Q: You’ve lived in New York over 17 years, but I understand you’re from a small town in North Carolina. Was that a difficult transition?
A: It’s impossible for people who grow up within the orbit of large cities to fully understand how alien and incredible and impossible and overwhelming a place they appear to those far outside their sway. Where I grew up, at the time a dry county in the buckle of the Bible Belt, we’d drive 40 miles to the closest small city to buy alcohol, which had a 24-hour Krispy Kreme, and I’d marvel at its neon sign, conveyor belt — I felt unsophisticated even there.
“Although culture certainly wasn’t kept from us — I knew who Thomas Wolfe was by the time I was 10, but I didn’t see a work of modern art up close until I was 20 years old — it was [Robert] Rauschenberg’s combine painting, ‘Bed,’ and nearby was one of Jasper Johns’ Flag paintings. I stood there frozen for the longest time — I couldn’t speak, tears in my eyes.”
— From “Evan Smith Rakoff: The TNB Self-Interview” (March 14, 2013)
Rakoff, reared in Asheboro and educated at UNC Greensboro, is a freelance writer and associate web editor at Poets & Writers.
Among his essays: a comparison of Andy Griffith to Robert Burns.
“Is Andy Griffith our Robert Burns? One should argue Whitman or Poe, or even Frost, makes for a richer comparison. Certainly self-invented Whitman, who loved Burns, is the triumphant American version — yet the Whitman house in Camden, New Jersey, receives scant visitors. The same is true for Poe’s tidy home in Baltimore, now temporarily closed for lack of community support; and poor Frost’s New Hampshire farmhouse was vandalized and set aflame by a horde of drunken teenagers, who literally pissed on his stuff. Maybe these aren’t fair comparisons. But in the second half of the 20th century, television is popular culture.
“Perhaps whatever impulse propelled Keats in the 19th century — and Clark Gable, Irving Berlin, Joe Louis, and the Prince of Wales over a century later — to make a pilgrimage to the simple birthplace of poet Robert Burns, propels people to commune with the spirit of Andy Griffith in Mount Airy.
“The city earned over $100 million last year because people want to witness the place where this man came into being, and as any casual observer can discern from fans talking on the candlestick courthouse phone, they desire to exist inside his fiction.”
— From “Our Town: Andy Griffith and the Humor of Mourning” by Evan Smith Rakoff” in the Los Angeles Review of Books (April 20, 2013)