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All Over but the Shoutin'

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All Over But the Shoutin' is the autobiography of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Rick Bragg. It begins in Piedmont, Alabama, around the time of the Korean War, in the year 1959, when Bragg was born. Bragg's father, Charles Brag, was a veteran of the Korean War and was rarely home. He was a raging alcoholic with a deep mean streak who beat his wife, Margaret Bundham Bragg, in front of their children; Bragg remembers being three years old and attacking his father with his brother Sam, then age six, to stop him from hurting her.

When Charles was not at home, Margaret did her best to support Sam and Rick and their younger brother Mark, working odd jobs like cotton picking and cleaning houses for rich people in town. Bragg grew up in the Possum Trot area, which is close to Jacksonville.

While Charles was absent, Margaret and her children had no shortage of family members. Bragg's maternal grandmother, Miss Abigail, and his aunts and uncles supported the family when they could not support themselves. Other than his father, Bragg claims that he had a happy childhood. While they were incredibly poor, Bragg never knew until he was in high school and the girls he dated would break up with him when they saw his house.

All Over but the Shoutin' focuses on Bragg's childhood, his interactions with his brothers, being young during the Civil Rights movement, class relations in northeast Alabama and the regular challenges of teenage life. While Bragg cut up in school, he took a journalism class that changed his life. Due to a murder in town, Bragg and other poor, black or mentally handicapped boys in town were rounded up as suspects simply because of their race and class. Bragg was so furious and humiliated he vowed to get out of his hometown and started taking night classes at Jacksonville State and sports writing for local newspapers, the Talladega Daily Home and the Jacksonville News.

The second half of the book covers Bragg's adulthood up until 1996. In 1980, Bragg took a job as a reporter for the Anniston Star, and from 1986 to 1989 he wrote for the Birmingham News. In March 1989, Bragg moved to Tampa to write for the St. Petersburg Times, first as a foreign correspondent, which took him to then war-torn Haiti and then as a national correspondent, which led him to cover the race riots in Miami. In 1992, Bragg won a Nieman fellowship at Harvard, and in 1994 Bragg was hired briefly at the L. A. Times and then as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. He was quickly promoted to regional correspondent for the South and moved to Atlanta.

Bragg explains how his brothers grew up, how Sam turned out fine but how Mark became an alcoholic like Charles and how much Margaret worried about him. He often describes his visits home and how little people were impressed by his accomplishments, which he didn't mind. He describes in horrible detail the carnage and extreme poverty during his two trips to Haiti and gives his unique Southern perspective on Harvard and the New York Times.

In the final part of the book, Bragg wins the Pulitzer and takes his mother on an unusual and deeply moving trip to New York City, where she saw Bragg receive the Pulitzer Bragg had also made enough money to follow through with his vow to "get even with life" by buying his mother a nice house. While the house didn't fix all of their problems, it was a symbolic victory over the hand they had been dealt in life.