Rick Bragg kept an audience of more than 500 laughing for much of the Tuesday night during the annual Forsyth Reads Together celebration.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist shared stories of being a Southern writer and spoke about his memoir “All Over but the Shoutin’” before fielding questions and signing books during the sixth annual gathering at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.
Bragg’s speaking engagement marked the largest turnout for any Forsyth Reads Together event, topping last year’s attendance of 200.
“That’s very encouraging and very nice,” Bragg said. “I can only assume there ain’t nothing on TV tonight.”
Steve Kight, the local library system’s assistant director of public services, was delighted with the turnout.
“This is huge,” Kight said. “This is the second year in a row we’ve been lucky enough to have an author come and visit. To have someone of Rick Bragg’s caliber is exciting for us.
“He’s got such a wealth of experience and he really has a way with writing and bringing his experiences to life.”
Bragg has written several best-selling nonfiction books and received the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 1996 at the New York Times. He is currently a professor at the University of Alabama.
Now in its sixth year, Forsyth Reads Together unites the community with literature. It’s a joint effort of the Forsyth County Public Library, as well as Forsyth County Arts Alliance, Forsyth County Public Library Friends & Advocates and Literacy Forsyth.
Cumming resident Jill Wilson said she had read all of Bragg’s books and wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to meet one of her favorite writers.
“I can relate to him because I grew up in the same area,” said Wilson, who was raised in Calhoun County, Ala. “When he mentions places in the book and people in the book, I know family names and I can envision exactly what he’s talking about, so it really comes alive for me.”
Bragg, who grew up impoverished in rural northeast Alabama, told of how his hard-working mother did everything she could so that he and his brothers could have a better life. Her dedication to the family and his encounters with struggling neighbors are prominently featured.
“The books are just a way to save [stories],” he said. “The storytelling saves those people that I love to remember and write about. It saves them and keeps them from vanishing because they vanish every day.
“They pass away and the working class, blue-collar, two-fisted people — Southerners — those generations are slipping away. And if I can save them a little longer by putting them down on paper, well, that’s enough reason right there.”
Cumming native Margaret Patten hasn’t finished any of Bragg’s books, but decided she would attend to get one signed for her niece.
“I just started reading his book,” Patten said. “I think I’ll be able to understand the things he says from just hearing about my mother’s childhood, even though he’s much younger than she is. It probably won’t be a hard read.”
Bragg said readers are able to see themselves in the book, which is why it has become a success.
“The whole reason these books worked … is because people read their own story into those books,” Bragg said. “That’s why these people are here and that’s why they showed up, because they’re reading their stories into my story, and that’s wonderful.”