Terry Barr is a professor of English and Creative Writing at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., and the author of Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings from my Alabama Mother, a collection of nonfiction essays centered on his hometown of Bessemer, Ala. His essays have been published in such journals as The Museum of Americana, Blue Lyra Review, Steel Toe Review, Belle Reve Literary Journal, and South Writ Large, amongst many others. His essay “A Big-Ass Pot of Blended Soup” was nominated by Red Truck Review for the Best of the Net Award in 2015. He lives in Greenville, S.C., with his wife, two daughters, and their beloved pets, Morgan and Max (the Carolina Wild Dog).
Terry Barr grew up in the town of Bessemer, Alabama, a town characterized by its strange Southern richness. As a kid following his mother around the grocery store, whenever they’d pass a wire bin full of kids’ books, he’d ask her to buy him one, and she always would. She wouldn’t always buy him candy, but always books. This began his love of reading fiction and nonfiction, and this love has only grown with his writing.
After earning his B.A. from the University of Montevallo in central Alabama, Barr went on to pursue his M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee, focusing on Modern Literature and Film Studies. During graduate school, Barr first began writing nonfiction because his imagination kept being interrupted by memories. One of earliest pieces he wrote was about bats in his neighborhood and the first time he saw that most controversial of four-letter words. Or at least it was controversial back in 1965. After a face-slap from his father for asking about that word, he saw bats cavorting amongst the trees in his yard, and that all seemed to fit. Writing sporadically up until about seven or eight years ago, Barr has been collecting these memories and looking always for a way to write them.
Now teaching a variety of courses from Southern Film and Modern Novel to, naturally, Creative Nonfiction at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., Barr finds influence for his writing daily during his classes. His essays are published regularly throughout the year and have been featured at such publications like South Writ Large, Belle Reve Literary Journal, The Museum of Americana, Blue Lyra Review, Steel Toe Review, Red Truck Review, and The Bitter Southerner. In 2015, his essay “A Big-Ass Pot of Blended Soup” was nominated by Red Truck Review for the Best of the Net Award.
In 2016, Red Dirt Press published Barr’s first essay collection titled Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings from my Alabama Mother. Featuring Barr’s hometown, Don’t Date Baptists explores Barr’s memories of Bessemer and its place in the Southern Gothic tradition characteristic of many small, rural southern towns, as well as the many strange characters that make their appearances and their homes in such a town.
In April 2017, Third Lung Press published the second edition of Don’t Date Baptists, complete with a new essay, a hand-drawn map of Bessemer (courtesy of Layla Barr), and photos of Barr’s family. The book is available from Amazon.com and BN.com, and local Greenville, SC, bookstores.
I stumbled on your writing at The New Southern Fugitive and I’m also a member of The Bitter Southerner and now live a hop down the road from Bessemer. I look forward to reading more.
Thank you Angie! Check out my books, too! I don’t get back to Bessemer much anymore, but I am glad you connected here!
I too am from Bessemer ( actually Kimbrell/McCalla ) and found you from my friends John and Alla Lewis. Alla knew that I too as a graduate of The University of Montevallo ( although I now live in Montebello ) and that , although we didn’t know each other we should. I am a product of McAdory High School where most of my family attended. My father, Alfred Wesley Cowley and my mother, Ida Mae Sellers Cowley raised ( or lowered ) me into this world in 1944. Actually it was only my mom Miss Susie ( Turner )Sellers and Cecil Dedrick Sellers who reared ( and sometimes whacked ) me into this wonderful and sometimes cruel world. It was then a very cruel world since my father was with Patton’s 3rd Army killing Krauts. He reminisced that you could smell a kraut a mile away due to the ever present aroma of krout, blood in the fetid air. He got back from Berchtesgaden when I was one and a half years old. Mom told me to kiss my dad and I went to kiss “uncle Dedrick” who until then had raised me up ( “You raise me up”) comes to mind now that I am a little older at 79 ( on April, 30th a few weeks ago ). …
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Hey Ronald, Thank you and thanks, too, for subscribing to my Medium site where I do most of my writing.
Loved your article about finally seeing Steve Earle at the Orange Peel in Asheville. As fortune would have it, my chance came recently at the Salvage Station in Asheville. Thanks for capturing in words your experience, and the emotional salve that words and music provide (Transcendental Blues). Now I’ll have to check out some of your more official essays and books. As a fellow Greenvillian, hopefully we’ll even run into each other some time and chat about these things and more. Best Wishes!
Thanks Greg! I appreciate the good words. My latest book, signed, is available at M. Judson downtown, by the way!
I’m from your neck of the woods & my father was a criminal defense attorney in Bessemer for over 30 years. My brother just texted me that ‘I MUST read anything and everything’ that you’ve written. He lives in Bessemer, too. What should I start with?
Many have told me that Secrets I’m Dying to tell You is my best work. I think so, too, but I do love the Don’t Date Baptists book. Thank you LeighAnn. Please email me with any questions: email@example.com. What was your father’s name?
My father is Ralph ‘Buddy’ Armstrong. He was in the legislature in the 70s, & practiced privately until he died 12 years ago.
I’m going to read both of your suggestions!
Hi there. Your article about Browdy’s is spot on. I remember it just as you described it. My mother and I would eat lunch there while shopping. Our paths had to cross somewhere as I was a year behind you in the Bessemer school system. Thank you for the nice memories of a time gone by and happily remembered.
Which school did you attend, and is Hammonds your family or married name. Likely our oaths did cross! Thank you for reading!!!