From “The Ballad of Fred and Yoko,” by Will Stephenson
By Oxford American
Recommendations from the editors of the Oxford American
As we close this week, we’re thinking of all of our friends at AWP, the annual swap meet of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs that welcomes writers, editors, and publishers by the thousands. This year, the Oxford American’s first-ever AWP panel, The Music Issue: Poetry’s Root Influence, brought together Ansel Elkins, David Kirby, Ada Limón, and Don Share just this morning to comingle with the ghosts of Lydia Mendoza, Big Memphis Ma Rainey, Otis Redding, Jimmie Rodgers, and their ilk. These bright minds considered the influence of music, its beat and breath, on this country’s poetry traditions. Aside from these fine folk, other OA contributors are also in sunny Los Angeles walking the halls of the LA Convention Center, drinking the cocktails, signing and singing. Maybe you’ll see Nickole Brown and her wife, Jessica Jacobs, spinning from panel to panel. Maybe you’ll step outside and see our contributing editor Harrison Scott Key sunning himself by the pool, reveling in his new life as a famous writer. When you walk back inside, maybe you will follow signs to the book fair and grab the fresh new books of our most recent poetry contributors Nancy K. Pearson, Phillip B. Williams, Bianca Lynne Spriggs, and Tyehimba Jess—whose book Olio, the expansive follow-up to his debut, Leadbelly, will be released next week.
Perhaps the greatest contribution to twentieth century art by a painter in residence at Melrose Plantation when it was an artists’ colony in the 1930s was not the paint applied to canvas but the paint intended to be thrown away. Those partially empty tubes were rescued by Clementine Hunter, who worked on the property, used the remaining paint to create her first work on a window shade, and went on to become one of the most celebrated American folk artists. Now, after an absence of two years for restoration, nine Hunter murals dating from 1955 have been reinstalled in African House on the plantation (in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana). The return of the works is being celebrated with a gala on April 9, including a ribbon cutting by Hunter superfan Robert Wilson, the theatre director and playwright who conceived and directed an opera about Hunter, “Zinnias,” in 2013. We think spring in Central Louisiana, in all its sunny floral fecundity, is the perfect time and place to see Hunter’s colorful, restored—and restorative—paintings.
It seems like only yesterday that Will Stephenson was an intern for this magazine, reading slush and fact-checking our Tennessee Music issue, then impressing us all with his essay on Waylon, Willie, Kris, and the “renegades” of Nashville country—his OA debut. Since then he’s expounded on Pimp C, MC Shy D, the Monkey Palace of Albany, Georgia, and, most recently, the scattered legacy of Terry Southern. Will’s essays are compassionate and quietly brilliant, and often glimmer with an understated wry humor. Will’s skills were on notable display this week on the cover of the alt-weekly the Arkansas Times. In “The Ballad of Fred and Yoko,” he tells the life story of Fred Arnold, a homeless man who in December died on the streets of Little Rock—a traffic fatality “largely unacknowledged” in local media, until Will received an email from Fred’s friend. The friend claimed Fred had once owned record stores in Charleston, South Carolina, and was one of the world’s foremost Beatles collectors—a friend of John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s. Will took the tip and filled in many gaps, crafting a fascinating story and an elegy to an extraordinary life. The story has clearly touched many readers. In a comment that is indicative of much of the story’s response, one reader wrote: “Beautiful, tragic, and kind. What a beautiful memorial of an interesting stranger.” We couldn’t agree more.
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