Book bans. Climate crisis. COVID-fatigue. Midterms.
We're as excited as anybody to bid this year farewell.
Amid the chaos that 2022 wrought, we here at Scalawag kept doing what we do best: Showcasing Southerners being their full selves, telling their own damn stories, and fiercely loving their people.
We're grateful for all the writers, reporters, photographers, illustrators, thinkers, and organizers from Appalachia to Atlanta and Mississippi to Mebane who make this work possible.
As you soak your black-eyed peas and wash your collards, join our editors in a look back over Scalawag's most-loved stories of the year:
Abortion was by far the top issue of 2023 as many across the nation were forced to realize that reproductive justice is not just a Southern problem, or a red state problem, or a problem for folks without the means to travel across state lines for care. Abortion was about to be an everybody problem, just as the Black organizers in the South had long been saying.
Why we love it: Here, an abortion doula in Atlanta walks us through the day-to-day of a clinic near the end of Roe, showing us what it's like to empower people to make the most informed choices, every step of the way, for their own reproductive health. This is what real care looks like.Katherine Webb-Hehn, Story Editor
What's more, coverage of the earth-shattering court decision this year reaffirmed what providers have been saying for years: Journalists need to change the way we cover abortion. A few weeks after this piece was published, we picked back up with this story's author and abortion workers from across the South to learn more about why abortion care is abolitionist work, what the media gets wrong in its abortion coverage, and how doulas were fighting to continue their work.
Black elders saved this couple's Mississippi farm. Now they're harvesting ancestral techniques—and tomatoes
In the first half of the 20th century, Teresa and Kevin Springs farm in McCool, Mississippi was one of the central Mississippi farms stewarded jointly by Black family co-ops, formed out of necessity to share resources and farming skills. Fast forward to 2017, and members of the Winston County Self-Help Cooperative were still around to lend the help the couple desperately needed to make the land thrive again.
As they have for decades, aging Black farmers have carried on their legacy largely in isolation. Kevin and Teresa knew that the lifesaving, generational wisdom their elders imparted on them—like when to plant, how to cut hay, and the best way to fell trees—could soon be lost to posterity if someone didn't harvest it. In August, we told the story of what they're doing to preserve that know-how, and the land, for future generations.
Behind the scenes, this story held even more significance for our editors. As a health reporter, Erica Hensley keeps an oath to do no harm. In the case of this story, that meant something radical: sharing her byline with Teresa, co-owner of TKO Farms. Here's how Erica put it in a reporter's notebook piece she wrote about the story: "For many of our sources, time is money, and we have to address the imbalance of reporters getting paid to tell stories on behalf of people without whom none of this work is possible."
"If our future is to be the loving, caring, and just world we're fighting for, our healing must be as interconnected as our freedom." Grief is just one manifestation of how we love ourselves and each other. And in as urgent of times as this year has proven to be, love itself can be revolutionary. This year, with the launch of our grief & other loves series on Valentines Day, we invited you to share your thoughts, tributes, and guidance on grief with us, so that we could process, learn, and sludge through the muck of grief with you, our community.
What we got back was an outpouring of care: More than two dozen contributors from 15 states captured the power of grand gestures and shared stillness, as well as perspective on how we mourn the living—from past versions of ourselves to foiled friendships.
In this essay, Sherronda J. Brown explores a manifestation of the grief that comes from carrying the weight of a society that shuns non-romantic love to the margins.
Why we love it: With an unrelenting level of precision, Sherronda invites us—the reader—into a worldview that centers and prioritizes the grief of those who are too often left unseen, unheard, and uncared for. This essay harrowingly pushes the reader to consider the (queer) platonic loves oft dismissed as insignificant in a world that privileges romantic love. It's gritty, destabilizing, and sharp.Da'Shaun Harrison, Editor-at-Large
The 2022 Atlantic hurricane season has officially ended after racking up three major landfalls across the South. Hurricanes Ian, Nicole, and Fiona brought extensive damage to Florida and Puerto Rico, while climate catastrophe in Kentucky resulted in the most devastating flooding event the state has ever seen. But these stories are sadly not new. Back in 1927, another Great Flood caused widespread levee failure from Indiana all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, flooding some 27,000 square miles, killing hundreds, and displacing over 700,000 people. In the wake of callous government responses, Black musicians from the Delta produced their own deluge: An outpouring of songs testifying to the destruction wrought along the Mississippi.
These Southern Blues "flood songs" went on to become some of the most sampled and covered songs in history—everyone from Led Zeppelin to Beyoncé. But the Black pain that inspired them still ring true, in more ways than you might think.
Why we love it: This is the kind of historical analysis I live for—plus it's got a great playlist. The story combines musical deep dives, archival research, and political commentary in a way that reframes conversations on environmental racism—something that we'll only see more of as the storms worsen. It's also just full of facts about Black musicians that you might not know.Alysia Nicole Harris, Arts & Soul Editor
"You can't talk about conjugal visits without talking about television, because television is pretty much the only place where conjugal visits still exist." Co-written by inside-outside couple Steve Higginbotham and Jordana Rosenfeld in letters and reflections, this endlessly interesting (and intimate) conversation examining popular myths around conjugal visits was a reader-favorite this year—and for good reason.
This piece came to us as a part of Scalawag's third-annual Abolition Week, our annual effort to exclusively feature perspectives from currently and formerly incarcerated folks. This year, we decided to take a different kind of approach with a slate of essays, videos, podcasts, and letters from the inside all about the ways the media we consume twists the realities of the carceral system.
As the late bell hooks once said, "pop culture is where the pedagogy is, it's where the learning is." That rang true for us in our pop justice stories and reviews through Emmys season and beyond this year, with momentum left to spur the launch of Scalawag's latest newsletter of the same name, tackling the ways that media from TV to TikTok upholds state narratives and redirects abolitionist energy.
Bonus: Poetry by Victoria Newton Ford
Back in April for National Poetry Month, we welcomed another installment of Poetry & Playlists, featuring new work from a dozen Southern poets you should be paying attention to. Poetry is how we get radical with language. Where so many folks are weaponizing words against us, these poets are known to carry swords of their own.
Why we love it: It was fun partnering with mónica and aurielle, poets whose work I love, to find out the poets they were checking for, those really doing work on the page. I was so excited to see aurielle picked one of the spoken word homies from my days at UPENN, Victoria Newton Ford. She had a line from a group piece she did with rapper Ivy Sole about being Southern: 'We drink sweet tea but we do punch bitches.' Something like that. So to be able to publish her surgical pen here in Scalawag 10 years later is dope.Alysia Nicole Harris, Arts & Soul Editor
For our virtual poetry event in April, Victoria read from her series of palimpsests about the passing of her mother, and the media's destruction of her character and privacy. The poet also turns to prose to haunt the headlines that haunted her family in her latest piece for our grief series.
These articles were chosen as our top pieces based on their views, clicks, and shares—but most importantly, their impact. Stories like these help us understand the nuances and complexity of the South, how we actualize our dreams, and what it takes to transform power. To support Southern storytelling into next year and beyond, make a gift to Scalawag today—through the end of the year, the impact of your donations will be tripled.