Patchwork: A Chronicle of Alabama in the New South was a dual exploration of the state of Alabama and of the possibilities that new media offered to writers.
Working in 2009 and 2010 within an Arts Teacher Fellowship from the Surdna Foundation, Foster Dickson spent a year traveling around Alabama, visiting places and sites, interviewing people, taking pictures, reading state history books, and following state news, then he used what he found to produce a blog, videos, a podcast, and a staged reading. (Though these are common today, they were not in 2010.) The goal of the project was to go beyond the typical approaches to Alabama – telling about its history or exposing its problems – and look for the aspects of state culture that people (and the media) seldom discuss. Because Patchwork was ultimately still a writing project, the final product was the staged reading “You Can’t Know Where You’re Going (When There’s Something in Your I),” which was performed at Auburn University at Montgomery’s Southern studies-themed Liberal Arts Conference in 2011.
As it turned out, the years 2009 and 2010 were interesting ones to spend exploring Alabama. The state was suffering economically from the Great Recession. At the end of his second term, then-governor Bob Riley launched an all-out assault on gambling interests in the state. Nick Saban won his first college football national championship at the University of Alabama that season. Banker and big-time Auburn booster Bobby Lowder had a highly visible downfall. Birmingham’s first black mayor Larry Langford was convicted of corruption. The state received national attention for the dumping of coal ash in Uniontown. And much to the chagrin of state politicians, Barack Obama’s administration passed the Affordable Care Act. There was so much going on that, by the time the one-year period of the fellowship was over, Foster had written over 98,000 words, produced twenty-three videos, and released ten episodes of the podcast— all while teaching full-time.
Although the website (www.alabamapatchwork.com) is no longer online, Foster’s YouTube channel still offers the Travels videos from the project, and the podcast can be accessed through iTunes.