In Arkansas the traditional Ozark Mountain way of life is preserved through music, dance, folk rituals and cuisine. Material folklore in Arkansas includes southern folk art and homemade crafts, many of which have had both utilitarian and aesthetic purposes. The history, tradition and knowledge of producing these crafts have been preserved at places like the Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View. Here gifted artisans demonstrate the homestead crafts and pioneer skills that were essential to the early settlers of these ancient rugged hills.
Interestingly, the cultural heritage of folk arts, books and films based in Arkansas seem to centre around crime and deception. John Brandon’s debut novel Arkansas centres on small-time drug trade and murder.
True Grit is a 1968 novel by Charles Portis that was first published as a serial in The Saturday Evening Post. The novel is told from the perspective of a woman named Mattie Ross who recounts the time when she was 14 years old and sought retribution for the murder of her father. In 1969 it was adapted for the screen as the Western film True Grit starring John Wayne. In 2010, another film adaptation was released, also called True Grit, it was written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen and starred Hailee Steinfield and Jeff Bridges. Both films and the novel show off the Arkansas way of life and the beauty and desolation of the Ozark Mountains.
Sling Blade is a 1996 American drama film set in rural Arkansas, written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton, who also stars in the lead role. It tells the story of a mentally impaired man named Karl Childers who is released from a psychiatric hospital, where he has lived since killing his mother and her lover when he was 12 years old, and the friendship he develops with a young boy.
African-American writer and poet Mary Angelou’s autobiographical novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a coming-of-age story that illustrates how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma. The book begins when three-year-old Maya and her older brother are sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their grandmother and ends when Maya becomes a mother at the age of 17. In the course of Caged Bird, Maya transforms from a victim of racism with an inferiority complex into a self-possessed, dignified young woman capable of responding to prejudice.
Arkansas is also home to some influential American musicians of the 20th century. Johnny Cash is one of the most widely acclaimed country rock artists and a selection of his hits can be found in the compilation, The Best of Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, country rock artist, television host and actor became famous with a series of hits during the 60s and 70s. For the uninitiated, Classic Campbell is a good collection to listen to.