Turn and Face the Strange Not so strange after all

By Sara Camp Milam

In the spring of my freshman year in college, I took a Brit Lit class in which we spent nearly half the semester on George Eliot’s last novel, Daniel Deronda. The professor was energetic, charming, occasionally subversive, and hysterically funny—and I could not for the life of me understand what he saw in the book. (It’s been exactly fifteen years; I should probably give it another try.)

I have a clear memory of just a snippet of one lecture. Professor Nunokawa turned to the blackboard and wrote, in letters large enough to read from the back of the English department’s largest lecture hall, turn and face the strange. “Where does that lyric come from?” he asked.

“David Bowie!” exclaimed a voice a few rows ahead of me. It came from a girl named Lauren, a tall sophomore in two of my classes who seemed, from a distance, to be intimidatingly cool without trying very hard.

I had heard of David Bowie, but I could not have named any of his songs, including “Changes.” The professor seemed pleased, even a bit impressed. I remember feeling jealous. Much of my freshman year felt like a constant reminder of how little I knew.

That’s it. That’s the memory. I can no longer recall how “turn and face the strange” led to the nugget of literary theory that would have framed that day’s lecture. And it could only have led to theory—one thing you learn in college is that your own interpretation of a text no longer counts.

My opinion counts for something now, insofar as I get to choose the stories that appear in these pages. And as we worked on this issue, I kept returning to the words, “turn and face the strange.” I love this issue for shaking me—and, I hope, you, dear reader—out of my comfortable assumptions about this region. Out of unquestioned, or underquestioned, notions about the American South’s past, present, and future. Of who stakes a claim; who calls this place home. Of who comes to visit, and why, and what they find.

The stories in this issue make the strange familiar, and they make the familiar strange. They are stories from native daughters, adopted sons, and perceptive tourists. I encourage you to turn and face the strange—to engage with it, to explore it, to ingest it—until it becomes familiar, until it becomes everyday. I think we’ll find a place, and a future, for all to claim.

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