For the first time in paperback, an acclaimed look at the American South through the lenses of its most acclaimed storytellers and their tales.
Rarely does a nonfiction work come along that is as original and refreshing as Sitting Up with the Dead. Here, take a ride with Pamela Petro as she embarks on a series of road trips through the states of the Old South to collect its stories and meet its tellers of traditional tales. Some of them are local celebrities, others national treasures. Among them are Ray Hicks, a National Heritage Fellow; Kathryn Windham, the ghost lady”; Nancy Basket, a kudzu paper-maker; Colonel Rod, self-proclaimed Florida cracker”; and Grammy Award-winner David Holt. You encounter plat-eyes and boo-hags, Jack the trickster and Brer Rabbit, mule eggs, singing turtles, talking corpses, and flying Africans from the sea islands of South Carolina.
Stories provide the connective tissue of the South, linking the past with the present. They join communities as widespread as the coastal plains of the Carolinas and Georgia, the swamps of the Gulf Coast, and the mountains and valleys of Appalachia. As distinctly American as jazz, they blend cultures and oral traditions as diverse as those of southern England, Ireland, West Africa, and native America. They contain bits of lived history, both from before the Civil War and after. In Sitting Up with the Dead, Pamela Petro offers a paradoxical wake for the undying body of the Old South, to hear its truths and contemplate its robust afterlife in the tallest, lyingest,” most fruitful, and most haunting of its tales.
"The origins of Southern literature are its folktales and local stories, and the South is full of storytellers. Pamela Petro has found the best of them, recounting their complete stories and the detailed circumstances of her journey in search of them. This book is both important as scholarship and great fun as a trip." Paul Theroux, author of Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads
"One of the best travel books of the last few decades. . . . [an] exquisitely written and immensely entertaining book about the South and its storytellers." —Thomas Swick, author of The Joys of Travel: And Stories That Illuminate Them
"Sitting Up with the Dead serves up an entertaining array of humorous and heartwarming portraits from the American South, both real and fictional. It shines a light on our incomparable storytelling, giving the told story the place of honor it deserves." Jimmy Neil Smith, Founder of the National Storytelling Festival, Founder and President Emeritus of the International Storytelling Center
An innovative and entertaining mapping of an area of the country that is, well, storied for its stories. . . . Petro has a journalist’s eye for detail and a good professor’s way with exegesis and that makes Sitting Up with the Dead much more than just an anthology of colorful stories. This is a book that honors stories and storytelling and reminds us that we all have our tales to tell.” Raleigh News & Observer
Pamela Petro is an adventurous, inquisitive writer who brings a perfect balance of reverence and scrutiny to her subject, and in Sitting Up with the Dead she has created a literary feast that is both delicious and nutritious.” Associated Press (reprinted in 42 papers)
Petro has a confident narrative voice, a wry sense of humor, and a gift for description. Reading Sitting Up with the Dead, is like joining friends around a campfire, savoring each tale like a sticky, gooey s’more.” New Orleans Times-Picayune
The genius of Sitting Up with the Dead is the sense of riding shotgun on a road trip with someone smart and funny. . . . Pamela Petro proves herself as gifted a storyteller as any of her subjects.” Women’s Review of Books
Petro drops most pretensions or analysis, staves off most stereotypes, and simply allows herself to sit on the porch and listen to the cultivated storytellers. . . . Her journey and recounting of selected stories from traditional ghost characters like Ray Hicks to hip African-American recording artist/storytellers like Veronica Byrd form a map to a South beyond our imagination.” Bloomsbury Review
The result of Petro’s journeys is this delightful sampling of folklore and an introduction to the many voices of the South today. . . . the book is like a trip back home for those who grew up in storytelling families. For those who never experienced that pleasure, it’s an eyeopening look at an oral art form that is still alive and well.” Library Journal
[A]n impressive piece of cultural conservation . . . In searching out these speakers, Petro discovers her own voice.” Publishers Weekly
Ms. Petro has captured the essence of the Southern oral tradition and renders it faithfully for the uninitiated.” Richmond Times-Dispatch
Pamela Petro offers a richly layered view of the American South, refracted through the region’s great tradition of oral storytelling. Her chorus of voices cuts across centuries and continents, knitting together time and space, Europe and Africa and these American States, into a most unusual and fascinating narrative.” Andrea Barrett, author of Servants of the Map, Ship Fever and Voyage of the Natural
With a fresh perspective and rich sense of humor, Pamela Petro takes the reader on a journey that maps the South with many of the distinctive voices of the region. Her writing has a sense of immediacy and adventure that makes you feel as if you’re taking the trip with her, and you’re glad for such company.” Shay Youngblood, author of Black Girl in Paris, Soul Kiss, and The Big Mama Stories
Don’t be misled by the title: Sitting Up with the Dead is a very lively book. Pamela Petro combines her curiosity about the South with her ability to look, listen, and remember as she records a refreshingly different tour of the South using native storytellers as her guides. She doesn’t just write about storytellersshe is one!” Kathryn T. Windham, storyteller and author of 13 Ghosts and Jeffrey, Twice Blessed, and Encounters
Essential reading for anyone who loves stories and storytelling. Pamela Petro has collected a whole gamut of wonderfully told Southern tales capturing the spirit of oral storytelling. Seeking out some of our most colorful storytellers in their homes, she offers, through her portraits of them, insight into their lives, their stories, and the rich cultural heritage of the South.” David Holt, storyteller and musician
Pamela Petro works as a full-time writer and has contributed to the New York Times travel section, the Atlantic, Islands, and Forbes publications. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.