Meander Belt


Meander Belt

Family, Loss, and Coming of Age in the Working-Class South

M. Randal O'Wain

American Lives Series

216 pages


October 2019


$19.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

October 2019


$19.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

October 2019


$19.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

In Meander Belt M. Randal O’Wain offers a reflection on how a working-class boy from Memphis, Tennessee, came to fall in love with language, reading, writing, and the larger world outside of the American South. This memoir examines what it means for the son of a carpenter to value mental rather than physical labor and what this does to his relationship with his family, whose livelihood and sensibility are decidedly blue collar. Straining the father-son bond further, O’Wain leaves home to find a life outside Memphis, roaming from place to place, finding odd jobs, and touring with his band. From memory and observation, O’Wain assembles a subtle and spare portrait of his roots, family, and ultimately discovers that his working-class upbringing is not so antithetical to the man he has become.


Author Bio

M. Randal O’Wain earned his MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. He is a teaching assistant professor of creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and serves as a National Endowment of the Arts Writing Fellow at the Beckley Federal Correctional Institution. O’Wain is the author of the short story collection Hallelujah Station and his work has been published in Oxford American, Hotel Amerika, Crazyhorse, and Guernica Magazine. For more information about the author visit


"I have yet to read a book on this subject more important and honest than Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, and this seems like the perfect book to challenge that."—Gabino Iglesias, Lit Reactor

“A tour de force of white working-class identity married to a writer’s imaginative hunger for words. What makes this book remarkable is the narrator’s steely tension between his innate desire for unknown worlds and the pullback to the roughed up Wild West of Memphis, where a hardworking but wounded father has planted the seeds of loyalty.”—Patricia Foster, author of All the Lost Girls and Girl from Soldier Creek

“Randal O’Wain’s memoir Meander Belt is more than the heart-wrenching story of a working-class southern family in the last decades of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first. In and through the struggles he and his family experience, O’Wain reveals the insidious effects of class and status on the most intimate aspects of American life. Meander Belt combines riveting storytelling with implicit emotional, psychosocial analysis; the result is the rarest of all books—a deeply thoughtful page-turner.”—Alan Shapiro, author of Reel to Reel and Night of the Republic

“For all their poignant intimacy, the essays in Meander Belt are somehow also achingly universal, a self-portrait made up of wisdom and vulnerability that tells the story of a family, a place, and a culture.”—John D’Agata, author of About a Mountain

Table of Contents

I. Mirrored Mezzanine    
II. Arrow of Light    
III. Here    
IV. The Junk Trade    
V. Superman Dam Fool    
VI. My Mother Taught Me How to Be    
VII. Rock and Roll High School    
VIII. Halfway Between    
IX. Thirteenth Street and Failing    
X. Memento Mori Part One: Calls in the Night    
XI. Memento Mori Part Two: Jackson General    
XII. Memento Mori Part Three: The Howlers    
XIII. Rain over Memphis    
XIV. Ornamental Stairs    
XV. On Love    
XVI. Dear Brother    
XVII. How to Walk as a Nontraditional Graduate    
XVIII. Barking Hours    
XIX. Into This Place    

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