Cover image for Billy Ray's farm : essays
Billy Ray's farm : essays
Brown, Larry, 1951-2004.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, [2001]

Physical Description:
205 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"A Shannon Ravenel book"--T.p. verso.
By the pond -- Thicker than blood -- Harry Crews: mentor and friend -- Chattanooga nights -- Billy Ray's farm -- Fishing with Charlie -- So much fish, so close to home : an improv -- The whore in me -- Goatsongs -- Shack.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3552.R6927 Z466 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In his first work of nonfiction since the acclaimed On Fire , Brown aims for nothing short of ruthlessly capturing the truth of the world in which he has always lived. In the prologue to the book, he tells what it's like to be constantly compared with William Faulkner, a writer with whom he shares inspiration from the Mississippi land. The essays that follow show that influence as undeniable. Here is the pond Larry reclaims and restocks on his place in Tula. Here is the Oxford bar crowd on a wild goose chase to a fabled fishing event. And here is the literary sensation trying to outsmart a wily coyote intent on killing the farm's baby goats. Woven in are intimate reflections on the Southern musicians and writers whose work has inspired Brown's and the thrill of his first literary recognition.

But the centerpiece of this book is the title essay which embodies every element of Larry Brown's most emotional attachments-to the family, the land, the animals. This is a book for every Larry Brown fan. It is also an invaluable book for every reader interested in how a great writer responds, both personally and artistically, to the patch of land he lives on.

Author Notes

Larry Brown is the author of seven previous books, including the acclaimed memoir On Fire. His most recent is Fay, a novel. His books have won many prizes and awards, including two Southern Book Critics Circle awards for fiction and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award. He lives near Oxford, Mississippi, on family land

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Brown, an ex-marine and ex-fireman who hails from Faulkner's hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, brings a somewhat different voice to modern southern writing, which is exemplified in this latest collection of essays. Like his fiction, the author's essays are often startling, maybe a bit brusque, yet his smooth narrative style keeps the reader's attention until the end. Whether the subject is a heifer giving birth or something more mundane, such as a book signing, Brown's take on the subject is unique and highly readable. As the author of seven previous books and the recipient of many awards, he has been garnering a lot of press lately, so librarians may want to have a copy or two on hand. --Kathleen Hughes

Publisher's Weekly Review

Celebrated for depicting the dark, seamy side of Southern life, Mississippi novelist Brown (Fay; Father and Son) turns to sunnier topics in this loose-jointed collection of essays paying tribute to the people and places that influenced his writing. The title piece, a rueful reflection on son Billy Ray's persistent bad luck with cattle, sets the tone: despite dead calves, misbehaving bulls, rampaging coyotes and dilapidated fences, father and son remain optimistic. "Billy Ray's farm does not yet exist on an earthly plane," writes Brown. "On Billy Ray's farm there will be total harmony, wooden fence rows straight as a plumb line, clean, with no weeds, no rusted barbed wire." As Brown details his own efforts to impose harmony on his farm by building a house ("Shack"), protecting his stock from predators ("Goatsongs"), clearing brush and stocking fish ("By the Pond"), he balances pastoral odes with a clear-eyed accounting of the costs of country living. That realism gives Brown's narratives a plainspoken truth that makes more believable the simple pleasures he takes in these simple tasks. The writer's home life in Oxford, Miss., is more compelling than his chronicles of book tours and writers conferences ("The Whore in Me"), but the latter is kept to a minimum. More successful are the tributes to literary mentors Harry Crews and Madison Jones and to the men who taught him "the fine points of guns and dogs" after his father's death, when Brown was 16. These humble personal essays, which provide a glimpse at the long apprenticeship of a writer who came up the hard way, leave the reader hoping Brown will soon tackle a full-blown autobiography. (Apr.) Forecast: Brown receives rave reviews for his novels and has a devoted following. This should sell well for Algonquin, especially in the South. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In the prolog to this collection of essays, Brown (Fay, On Fire, Big Bad Love) states, "You can't pick where you're born or raised. You take what you're given, whether it's the cornfields of the Midwest or the coal mines of West Virginia, and you make your fiction out of it. It's all you have. And somehow, wherever you are, it always seems to be enough." His essays underscore this sense of place with descriptions of life on his land near Oxford, MI. These essays read much like good fiction. They offer intrigue (will he get the free fish as part of the big deal on the spillway at Enid Reservoir or bag the coyote that has torn open the throats of their baby goats?), humor (holding the tail of his son's young Holstein bull while they try to get it into the pasture at Billy Ray's farm), and experience (with mentors, literary conferences, and book-signing tours). Recommended for all libraries. Sue Samson, Univ. of Montana Lib., Missoula (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Prologue A long time ago when I was a boy, there was one slab of concrete that stretched from Oxford to Toccopola, a distance of about sixteen miles, and that was the road everybody used to get to town. It was kind of like half of a road, with one side concrete, the other side dirt and gravel. If you were heading to town, you could stay on the concrete all the way and never have to get off on the gravel side. And if you were coming from town, you could get on the concrete part and drive on the wrong side of the road until you met somebody, and then you had to jump back onto the gravel. That road has been gone for a long time, but I still remember the swaying of the car as my father went from one side of the road to the other. Everybody did it and nobody ever thought anything about it. A trip to town on Saturday was a big event. The Square in Oxford has changed some, true, but by and large it still retains the image I have of it from thirty years ago. It is still lined with stores and parked cars, and the big oaks still stand on the courthouse lawn, and the Confederate soldier is still standing there high above everything so that you can see him first when you come up the long drive of South Lamar. What has changed is the nature of the town. A long time ago you could find people selling vegetables from the backs of their trucks, and you could go in Winter's Cafe and get a hamburger and a short-bottled Coke for sixty-five cents. You can't even buy an Egg McMuffin on University Avenue for that. Faulkner would probably be flabbergasted to know that there are several bars on the Square now, and that blues music can often be heard wailing out of the open doors on hot summer nights, floating around the air on the Square, lifting up to the balconies of the apartments that line the south side, where people are having drinks and conversing. It's not like it was when he was around. Life was hard for some. Blacks were oppressed. The drinking fountains on the Square were labeled Colored and White. That world doesn't exist anymore. What does exist is the memory of it, a faded remnant of the way things were. Write about what you know, yes, even if it doesn't exist anymore. When I wrote my novel Father and Son, people wondered why I set it back in the sixties. The answer to that is very simple. When I wrote the first scene, where Glen Davis and his brother Puppy are driving back into town, I didn't see the Square I see now, with Square Books on the left side of South Lamar and Proud Larrys' on the right. I saw that old Oxford, the one where Grace Crockett's shoe store stood in the place now occupied by a restaurant and bar called City Grocery, and I saw the old trucks with wooden roofs built over the back ends to shield the watermelons and roasting ears and purple hull peas from the heat of the sun, and I saw a battered old dusty car that my two characters were riding in, and I knew that it had a shift on the column, and an AM radio with push buttons, and musty upholstery that had once been velvet. I saw all that and I knew that they had driven in one hot Saturday afternoon back during my childhood, and I remember the way things were. What is it about Oxford that produces writers? I get asked that question a lot, and so does Barry Hannah, and so does John Grisham, and I have to confess that I'm just as bewildered by that question as the people who continue to ask it. Maybe even more so. They always want to ask about Faulkner and what it all means, being a writer in Oxford, and where all the stories come from, and why that environment seems to nurture writers. No matter where I go, I always get hit with that question or a variation of it. I don't know what the answer is for anybody else, and I don't know what caused Faulkner to write. Most times, for any writer, I think it springs from some sort of yearning in the breast to let things out, to say something about the human condition, maybe just to simply tell a story. When pressed really hard, I say something generic like, "Well, for me the land sort of creates the characters, you know? I mean I look at the people around me and wonder what their stories are, or I think of some character and put him in a situation and then follow him around for a while, see what happens next." It's hard sometimes while being pressed into a corner of the wallpaper to come up with a satisfying answer about your own land and the influences it has on you. Most of this stuff is private. You could say that you like the way the sky looks just before a big thunderstorm moves across a river bottom, or that you like to see the thousands of tiny frogs that emerge on the roads on a balmy spring night just after a good shower. You could ruminate expansively about the beauty of a hardwood forest on a cold morning, or the way the distant trees stand shimmering against the horizon on a blistering summer day. But none of that would satisfy the question. What is it they really want to know? Probably nothing more than that old and tired favorite: Where do you get your ideas? I believe that writers have to write what they know about. I don't think there's much choice in that. The world Faulkner wrote about was vastly different from the one that exists now. If Faulkner were alive today, he would see that. The mansion down the street has been replaced by a BP gas station now, and the hardwood forest the dogs once yammered through has been clear-cut and turned into a pine plantation. Black folks don't say "yassuh" any more, and at this moment I would have no idea where in all of Lafayette County I could find a good mule. I think the past influenced Faulkner a lot. It must have, since so many of his stories and novels are about segments of history that had already passed when he wrote of them. All he was doing was what every other writer does, and that is drawing upon the well of memory and experience and imagination that every writer pulls his or her material from. The things you know, the things you have seen or heard of, the things you can imagine. A writer rolls all that stuff together kind of like a taco and comes up with fiction. And I think whatever you write about, you have to know it. Concretely. Absolutely. Realistically. Oxford produces writers for the same reason that New York does, or Knoxville, or Milledgeville, or Bangor. You can't pick where you're born or raised. You take what you're given, whether it's the cornfields of the Midwest or the coal mines of West Virginia, and you make your fiction out of it. It's all you have. And somehow, wherever you are, it always seems to be enough. Excerpted from Billy Ray's Farm: Essays from a Place Called Tula by Larry Brown All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prologuep. 1
By the Pondp. 7
Thicker than Bloodp. 13
Harry Crews: Mentor and Friendp. 17
Chattanooga Nightsp. 29
Billy Ray's Farmp. 39
Fishing with Charliep. 85
So Much Fish, So Close to Home: An Improvp. 95
The Whore in Mep. 145
Goatsongsp. 155
Shackp. 173