Flannery O'Connor knew a thing or two about freaks. She knew how to take the basest of human impulses, twist them through the lens of the grotesque, and reflect back to us our best and worst tendencies, often simultaneously; she understood the peculiarity of a region that is rooted in both a culture of violence and a culture of honor, as well as how there is often a complicated intersection between the two; she was able to recognize the freak and, more importantly, to humanize him or her. For this preternatural ability to capture the freaky and the Southern, O'Connor is hailed as one of our region's foremost writers, a documentarian of the South as a place and the Southerner as an identity.
So much of our identity is rooted in where we come from, after all. Think about the conversations you've had when meeting someone new, how one of the first questions asked is, "Where are you from?" We are Tennesseans or Nashvillians or Southerners or UT fans, marked by our hometowns or our allegiances as much as we are by our first names.
So what do you do, then, when the identity afforded by where you came from doesn't mesh with the identity you want for yourself (or, worse yet and also more likely, the one you need for yourself)? This is discord common to the modern Southerner, particularly the young, progressive one. To grow up in a region defined by its intolerance while striving to develop an identity that bucks that definition is to live a life of constant conflict, one's own identity inevitably shaped by the scars left from two sides constantly at odds.
The life of the young Southerner, then, is one lived on both sides of history, with one foot in each world, forever stretched and straddling the Mason-Dixon. The young Southerner lives two lives in one body, a body with an angel perched on one shoulder and the devil on the other. The Southerner is a freak.
With Julep, we aim to give a voice to that freakier side of Southern life, to open a line of dialogue between a troubled past and a hope for a better future. The various identities explored through the following pieces are all, in one way or another, products of their writers' environments and the conflicts thereof. Like Flannery O'Connor, the writers in Julep are not only able to recognize the freaks, but are compelled to write because of that recognition, perhaps, especially, if that recognition comes from their own reflections.
In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," O'Connor tells the story of a woman who, held at gunpoint and in the face of certain death, briefly overcomes her mortal flaws and finds a small glimpse of redemption. In many ways, to live as a young Southerner is to live on both sides of the gun, at once staring down the barrel of a history of violence and bigotry while also tasked with guarding the trigger, trying not to perpetrate or fall victim to that history oneself. So here's to recognizing the freaks, and to making sure that gun doesn't go off again.
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