The Conglomerate: A Blog

Named for the uppermost rock formation in Sewanee's corner of the Cumberland Plateau, The Sewanee Conglomerate is the magazine's blog. Check here for short pieces about books and current events written by SR staff and guest contributors.

March 2017
Erin McGraw is the author of three novels, most recently Better Food for A Better World (2013), and three collections of short stories, including The Good Life (2004) and Lies of the Saints (1996). Her story, “Ava Gardner Goes Home,” is forthcoming in the Spring 2017 issue of the SR. We asked her a few questions about humor, the challenges of writing about real people, and the limits of short fiction. —Lily Davenport   SR: How did “Ava Gardner Goes Home” come to be? And how did the story change, in terms of plot, narration, and so on, as you moved from the initial concept to the finished piece?   McGraw: I spent a couple of years immersed in Frank Sinatra, listening to his music and reading everything I could find, including James Kaplan’s massive biography. ...
January 2017
Last August, my friend James competed in and won the Trans-North Georgia (TNGA), a three-hundred-twenty-mile mountain bike race. As its name suggests, the TNGA begins on the South Carolina side of a bridge over the Chattooga River, crosses the Chattahoochee National Forest and the Cohutta Wilderness, and finishes under a green road sign that reads Welcome to Sweet Home Alabama—Governor Robert Bentley. The start and the finish are different from almost all points in between in that they are flat and paved. Riders spend most of the race climbing and descending nearly ninety thousand feet of double-track dirt and gravel trail. I was the only person to congratulate James upon finishing, because there isn’t any award ceremony. Completing the race is the trophy. When you’re done, you turn off...
January 2017
“What is art, Clev?” “Art is patterns intelligent creatures enjoy.” “Are you an intelligent creature?” “Do you like to eat cake?” I sighed, exasperated, and suppressed the impulse to fire back a non sequitur of my own. I was talking to Cleverbot, an AI that (as procrastinators everywhere know) is easily accessible on the Internet; I wasn’t procrastinating, exactly, but I had just finished Louisa Hall’s Speak, a novel that consists in part of a series of conversations between a child named Gaby and a bot called MARY3. Speak reads like a blend of Isaac Asimov, Mary Shelley, and Virginia Woolf, and I was curious about the real-life equivalents of Hall’s eloquent bots. While I hadn’t expected Clev to pass for human—even I, who read less science writing than science-fiction, know we’re...
January 2017
In the summers, vines encroach upon a historical marker several miles from the Sewanee Review offices, threatening to hide a tribute to the Highlander Folk School. The folk school’s history resides in an equally-obscured part of the American memory, and I knew very little about its importance, despite the marker. Sewanee Professor and Highlander historian Emily Senefeld filled me in on the forgotten space. The school, she explained, was the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement: the Walcott sit-in at Greensboro, the Montgomery bus boycott, Citizenship Schools, and Pete Seeger’s rendition of “We Shall Overcome” grew out of the three-building operation in Grundy County, TN. “The Highlander Folk School was creating grassroots activism models decades before the most famous instances ...
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