Mike's Reviews > The Bear Bryant Funeral Train: Stories

The Bear Bryant Funeral Train by Brad Vice
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Apr 02, 12

bookshelves: flannery-o-connor-award-winner, short-stories, anthology, southern-literature, controversial-literature, plagiarism, guilty-till-proven-innocent, gutlessness-in-academia, editorial-impact-good-band-and-ugly, pulping-a-literary-work, leaping-before-you-look, literary-crucifixion, publish-or-perish, literary-attribution, literary-homage, semiotics, alabama-festival-of-the-book, literary-epigraphs, on-the-southern-literary-trail, 2012
Recommended to Mike by: The Tuscaloosa News--They Didn't Mean To
Recommended for: Lovers of short fiction, post-modern, southern and southern gothic literature
Read from October 21 to 22, 2005 — I own a copy, read count: 2

The Bear Bryant Funeral Train, The crucifixion of an American Writer, Brad Vice

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Brad Vice

I know Brad Vice, he's a native of my home town, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. His family still lives here. Around here we call his folks, "Good People." His father, Leon was a County high school history teacher, and his mother, Dorothy, was a radiology technician in our largest hospital, Druid City Regional Medical Facility, otherwise known as DCH. Old habits die hard around here. Like a lot of places around the South, this place is steeped in tradition, truth, legend, and folklore-sometimes, an out and out lie, that everyone knows is a lie, but, DAMN, it makes such a good story.

Brad was born in 1973, about time I was ready to graduate from the University of Alabama. After Brad was more than a glint in his Mama and Daddy's eyes, and was delivered at what we call "Big DCH"--that's Druid City Hospital for you non-natives, I had never heard of Brad. After all, more than a few years separate us in age.

Brad grew up across the river, the Black Warrior River, named after famous Indian Chief Tushkaloosa, who battled against Desoto and his Spanish Conquistadores back in 1540 at a place called Maubila. No one's quite sure where that place was. He grew up in a small town called Northport. It is the home of Tuscaloosa County High School. Back when I went to Tuscaloosa High School, we city kids had an awful superiority complex over the country kids of TCHS. Among other things, we called them "River Rats," which would get you pelted with ice, cups, and less savory things when we took the field at TCHS. They were the Wildcats. We were the Black Bears.

It was one of those great Friday night contests under the lights. What made it special, in those days we played under the lights of Bryant-Denny Stadium, the stomping ground of one of the winningest coaches in NCAA football history, Paul "Bear" Bryant.

But Brad grew up to make a name for himself. One which he was awfully proud of, until he published his first book of nine wonderful short stories, The Bear Bryant Funeral Train.

After graduating from the University of Alabama in 1994, Brad went on to get his Masters at The University of Tennessee (which is almost unpardonable if you are a 'lum of the U of A. After all, as we fans of the Crimson Tide say, "Nothing sucks like a Big Orange." Yes, the colors of Tennessee are Orange and White. Brad went on to obtain his doctorate from The University of Cincinnati. Horrors.

Brad's dissertation consisted of the nine stories that appeared in The Bear Bryant Funeral Train. Brad will tell you that his works are purely post-modernism with a regional bent. Read his fiction and the man knows his stuff, think Don DeLilloand any of a host of others.

Things were looking great for Brad. His stories appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, The Greensboro Review, and Shenandoah. His short story "Mojo Farmer" (Just why did that farmer's crops grow so big and fruitful?) was selected for inclusion in the 1997 edition of New Stories From the South, while his story "Report from Junction" was included in the anthology's 2003 edition. His story "Chickensnake" was selected for the 2003 edition of Best New American Voices.

Vice was cruising toward the academic career of which he had dreamed. Vice worked briefly as an instructor if English at Arkansas Tech. Then, up goes the curtain. In late 2004, the University of Georgia Press awarded Brad Vice the coveted "Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. Subsequently the UGA Press published the book in 2005, an image of which appears above. It bore the coveted gold seal of the O'Connor Award complete with the raised image of a Peacock feather. News of the award landed Vice at job at Mississippi State in Starkville, Mississippi. Students flocked to his classes. You could tell that Mississippi State was proud from the size of the website devoted to his presence.

Vice's book was getting rave reviews. I'm not surprised. His stories are brilliant portraits of other places, other times, frozen in prose of crystal clear clarity. Vice in a few pages paints a living breathing human being.

"Tuskaloosa Knights" tells the story of a visiting Northerner invited to witness a march of the Ku Klux Klan and subsequent cross burning. With pithy commentary supplied by local lawyer Pilson, the Klan is subjected to pitiless mocking when the lawyer identifies each of the hooded Klansmen by the shoes on their feet. The most interesting shoe is a saddle oxford, dragged along, the obvious result of a recent injury. Yes, it was during Bryant's days as a player. His leg injury was documented. His ability to play was the subject of great speculation. Vice's unblinking irony to portray Bryant as a young Klansman would be enough to get him run out of T-Town to this day.

Legendary Bryant appears again in "Report from Junction," concerning the hellishly brutal summer training camp held by Bryant when first hired as coach at Texas A&M. (See Jim Dent's, "The Junction Boys.") His humanity was called into question. However, in the end, it's not how you play the game, winning is everything.

Finally, Vice's title piece,"The Bear Bryant Funeral Train" is a blend of true iconism and how the icon becomes legend.

Otherwise, each story is gripping in its own right. Vice spent many summers working on his father's farm near the Mississippi State line. Vice's images of shimmering heat, sweat, and hard work are obviously things he has experienced. Each is a gem.

Then things fell apart. In the October 21, 2005 edition of The Tuscaloosa News, the following article by Entertainment Editor Mark Hughes Cobb appeared:

BOOK'S PASSAGES RAISE QUESTION OF PLAGIARISM

UA Press doubts originality of work by UGA Press


"A minor third in “Tuscaloosa Knights" rang familiar to Margaret Butler.

The first story of Brad Vice’s story collection “The Bear Bryant Funeral Train" begins with a passage about a bugle blast that drops “a minor third on a long wailing note."

“On the first page, I said to myself, 'I’ve read this before,’ " said Butler, who as reader’s adviser to the Tuscaloosa Public Library picks up everything literary about the Druid City.

Specifically, she heard echoes from one of her favorite books, Carl Carmer’s 1934 “Stars Fell on Alabama": Those three bugle blasts, “then a drop of a minor third on a long wailing note."

“I knew immediately," Butler said. “I can’t believe I was the first one to notice it."


The white knights of literary integrity, rallied behind Butler and the firestorm ignited by Cobb. Damning Vice seemed to do. How dare a teacher of English commit plagiarism?

Before the smoke cleared, the stalwart administration of the University of Georgia rescinded its O'Connor Award and called for all copies of the book to be sent back to the University Press where all copies would be pulped.

Being a regular reader of the Tuscaloosa News, my curiosity over the controversy was piqued. Also,being the gently mad bibliophile,as I now know that I am, I quietly took the day off at the office, it being a Friday and began to hit the Barnes & Nobles in Tuscaloosa, Hoover, and the Summit near Cahaba Heights, Alabama.

Ahhhh. The staff at those stores were not readers of the Tuscaloosa News. Not to disparage a B&N employee, they generally are more adept at whipping up a mocha latte than being familiar with the stock on their shelves. I returned that day with a stack of pristine copies of the to be pulped, destroyed, and otherwise withdrawn from the eyes of the reading public. The only thing that would have made it perfect was having Brad Vice's signature.

As critics fanned the flames in their crusade against the heresy of plagiarism, I watched the value of my books skyrocketing as news spread through the book world. I had scored. Big time. I didn't feel too guilty about it, either, because I read Vice's story ,"Tuskaloosa Knights," then compared it to Carl Carmer's 1934 chapter, "Tuscaloosa Nights." There was no attribution. It appeared to be plagiarism, out and out.

However, as it usually happens, things are not always as they first appear. The war against Vice was not a one-sided one. He had his protectors in addition to his detractors. Of course, it was not enough to save his position at Mississippi State. He lost that, too. Ironic that the two southern universities have the Bulldog as their mascot. They must be attack dogs. Because they certainly don't seem to be used for the protection of one of their own.

Vice doggedly defended himself against the allegations of plagiarism. These stories were written as part of his dissertation, he said. If anyone would only look at his dissertation, the attributions and epigraphs were there for anyone to see. I had to admit, that's a ballsy position to take, because it's too easy to verify or dispute.

Then, in March, 2007, local press River City Publishing of Montgomery, Alabama, pluckily published a very nice paperback edition of "The Bear Bryant Funeral Train." Ready for the punchline? It included every attribution and epigraph that Vice had doggedly maintained had been there all along.

In April, 2007, I attended the Alabama Festival of the Book, held annually in Montgomery, Alabama. I picked up a couple of the Riverside editions. That is when I discovered that Vice had been crucified by a bunch of gutless wonders who failed to listen to the protestations of a young writer that could have been so easily verified, had anyone taken time to do it.

It was about 1:00pm on a sunny April Afternoon, when I met Brad Vice, face to face for the first time. It was as quiet under the pitched tent as could possibly be imagined. No one wanted to ask THE question. Being known for my mouth, I watched Vice nervously eyeing the audience, and stood up. "Excuse me, Mr. Vice. You've written a fine book of stories. I've read it. People say you stole your ideas from other authors. Would you like to tell your side of it?"

There was a connection of some type made between the two of us at that moment. Perhaps there was no tone of accusation in my statement and question. Perhaps it was a connection between our eyes as he looked at me.

"Yes. Yes, I would," he answered.

"I'm from Tuscaloosa. You come from good people. Tell these folks what happened when UGA published your book."

"Well, the editorial staff said all the commentary and attributions would keep the book from selling. It would be too..."

"Academic?"

"Yes. Exactly."

"And UGA wanted to sell those books, didn't they?"

"Well, I suppose..."

"Mr. Vice, we all know they wanted to make money of your writing. And, I expect you did, too, like any author."

"Well, of course, I did! But I had no idea that a University Press would delete attributions to the degree that it would appear that I had stolen someone else's work."

"Of Course not. Tell these folks where you first read Carmer's "Stars Fell on Alabama."

"My father had a copy of it."

"Why did he have it?"

"The chapter about Ep the fiddler, well Ep was my great Uncle."

"So you'd read the book?"

"Of course. My father was proud his Uncle was in that book. And he was an Alabama history teacher. He loved Carmer's book."

"And so did you?"

"Yeah, I did."

I turned to the other folks in the tent. "Y'all got any questions? That clears everything up for me. What about y'all? Mr. Vice, you'll answer anything, right?"

"I sure will."

There were eyes darting all over the ground.

As the tent cleared, my wife and I went up to Brad. "You had some guts being here today," I told him. My wife stretched up on tiptoe and hugged him. "You're a nice young man. My husband loved your stories."

"You did?"

"Uh-huh. Especially the one about the Junction Boys when Bryant was at Texas A&M. Ready to go face the public? I'm sure they'll have some books for you to sign. And, I'm as bad as some of the jackals in the crowd. I have some of the original were pulped."

"Mister, I'll sign however many you've got."

So, I have six signed Vices. Four of the original which were supposedly pulped. And two which established Vice's innocence, in my opinion.

Four are name only, no inscription. The standard for bibliophiles. Two are just for me. They read, "To Mike Sullivan, a friend I never knew I had until today. Sincerely, Brad Vice, Alabama Festival of the Book, April, 2007." What are they worth? It doesn't matter. They're not for sale.

Perhaps you're wondering whatever happened to Brade Vice. He's teaching English as a second language the University of West Bohemia, in Pilsen, in the Czech Republic. He serves as faculty advisor to Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honor society. When he publishes another book, I'm buying it. I bet I can get it signed, too.


1. "Book’s passages raise questions of plagiarism," Tuscaloosa News, October 21, 2005 http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/apps/pb...

2. "U. of GA Press Recalls Stories, Revokes Prize, http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/...

3. "The literary lynching of Brad Vice" by Jason Sanford http://www.storysouth.com/comment/200...

4. "THE STRANGE CASE OF BRAD VICE: In defense of a destroyed treasure" by Michelle Richmond, The Oxford American, Issue 55. http://www.oxfordamericanmag.com/cont...

5. Brad Vice's Doctoral Dissertation, http://etd.ohiolink.edu/view.cgi?acc_...

6. "The Bear Bryant Funeral Train," by Brad Vice, River City Publishing Co., Montgomery,Al., 2007 (for a comparison with Vice's Doctoral Dissertation.

7. Flaming Cross from "Stars Fell on Alabama" by Carl Carmer, reprinted in Thicket Magazine, http://www.storysouth.com/thicket/let...

8. "Carl Carmer," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Carmer

9. "Stars Fell on Alabama," by Carl Carmer, http://www.amazon.com/Stars-Fell-Alab...

EDIT: This review is shared for the benefit of goodreads group "On the Southern Literary Trail," and to draw other readers to this now neglected work. Although the original hardback has been "pulped" and copies are pricey, I do recommend the River City Press reprint, readily available with Brad's complete attributions which were deleted by the Georgia Press. I'm also posting this again for the benefit of Brad Vice, whom I have been told is not writing because of his experience, according to his mother. Brad should be encouraged to write once more.

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Mike Sullivan
Founder and Moderator
"On the Southern Literary Trail"

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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Wow. That, sir, is a helluva story. Thank you!


message 2: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Every time you write a review my to-read list grows longer, but I love some Southern Gothic.


message 3: by Trudi (new)

Trudi Absolutely! Fascinating (and a great example of how quickly people are wont to crucify first, and ask questions later).


message 4: by Janet (new) - added it

Janet Mike, your reviews are better than most of the books I read.....


Mike Janet wrote: "Mike, your reviews are better than most of the books I read....."

Aw, shucks, Janet. Lookin' down and swipin' the dust with the tips of my shoe. Wish I could say I was blushin' but you have me preening like th4e show-off peacock I confess to be. You should see the display of plumage. An outstanding display. Ca-Weeeeeeeeaaa! Ca-weeeeee!!!!


message 6: by Nilesh (new)

Nilesh Kashyap wow!


Mike Nilesh wrote: "wow!"

Thanks, Nilesh. It is a "WOW" story. I sincerely hope that Brad will write again. He still teaches English in Czechoslovakia. A family friend of Brad's asked about approaching Rick Bragg to encourage Brad to try his hand again. So, I'm on a mission. Bragg lives in my hometown. I'm going to give it a shot.


message 8: by Nilesh (new)

Nilesh Kashyap Good luck Mike! The way you handled everything at Alabama Festival of the Book added to it your dedication, I hope Brad starts writing again.


message 9: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten Excellent review, compelling story. As a collector I'm green with envy. There were a lot of lovely ladies in the Czech Republic when I was there so I hope he is doing fine.


message 10: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Jeffrey wrote: "Excellent review, compelling story. As a collector I'm green with envy. There were a lot of lovely ladies in the Czech Republic when I was there so I hope he is doing fine."

Brad is doing extremely well. We have written one another and I speak with his Mom periodically. He's a great guy. At this time, Brad is content to teach in Europe. Nor did he want me to approach Bragg. Georgia really did a number on this young man. I don't know that Brad will write again.


message 11: by Wordsmith (new) - added it

Wordsmith Damn Mike, reading this gave me chills. I mean literal, goosebumps on my person. What happened to Brad only highlights what is "the worst about us" down here—so quick to judge, not (even) wanting to hear the "rest" of the story—and there is always a rest of the story! Will people never learn that the world is not that black and white? There are some people with tarnished reputations going back fifty years for no good reasons, based purely on gossip and innuendo. Ugh, makes me ill.

And hey, I can so relate! I too was a Black Bear, the last graduating class before they made that sad switch to Central High. We were living just across the river, not Northport mind you, big distinction! But in Riverdale, behind First Weslyan Church where there used to be a Shoney's and fields of red clay where all the boys would ride their dirtbikes and come back proudly caked in red clay. We NEVER took a right, which would of taken us into County High Territory. Except for a ball game or two I don't think I actually went to Northport itself even once until I was over twenty! A mile in distance, a world of meaning in that mile.
(I went to HS with a girl named Vice. I wonder if they are any relation? I'll have to look up her first name, it's alluding me. Very smart and pretty though)


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways You know what I hate worst in all of that? Vice was effectively hounded out of the country for a decision he had no control over.

It makes me so goddamned mad when cowardice, the UGA press's or any other party's, is responsible for a man;s loss of his dignity, his livelihood, and the good opinion of the world.


message 13: by Tony (new)

Tony Some interesting shelves there, Mike.


message 14: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Tony wrote: "Some interesting shelves there, Mike."

I call'em as I see'em.


message 15: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Richard wrote: "You know what I hate worst in all of that? Vice was effectively hounded out of the country for a decision he had no control over.

It makes me so goddamned mad when cowardice, the UGA press's or an..."


I've no doubt this is not the first time a thing of this sort has happened. It won't be the last. It will never be right.


message 16: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Wordsmith wrote: "Damn Mike, reading this gave me chills. I mean literal, goosebumps on my person. What happened to Brad only highlights what is "the worst about us" down here—so quick to judge, not (even) wanting t..."

I don't believe the young Miss Vice you knew is any relation. And this is the stuff that can give one gooseflesh and raise one's hackles at the same time.


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