During its first in-person event in nearly two years, the Auburn University Women’s Philanthropy Board hosted Pulitzer Prize-winner and best-selling author Rick Bragg to reflect on what’s worth remembering.
Born and raised in Alabama, Bragg’s best-selling memoirs, including “All Over but the Shoutin’,” “Ava’s Man,” and “The Prince of Frogtown,” chronicle his family history. Bragg is renowned for the honesty with which he captures the essence of life in the Deep South, from the struggles his mother endured to provide for the family to his own journey into fatherhood.
“All of them have been written with, I hope, love, but grit, because you can’t live in the Deep South and not know what the rough edges of this life are like,” Bragg said. “There were not any real dark secrets that we were hiding from. I understand that some families do have them, and that you have to be so careful, but poverty, violence, jail…we didn’t see those things as things to be ashamed of.”
A former correspondent for The New York Times, Bragg first gained acclaim for his feature writing – most notably, for the story of Oseola McCarty, a Hattiesburg, Miss., laundress who gave her life savings, a gift of $150,000, to the University of Southern Mississippi to fund scholarships for Black students.
“I noticed that she had on these dime store tennis shoes, and she’d cut the toes out and made sandals. And I noticed that her Bible was bound front to back with Scotch tape. This is the woman who gave 150 grand to her university,” Bragg said. “That was the first time in my life that I ever understood what philanthropy was, truly understood what it was.”
Bragg reported that McCarty was motivated to give so much of what she had “so the children don’t have to work like I did.” The story later helped Bragg win a Pulitzer Prize, and McCarty became one of the most admired philanthropists of all time.
Today, Bragg serves as a professor of journalism and creative media at the University of Alabama and publishes a monthly column in Southern Living titled “Rick Bragg’s Southern Journal.” In his youth, Bragg visited Auburn often, and was inspired to pursue writing as a career after reporting on Auburn football games.
“I would not have had a writing life if it were not for this place. That’s easy to say if you went to school here, but it’s harder to say if you didn’t. My writing life started in that football stadium,” Bragg said. “I still remember the sounds, and the drama, and the idea that I was writing about something important. I remember watching the young people move from building to building and move along the streets and think to myself: those are the luckiest people on Earth.”
The Women’s Philanthropy Board hosted its inaugural Summer Nights program, supported by Alabama Power through the WPB Distinguished Speakers Fund, Thursday, July 22 at the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center. Guests enjoyed Bragg’s presentation, dinner, and a book signing with the author.
“Rick Bragg was the perfect speaker to help us launch WPB’s Summer Nights program. His trademark humor kept the audience laughing the whole evening and his poignant memories reminded us of the many reasons we were so happy to finally be back together again,” said WPB Director Kim Walker. “Because of the support of our members, WPB is able to host events for the community that educate and inspire, and we hope the WPB Summer Nights program will become an annual tradition that brings people together.”
To read more about the Women’s Philanthropy Board, visit aub.ie/wpb.