Sitting Up with the Dead: A Storied Journey Through the American South

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9780007292295: Sitting Up with the Dead: A Storied Journey Through the American South

An enthralling, rollicking tour among the storytellers of the American Deep South.

The story of the South is not finished. The southeastern states of America, the old Confederacy, bristle with storytellers who refuse to be silent. Many of the tales passed down from generation to generation to be told and re-told continue to change their shape to suit their time, stretching elastically to find new ways of retailing the People’s Truth. Travelling back and forth, from the Carolinas to Louisiana, from the Appalachians to Atlantic islands, from Virginian valleys to Florida swamps, and sitting before bewitching storytellers who tell her tales that hold her hard, Pamela Petro gathers up a fistful of history, and sieves out of it the shiny truths that these stories have been polishing over the years. Here is another America altogether, lingering on behind the façade of the ubiquitous strip-mall of anodyne, branded commerce and communication, moving to other rhythms, reaching back into the past to clutch at the shattering events that shaped it and haunt it still.

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Review:

Pamela Petro's travel in Sitting Up with the Dead is a voyage, not a road trip, through the myths and memories of the American South. Her signposts are the storytellers who, by profession or proclivity, keep alive a history that is unique in the United States.

The American Deep South is a country of its own, one where the sounds of the cicada, the mocking bird, church revivals and banjos mark time. But it is particularly in the cadence of voices--a variety of accents as indecipherable to an unaccustomed ear as that of Glaswegian or Geordie--that is the heart of Petro's journey. Petro's travels take her through the Carolinas, the Appalachian mountains, Louisiana and the Florida swamps. Each chapter features a storyteller peppered with information on the region, the folklore and, often, the politics of race that is so grounded in this part of the country.

The author of Travels in an Old Tongue brings the same keen ear to the personalities of the storytellers such as Ray Hicks and David Holt. She knits her own narrative in an online conversation with budding performance artist Vickie Vedder who has worked the problems of her "dirt poor" southern family into terrific characters.

One warning: many of the tale and some interviews are written in dialect. They demand to be read aloud. "Mah gran'father tol 'em (stories) when I'us little. An' I tried to tel 'em at fivh yay-yrs ole'..I liked 'em. Loved th'stawries. An' do yet," says Ray Hicks after telling Petro a couple of yarns.

Skip Petro's introduction and just jump in but do save the title story for last. As a narrative on a dying art and for the pleasures of laughing and reading aloud, Petro has stitched together a lasting tale of her own. --Kathleen Buckley

Review:

‘Enthusiastic and indiscreet, funny and learned, Petro is about as good a travel companion as you could get’ Spectator

‘Petro is the sort of writer you really look forward to meeting. Entertaining and informative, she writes with such disarming frankness that you feel you know every intimate quirk about her.’ The Big Issue

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