Ever the reporter, Rick Bragg starts off his lecture with a question.
“How many of y’all are getting out of math class right now?” he asks a group of dual enrollment students at Wallace Community College.
A few hands shoot up.
“Y’all ought to love me,” he replies.
Bragg, a famous journalist and author, known for his non-fiction work about growing up in north Alabama, Iraq war veteran Jessica Lynch and University of Alabama coach Nick Saban, talked about writing Thursday, giving a few tips about the trade and telling a few stories from his life and career.
Bragg told students how his career in writing allowed him to escape from the hardscrabble life of his forbearers who worked on farms, in mines and in mills.
“My people got dirty to make a living,” he said.
He advised students that to succeed as writers, they needed to learn to write descriptively and develop a love and understanding for language.
“If you want to write and make a living, you need to learn to write with energy, color and detail.”
Although being well-read and having a good ear for language helps, Bragg also said being from the South and having a few sorry uncles will go a long way to further a career in letters.
According to college officials, Bragg’s visit was intended to encourage young writers and give them an opportunity to learn a few secrets from an acknowledged master of the craft.
Bragg said he hoped his visit would encourage talented young writers to pursue their passion. Unlike many writers, who prefer not to talk about money, Bragg was open about the earnings good writers can make, saying that the contract for his first book gained him $250,000, which allowed him to buy his mother a house.
“I want every smart, young person to know what the rewards are,” he said.
Right now, Bragg is working on a non-fiction book about Jerry Lee Lewis, which Bragg says will cherry pick stories from the long life and career of the hell-raising musician.
Bragg said his own current reading list includes re-reads of some old favorites from his childhood and youth, including “Huckleberry Finn,” Larry McMurtry’s “Dead Man’s Walk” and a Louis L’Amour novel. When he’s not writing, reading or fishing, Bragg said he enjoys watching “Justified.”