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  • Writer's picturebbrianfoster

"How We Got Here" Essay (Gravy, 2020)

What if you came across a collection of notes from family members past—notes on how your family came to be; notes on some of the cultural traditions that they built over the years; notes that seem somehow dated, out of time, and to the future?

That is the idea that motivated “How We Got Here,”published to Gravy, the official journal of the Southern Foodways Alliance. The essay is rendered as a collection of notes from various members of my family. The first note is from my great-great granddaddy Robert Foster, Jr., born in a small town in Alabama in 1887. The second note is from his son—”Q,” my great uncle—born in 1923, after my family fled Alabama for Mississippi. The third note is from Q’s son, Arthur, born in 1954. And the fourth note is from me. For more context read my author's note.

Here's a selected excerpt from the essay:

How we got here?
We travel. Under no day and cotton in the back of a freight wagon, no different from the tree wood. Pap come first. Took his hands but left the gun. Say why he need it ran out. Ma Fanny and us, the children, left quick, too. But not with Pap. Killing take its own time.

It was the hardest essay I've written—in terms of reporting, in terms of voice, in terms of layering and sampling, and in terms of its weight. Family is heavy.

It was also the most gratifying essay I've written. Family is heavy.

Read the full essay here.

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