Half Lit: Here in the Ozarks

This is a guest post by author Jeremy Billingsley

Jeremy Billingsley has an MFA in Creative Writing. He's published 15 short stories in various online and print magazines. His second novel will be out in 2018, and he lives and works in Northwest Arkansas.

Here in the Ozarks — Fayetteville, Arkansas and the surrounding area

There is so much to say about Southern literature and alcohol, as the South has defined our nation and our literary zeitgeist as long as America has published letters (and drank liquor), that to tackle such a subject in one blog would be impossible. So this will be a subject that I’ll return to time and again. For now, I’d like to start at home, and introduce you to some microbreweries that I mentioned in my last post, and some of the literary dignitaries that have populated this region.

Of immediate notable interest with regard to microbreweries, I’d be remiss not to mention some standout establishments. One of the last commercials my stepfather worked on prior to his death was for Core Brewing, a microbrewery out of Springdale, Fayetteville’s abutting northern neighbor and one of the larger towns in Northwest Arkansas. I haven’t yet experienced Core’s signature brews, but I feel confident endorsing the brewery because word of mouth is so good.

One of my favorite places is Apple Blossom Brewery, located here in Fayetteville. If you are traveling to the area, or live here and have yet to experience the ambiance of the eatery and sample their assortment of beers, I highly recommend making Apple Blossom Brewery on Zion a mandatory stop. If you’re hungry, I recommend their Fish & Chips, the 8 oz. Yellowfin Tuna, the Chicken Caprese sandwich, the Banh Mi. I’ve tried all of these but the Banh Mi, which is my wife’s go-to dish when we go. They rotate through their extensive selection of craft beers, but their most popular ales tend to feature heavier on the rotation. Their classic American lager — the Fayetteweisse — is only 4.5% ABV and 17 IBUs, and has proven so popular that it is one of the few beers to be permanently put on tap. My dad really enjoyed the Rover Red Ale when we visited, and I can personally speak to the Autumn IPA and the Armstrong APA for brews where you can’t go wrong.

Finally (I say finally not because I’m out of breweries to discuss, but I need to keep this relatively concise), I need to mention Columbus House Brewery, which has a Facebook presence but as of yet no website. They don’t have a large selection of beers, but what the do have is tasty and I don’t think I’ve met a beer (and I’ve sampled all of them) that I didn’t like. I was speaking with one of the owners who said they’d only been up and running for about eight or nine months now, so I expect them to experience growth in selection and customers as the word is spread about them. Their single location allows for a small occupancy (located just below the train tracks on North Street in Fayetteville), which might rank them beneath Core’s multiple locations or Apple Blossom’s sheer seating capacity, and both breweries have (as I’ve stated) a larger selection, but the staff is friendly and the atmosphere is relaxed. Bonus points for Columbus House — the owner with whom I spoke has a friendly male Border Collie (or Collie Mix) who greets all the customers and is always up for a game of fetch.

Honorable mentions: Saddlebock Brewery, West Mountain Brewery (next to Tim’s Pizza on the Square), and Hog Haus (an established eatery on the venerable Dickson Street).

As with our microbreweries, Fayetteville is home to some notable literary masters, excluding of course your favorite future best-selling author (yours truly). One of the icons of the University of Arkansas’ creative writing program, award winning poet Miller Williams is synonymous with Arkansas literature. Ellen Gilchrist is to Arkansas fiction what Miller Williams is to our poetry. She is the best-selling author of many notable books, including the award-winning Victory Over Japan. She was my mentor while I was an undergraduate at the UofA, and still teaches there to this day. Donald “Skip” Hayes and Molly Giles were both longstanding faculty at the University of Arkansas before retiring from their positions to focus on writing. During my graduate studies, I had the fortune to read Molly’s Creekwalk & Other Stories, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in discovering a collection of short stories from a wonderful voice.

There are a number of notable, historical, Arkansas authors, most famous of whom would be Charles Portis. Even if you haven’t read his books, a lot of people have heard of The Dog of the South. Oh, you haven’t you say. Are you familiar with then a little movie by the Coen Brothers called True Grit, or the original, starring John Wayne as one-eyed Rooster Cogburn? You are! Then you are familiar with Charles Portis’ work, as he is the author of the novel of the same name upon which those movies are based. A funny, reclusive author who had left Arkansas for a career in journalism, he returned to his home state to focus on writing fiction.

Finally, the University of Arkansas’ MFA program is consistently ranked in the top 25 of MFA programs in the nation. Arkansas State University is home to the second most famous literary journal — THE ARKANSAS REVIEW — and one of the premier literary journals in the world, THE OXFORD AMERICAN, is located on the campus of UCA in Conway, Arkansas. I’ve included below a link to a site I’ve already referenced once or twice in this blog if you’d like to learn more about the literary tradition of Arkansas. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post.

See you next time

To learn more about Arkansas’ literary heritage, please visit The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.