Thursday, October 22, 2009

Q&A with Republic of Barbecue

Q&A with Republic of Barbecue (Elizabeth, Lisa, Andrew, Gavin, an Eric)
October 19, 2009
House Park Bar-B-Que, Austin, Texas

Man Up: Why this project?
Republic of Barbecue: The Central Texas BBQ Association wanted some Texas BBQ oral histories, so we decided to conduct interviews for a case study in an American studies class. Over the course of the spring semester, we conducted 7 interviews, but we realized we had just scratched the surface. So, we decided to continue the project, conducting 20 more interviews throughout the summer and fall. At a certain point, we had a long soul-searching and decided we should do more than just transcribe the interviews. We wanted to do something that would be accessible and interesting to the whole community—and that's where the idea of the book came about.

Man Up: Any moments stand out?
Republic of Barbecue (Lisa): Every interview had its stand-out moments, but the tour of Smokey Denmark Sausage Co. totally de-mystified the sausage-making process. Some people would be less inclined to eat sausage, after seeing how sausage is made, but it definitely actually made me more inclined to eat sausage!

Man Up: Undoubtedly, you learned a great deal about BBQ itself, but what did the project teach you about the culture of Texas BBQ?
Republic of Barbecue: Oh, yeah. The interviews taught us so much about Texas. We found that BBQ is truly a tri-ethnic institution, with deep roots in the Caucasian, African American, and Latino communities. BBQ is something that is woven throughout the fabric of Texas. Whether or not you eat BBQ, it’s a part of your life. BBQ restaurants and distribution chains are crucial to the health of local economies, and BBQ joints are often what keep some small Texas towns on the map. The project also revealed to us how central the railroads are to the cultures and economies of this part of the state.

Man Up: Do you like BBQ more or less now?
Republic of Barbecue: More! Andrew bought a smoker and has been trying his luck with it in his backyard with chicken, ribs, and pork butt. Lisa went back to her home state of Kentucky and conducted a series of interviews with BBQ purveyors.

Man Up: What are the plans for the rollout of the book, and what’s next for Republic of Barbecue?
Republic of Barbecue: We have a number of planned events and events in the works—with the Texas Book Festival, the Texas Folklife Center, Book People, and others. We’ll be at the 1st annual “BBQ Bowl” (the Lockhart High v. Elgin High football game) tomorrow night (Oct. 24) at Elgin High School. We’ve got events coming up in New York and Washington, D.C., and we’re launching the book on Thursday, October 22, at 6:00 p.m. at Central Market North. A portion of the book’s proceeds will go toward a fund for research for future graduate students. We’re so excited about the launch and the coming weeks, to hear feedback and hear other people’s stories. We think that, after hearing from people, we’ll have a better sense of what we missed and what we need to do next.

Man Up: Anything you want to add?
Republic of Barbecue (Andrew): Just that we felt responsible for the stories we were going to tell. We wanted to make sure that we presented everyone in the right light. The people we interviewed were so open and honest with us—about both the good and the bad parts of their stories—and we just wanted to do them justice.

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