Johnny Cash has been good to me.
I was in West Memphis last week at the annual meeting of the Arkansas Historical Association. I was representing my employer, the Center for Arkansas History and Culture at the University of Arkansas Little Rock. I gave a talk on Saturday on James Guy Tucker, Jr., and Vietnam.
In west Memphis, I was also lucky enough to win two awards. They were for articles I had written about Johnny Cash and Arkansas. They both were about Cash, Winthrop Rockefeller, and prison reform in Arkansas. One was published in the Pulaski County Historical Review, and it won best article for 2014. The other award was for best unpublished article submitted to the Arkansas Historical Association.
So, to recap my career. Amount of money I have made from writing a peer-reviewed book that has been available wherever books are sold: $0.
Money from writing Johnny Cash-related articles that were not peer-reviewed: $900.
How many books would I have to sell to get $900 in royalties? I don’t want to know.
Publishers have also been warming up to me. I have written only one entire chapter of my Johnny Cash book, yet I have had two publishers interested in the project.
I was also contracted recently to read a book manuscript on Johnny Cash. In a world of billionaires, $200 is a small sum. But for a historian who is used to writing things for free, a few hundred dollars is a lot. Some scholars can go a very long time without getting any money for their work.
And not just Johnny Cash, but the Arkansas Historical Association has been good to me. This year was the third year in a row that I presented a paper at the annual conference. My first was in Helena in 2013. At that point, I was actually starting to feel that I knew what I was talking about with Johnny Cash. It was only my third academic talk. And it was nice practice for someone like me who is not comfortable with public speaking.
The AHA is a very laid back conference. No one comments on your paper, as they sometimes do at other conferences. Many of the presenters and attendees I’ve met are not in academia at all. In short, it’s less stuffy. It’s very Arkansas in that way. I often appreciate Arkansas’s lack of pretentiousness.
Before heading to the conference, I stopped with my family at Uncle John’s in Crawfordsville. It’s a restaurant in a typical Delta town. Farming is still king in Crawfordsville. It reminded me a lot of Dyess, which I visited twice last year. I liked this decoration that was hanging on the men’s room wall.
I stayed overnight in Memphis for the conference. I didn’t get to see much, but that was kind of the point: I wasn’t going to have much time to look around.
And since I stayed in east Memphis, I saw where people live. Should you only ever visit downtown Memphis and Beale Street, you would never get an idea of where people’s houses are.
Maybe my next trip will Elvis-decadent. I’d love to go back for the Beale Street music festival this year. John Fogerty will be there. Wilco, too. But I have a baby coming around that time. Kids are inconsiderate that way.
The banquet for the AHA conference was held at the Southland dog track. it wasn’t easy to walk past all those slot machines without making a bet. I don’t have money to gamble. But maybe if Johnny Cash stays good to me, I will.