Questioning the Limits of Non-Fiction to Tell an Exceptional Life Story ‘Literary Axis’

In 2014, critic Dwight Garner published an elegy in . magazine The New York Times For a seemingly forgotten literary masterpiece, Oral History All dangers of God. Published in 1974 by then-Harvard doctoral candidate Theodore Rosengarten, the autobiography was narrated by Nate Shaw, a mom of a “black tenant farmer from east-central Alabama”. It was an innovative collaboration as much as it was radical.

At the time, oral history was still largely confined to academia in the United States, and its goal was often not so much to capture a unique drama as to provide a social and linguistic “snapshot” of a place or people. But Rosengarten and Shaw changed all of that.

All dangers of God It is a wild and sprawling epic in which a “Black Homer” recounts his adventures in a distinctly transcendent Southern polemic. It immediately won the 1975 National Book Award for General Fiction, beating him All the president’s men And the Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. But, Garner bemoans, while those books made their mark on the literary scene, All dangers of God Inexplicably, they “all fell off the map.”

However, it has not been completely forgotten. I was reading it at that very moment, in fact, perhaps for the third or fourth time, in what had become something of a ritual for me. I had met Ted – I called him Ted – at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, where I was an undergraduate. I was never officially his student; Another professor suggested that I email Dr. Rosengarten for advice on an article I was writing on immigrant farm workers, and without hesitation Ted invited me to discuss the draft at his home over dinner.

I come from a small town in rural Georgia, and he was the first writer I ever met. It wasn’t until I was alone in his studies – Ted was busy making pork chops in the kitchen – that I thought about it via Google and almost had a heart attack after seeing him and Shaw win the National Book Award. I wasn’t a particularly gifted student—”what’s up with all this fancy language of bullshit,” Ted later remarked while writing a full page of my draft, “just say what you mean with your voice”—but I had a burning desire to learn, and Ted was generous or crazy about what Enough to indulge in it.

All dangers of God It naturally became my bible, a piece of oral history that revolves around the sanctity of the spoken word, especially the words of those who cannot read or write themselves. To me, it was not so much a forgotten book as a scripture, nor a lost text, but the kind that remained locked in an arc of some undertaking, presided over by an obscure literary clergyman to whom I hoped one day I might belong.

After graduating – and with inspiration from Ted – I decided to become an anthropologist, to listen to the stories of people I might never encounter. I left to do fieldwork in Mexico, and my area was in part that the majority of Alabama farms today are no longer employed by black tenant farmers but Mexican and Central American immigrants.

And so, armed with my own perfect copy of All dangers of Godheaded south more than south, perhaps vaguely hoping to encounter another Nate Shaw, someone who will bless me in language the same way he blessed Ted.

He found me in a caravan of immigrants. His name was Axel Kirchner, and he said he had just been deported from New York, the place where he had lived almost all his life. As he spoke, his arms were wildly flung around his head, as if he was spewing words out of his body.

In contrast to Shaw’s elegant style—like a storm gathering on the horizon, a slow building momentum rolling in with a quiet intent until it engulfs you—Axl’s voice was a series of mercury lightning bolts that made everything in close distance ablaze. I’ve never met anyone like him, but I knew right away that he was the kind of person I needed to listen and listen carefully to. This listening eventually revealed a secret: Axel was a hacker. Through his tricks, he ends up exposing a ring of massive corruption that has led to some of the most sacred halls in all of Mexico.

All dangers of God It naturally became my bible, a piece of oral history that revolves around the sanctity of the spoken word, especially the words of those who cannot read or write themselves.

I passionately set out to document the journey of Axel – ex-human traffickers, scam priests, and anti-government gangsters – as well as our unexpected friendship along the way. Now, about exactly seven years after the day we met, we’re publishing a book together, border hacker. Active reader will discover the effect All dangers of God Over the.

Somehow , border hackerBiggest salute to All dangers of God It lies not in their similarity, but in their difference. In order to tell Axel’s extraordinary story, I felt as though I needed to question the boundaries around what was proclaimed to be accepted within the craft of realism, and pushed him into new territory, just as Ted and Shaw had done a generation before with my Oral. Date. What Shaw has proven conclusively is that even illiterate narrators can be amazing literary minds. The person who has actually lived a story is sometimes the best person to truly tell it.

That’s why I’m inspired by All dangers of God. Ted could have told Shaw’s story from his own point of view, citing it as appropriate, but he didn’t. Instead, listen. And yes, Ted is still “out there” in the book – he’s working on editing, countless hours of copying and arranging and coming back to Shaw for more information – but on the page he’s nowhere to be found. Having the political vision and discipline to do so is a gift.

However, I must admit that the things I love most about the book – Ted’s conscientious absence, his willingness and wisdom to step back – are also what bothered me at times when I was a would-be intern. while reading All dangers of God As a college student, I desperately wanted to know what it felt like sitting on Shaw’s balcony on a scorching Alabama night recording interviews on hard magnetic tape.

I longed for his inner monologue—not to replace Shaw but to talk to him, to learn how Ted changed the things Shaw had heard him say, just as it changed when I read it. The Ted I knew was an incredibly accomplished and older professor, and I saw him in some sense as a literary father. But, as with all fathers, I wanted to know who he was before I met him, and why a young Jew—also not entirely safe in that part of Alabama—chosen to risk something for a larger cause. Does he have doubts like me?

One might think, for example, of that All dangers of God It was not forgotten passively, Garner said, but rather actively repressed. One of the pivotal moments in the book is when Shaw—a member of the Alabama Communist Wardens Union—relentlessly shoots white police officers seizing a neighbor’s cattle, an action that most of America—in 1974 as in 2022—certainly had no interest in enshrining in memory. cultural.

Traveling alongside Axl, I feared that America wasn’t ready for our story either. Today’s immigration policies are not only similar to, but inspired by, the apartheid policies Shaw fought in Alabama. These laws stripped Axel of a country and put his life in danger. In order to resist, he (and I with him) has done things in the name of survival – like Shaw – things that are illegal, even if they are just. We ran from border guards and mocked immigration checkpoints.

At one point, Axel was kidnapped by a man with strong connections to the Mexican state and forced to hack other prominent government officials on his behalf. With nowhere else to turn – it wasn’t like we could call the police – I told hell to professional limits and caught Axel outside myself. Because of these dangers, Axl must hide his identity in order to survive.

Crossing these kinds of personal boundaries also forced us to reconsider how we tell our story on the page. I went back to All dangers of God for inspiration. Just like Shaw, I knew that Axel’s character was too lively, and his language too lyrical, to be wasted in simply quoting him. Axel and I decided that our greatest strength was in the dialogue between us, both of our voices talking back and forth to each other about the great violence that Axel was forced to deal with. Instead of a first-person narrator, we asked for two, which, as far as we know, are something of a novelty within the non-mainstream narratives.

This gives Axl space to speak for himself and tell his story on his own terms, even as he contradicts or criticizes my version of events. It’s by no means a perfect solution to his predicament – Axel remains undocumented, I’m still the one writing this article – but it is our humble attempt to do something different within the genre.

In the years since Garner’s article, All dangers of God It brought back the bestseller list, and new translations will be available in Mandarin and Dutch. Younger generations may rediscover a secret truth in oral history that they initially dared to do more than their predecessors – that only by detaching from the forms of your forefathers can you honor what they themselves so desperately sought.


border hacker Written by Levi Funk with Axel Kirchner Now available via Bold Type Books.