no way to get any, short of begging, because when she tried to find work he yelled, screamed, refused. No, I didn't expect much.

After a while he motioned for me to follow him into a back room where he had my present, and I planned to take it and run. He handed me a long, thin box, and inside was a brand-new, well-oiled Remington .22 rifle. He said he had bought it some time back, just kept forgetting to give it to me. It was a fine gun, and for a moment we were just like anybody else in the culture of that place, where a father's gift of a gun to his son is a rite. He said, with absolute seriousness, not to shoot my brothers.

I thanked him and made to leave, but he stopped me with a hand on my arm and said wait, that ain't all, that he had some other things for me. He motioned to three big cardboard egg cartons stacked against one wall.

Inside was the only treasure I truly have ever known.

I had grown up in a house in which there were only two books, the King James Bible and the spring seed catalog. But here, in these boxes, were dozens of hardback copies of everything from Mark Twain to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There was a water-damaged Faulkner, and the nearly complete set of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan. There was poetry and trash, Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage, and a paperback with two naked women on the cover. There was a tiny, old copy of Arabian Nights, threadbare Hardy Boys, and one Hemingway. He had bought most of them at a yard sale, by the box or pound, and some at a flea market. He did not even know what he was giving me, did not recognize most of the writers. "Your momma said you still liked to read," he said.

There was Shakespeare. My father did not know who he was, exactly, but he had heard the name. He wanted them because they were pretty, because they were wrapped in fake leather, because they looked like rich folks' books. I do not love Shakespeare, but I still have those books. I would not trade them for a gold monkey.

"They's maybe some dirty books in there, by mistake, but I know you ain't interested in them, so just throw 'em away," he said. "Or at least, throw 'em away before your momma sees 'em." And then I swear to God he winked.

I guess my heart should have broken then, and maybe it did, a little. I guess I should have done something, anything, besides mumble "Thank you, Daddy." I guess that would have been fine, would not have betrayed in some way my mother, my brothers, myself. But I just stood there, trapped somewhere between my long-standing, comfortable hatred, and what might have been forgiveness. I am trapped there still.

He could not buy my friendship, not with a library, but with the books he bought my company for as long as he wanted it that day. We went back in the living room and he unscrewed the cap on a thin pint of what I believe was George Dickel or some other brown likker. He drank it in little sips, and talked about how pretty my momma was when they were married, about a time when we all went to Texas for a summer so he could work a body and fender job, about the bulldogs he used to fight in the pits over in Rome, Georgia, about the mean woman he used to court over that way who kept a razor tucked down the neck of her blouse. He talked of a hound dog he had that could climb a tree, of the time a rattlesnake bit Boots, his momma's fat Chihuahua, and how she swelled up like a beach ball. I had heard them all before, or thought I had, when I was a child, but I cannot say it was a bad thing to hear them again.

I asked him once or twice to tell me about Korea, because I was a boy and boys are thrilled with war. But he just said nawwwwww, he didn't like to dwell on it, that I should thank the Lord I never had to go.

Finally the bottle was down to a swallow or two and he was huddled back in a corner of the couch, quiet, as satisfyingly, numbingly drunk as a man in his condition could be. The whiskey was like tonic to him, I guess. It warmed instead of burned. I just sat in a chair all the way across the room, waiting. I had experience with drunks, with him as a child, and later with kinfolks who staggered into our house for a place to sleep. I knew it was just a matter of time until he slipped into that deep, deep sleep that no amount of shaking or even a house fire would wake him from. I would take my gun, my books, and leave him forever.

Then, without any explanation of why he changed his mind and without any pretense that by talking about this war he could somehow excuse the way he lived, he told me one last story. He used his aged, ruined voice like an old man's palsied hands to pick the lock on his past, and tugged me inside.

What People are Saying About This

Willie Morris
Searingly honest, beautifully written, All Over But the Shoutin' is perhaps the most courageous thing Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Rick Bragg has ever written.

Meet the Author

Rick Bragg is a national correspondent for the New York Times. He is based in Atlanta, Georgia.

Brief Biography

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

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All Over but the Shoutin' 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 79 reviews.
Katrina_Shalom_Seach More than 1 year ago
My Dad gave me this book years ago for Christmas when it first came out, saying "I'd never heard of it, but it seemed like it might be a good read." I was working in Bolivia at the time as a Peace Corps volunteer, and was thrilled to have some new reading material. I was blown away by the writing. The only way I can describe it is by saying that this book is like gourmet food. The way Rick Bragg puts things into words is so fresh and unique, and he described a world I didn't know but instantly felt a part of. For me, this is one of those books I always return to and enjoy more and more. I'm purposely not sharing what happens in it, because it is such a treat to have the whole thing fresh and unexpected, and I don't want to mar the experience for any new readers. Plus any description I give would come across as deplorably flat. Like trying to describe the beauty of spring to someone who has only experienced winter - there are no proper words to describe the sensory lushness. I lent this to a fellow volunteer/writer friend - who ultimately went on to become an established well-known newspaper reporter -- and he was equally smitten. "I just can't believe how good this guy is!" he shared. "Man, that's good writing." He went on to lend my book to another friend, who lent it to another. After a while, everyone lost track of where my copy was, it had been lent to so many. So I bought the first of many replacement copies. If you lend it out (which you will) don't expect to get it back. Equally good is the prequel, Ava's Man. My reporter friend was lucky enough to meet Rick Bragg once, and I hope to do the same some fine day, just to express to him how much I enjoy his work. (Again, the food metaphor -- if a meal is outstanding, I always seek the cook out.) Get this! I'm a little jealous of you, reader. You get to read this for the first time. Enjoy every second and linger in the words ... ~Katrina
Pegeen5 More than 1 year ago
Rick Bragg is a just wonderfully gifted writer. Isn't it just great that he has used his wonderful gift! I just happen to be the age of his mother, a mother myself,a Yankee, and am going to give this book to a Southern Woman who could just use a good book about now! I would think that there are a lot of us out here who can identify with that special woman who is his momma!!
SamTN More than 1 year ago
I found myself laughing or crying throughout reading this book. Why? Because it brings to life so many of my friends and relatives here in the South over the years. We all know a Mark. Many of us have a relative who just never wore those blamed dentures. (That would include my own father-in-law.) This could have been their story. And the narrator is dead-on when he does the voice of Rick Bragg's mother - she (he) sounds just like the older women in our family. I would recommend this book to all Southerners.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I do not even know where to begin...From the minute that I started reading this book, I could not put it down. It came with me everywhere - work, the subway, a walk to the supermarket. Bragg was able to capture his experiences from birth to adulthood in such an eloquent manner. He allows the reader to truly feel and understand the path that his life has taken. My words do not even begin to credit Bragg with the appropriate praise that his work is due.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
THis is just a wonderful Mother's Day gift. It is truly inspirational and shows how a mother will do whatever it takes to provide for her children under unimaginable circumstances. Inspiratinal as she just never gave up and never complained. Rick Brag is a great writer I can not get enought of his books. This is just a great book. If you loved To Kill A Mockingbird you will love this also.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading All Over but the Shoutin because it was educatioinal. I learned a lot about the South and southern living. The impact this has on society today and in the past is that one can overcome obstacles in life if the effort is applied.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would recommend this book to anyone. I chose this book because some of the thing reminded me of stories my grandmother used to tell me when I was a little girl. And because I enjoy a good memior. This is a very interesting story of how a boy came from the poor skirts of town and was determind to make it and to stay out. Some one that had felt his whole life that he wasn't good enough for society. He not only proved himself wrong he proved everyone else wrong also. He will make it no matter what he ha to do. He will be somebody- he is somebody.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great story from a great author. He took us to his home town and told us of his trials and tribulations and life as a young man and up until the time he wrote this book. He grew up in a poor family with and alcoholic father who was never around and bragg's mother would have to raise bragg and his brother's by herself. They had a rough life but they perservered through hard times and everything turned out pretty good. Bragg went on to become a writer for several newspapers and also an author as well. His brother's turned out decent except for his youngest brother Mark who turned out just like his dad. Sam got a good job and got married and took care of his family.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bragg writes with such honesty at times funny and others almost heartbreaking. I enjoyed every word. Excellent.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
PharisLW More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book, kept me and my fellow book club readers totally engaged. Rick Bragg writes in a conversational tone that is true to the various dialects of the real characters without caricaturing them. His story is sometimes funny, sometimes harrowing, always honest.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoy Bragg's writing style. It was interesting to learn about his family history in conjunction with the history of the South at that time.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What makes this book great is Bragg's ability to make you feel his feelings, be there with him, see what he saw. This piece really moved me. I left the book sad about his opinions on God but understand where he is coming from. Great informaive read. Best memoir yet.
bikrgran More than 1 year ago
I rarely do biographies, so this was not something I would normally read, or even know about, except for a book club meeting. It's about a man who was born "poor white trash", to a loving, but whipped Mom and an alcoholic Dad fighting Korean War demons. It's about his life growing up and into a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper man. It talks about some of his stories, most of which are on, what he called "the dark side". It has it's laugh-out-loud parts, and the cry-out-loud parts, and the descriptions of Haiti are unbelievable. I think I recommend this, but it's not for everyone, especially those who are sensitive.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book I have read in a long time, I enjoyed the style of storytelling and the rich descriptions of places, people, and experiences.