The inaugural freshman class of Georgia Regents University got a reading assignment and an opportunity to meet the assignment’s Pulitzer Prize-winning author Friday.
Rick Bragg, who rose from Alabama poverty to win the Pulitzer for feature writing for The New York Times, conceded at GRU freshman convocation that he had never completed the bachelor’s degree he began many years ago.
“I am technically a freshman at Jacksonville State University,” said Bragg, now a professor of writing at the University of Alabama.
Bragg said that he began writing when his “craft was still blue collar” – but that for all in the audience, that has changed.
Bragg said he had been “very lucky” to travel the world .
“I’ve seen a holy man at the edge of the Saudi desert sing and call a beautiful prayer” and had “a voodoo priest in Haiti look at me and try to turn me into a goat.”
“He was only half-successful,” Bragg said.
His hero, “a little bitty woman in south Alabama called Harper Lee,” managed to leave him nearly speechless, however.
Bragg said that in a meeting with Lee – a Pulitzer winner for the novel To Kill a Mockingbird – he could manage only four words, after showing her his Harper Lee Award for being Alabama’s distinguished writer of the year: “Yes ma’am, it’s huge.”
GRU freshman Dalton Long said he had just finished the reading assignment, Bragg’s All Over But the Shoutin’ and was impressed by the author.
“I wasn’t expecting him to be that cool,” Long said.
GRU President Ricardo Azziz said Bragg’s rise from poverty to great acclaim “could be a role model for many.”
“Mr. Bragg made the most of his opportunities,” Azziz said. “He knew that he needed to seize the moment to fulfill his role in his life.”