ON A NOT-SO-CHILLY evening in December, I met a woman named Classie Green. We were in Pine Bluff, conducting interviews and shooting portraits for this month’s cover feature. She was one of the first people who approached the setup—a table, a few chairs, a white butcher-paper backdrop that was getting caught in the wind—and agreed to take part. When she came over, she immediately told me that she was 73, and that she was one of 13 children, and that she’d been the first black person to graduate from the University of Arkansas at Monticello’s nursing department after it integrated. We talked for a few minutes—about how her mom canned everything from blackberries to pork, how her dad made $10 a day chopping wood, how her first job was chopping cotton for $4 a day.
I found myself thinking an awful lot about the mission statement of this magazine—the crux of which centers on the importance of telling stories that surprise and challenge ideas about the state—as we interviewed 108 people for the “An Arkansas Story” feature. Because, without exception, every story we heard was surprising. There wasn’t one instance when I didn’t think (or often, say): “Wait. … What now?”
It’s true that ours is a state seldom flattered by statistics. We just don’t come off very well on paper. But the conversations and encounters that marked this feature lent people depth that scrubbed away preconceptions and ideas about who we thought we might meet. The upshot is that we have both a greater and lesser understanding of what an Arkansan looks like today.
OF COURSE, EVEN as we proceeded with this project—and somehow, shockingly, managed to pull something together—we were reminded time and again that other people across the state were living out very different lives. As we drove to Batesville, for instance, teachers were striking in Little Rock for the first time since 1987 (more on that on here ), hoisting signs that said, “Don’t Segregate Our Schools #OneLRSD.” The day we were in Little Rock, the Johnny Cash Heritage Festival was underway, as was the Arkansas State Fair. Arkansas was stomping Tulsa 91 to 41 in women’s basketball as we were leaving El Dorado. To be sure, this entire project hinged on chance: on who would stop, who we’d meet, where they were in their lives in that very particular moment.
It was a reminder that every conversation we have is but a snapshot of a person in that given moment. A person’s life can change radically over the course of a day, or a moment, and the person you meet might be a very different person than they had been before. In that sense, I think the story we sought out to tell was indeed a successful one. With this briefest, narrowest of snapshots, there’s a story of a moment.
The day after we got back from Batesville, our associate editor, Wyndham, received the following note from one of the folks interviewed for the feature. And, well, it was just too nice not to share.
We met yesterday afternoon when you were in Batesville…
I just wanted to write and say that first off, I am again grateful y’all came to Batesville and am eager for the article to come out to read what all gems you guys find! And secondly, I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never read Arkansas Life before this afternoon, actually. I’ve gone down a rabbit hole of amazing articles, photographs, stories and perspectives!!
Reading the articles on the site is truly a delight, and I guess I just wanted to write to thank you and your team and to encourage you all as you continue with your stories of all different walks and aspects of life in Arkansas. Things like these projects and outlets make me even *more* proud to be an Arkansan, and makes me want to experience even more of our state and the people/places that make it so wonderful. And I know I can’t be the only one that feels this way after reading.
Thanks again for putting your time and energy into something so inspiring,