By Ally Morrison
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and journalist Rick Bragg will be the honoree for the 11 annual ROAR the Cure Gala, being held March 5 at The Club.
Bragg holds his status as this year’s honoree close to his heart because of his own experiences with cancer.
“Cancer has touched my family again, again and again,” Bragg said. “I lost my brother Sam, who was the best man that I’ve ever known. He had pancreatic cancer. My mother had colon cancer and survived it; she will be 85 in April. I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which I have been clear of for several years now, but it is known to be recurring.
“I guess they thought if anybody had a reason to want to try to help improve research to fight cancer, they figured it would be me.”
According to Bragg, the treatment he underwent for lymphoma was developed right before he was diagnosed. It was easier on his body than the older treatments and allowed him to recover faster.
“Had it not been for that research, my story might have been different,” Bragg said.
Founded in 2009, Radiation, Oncology Accelerated Research is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise funds for UAB’s Radiation Oncology Department.
Its annual James Bond-themed gala raises money for cancer research. The proceeds from the gala go directly to support research being done by doctors in UAB’s Department of Radiation Oncology. In return, the doctors in that department match ROAR’s donation dollar for dollar.
Bragg explains the significance of the gala and how contributions may be life-changing.
“There’s very little that most of us can do,” Bragg said. “I don’t have the skill to fight it any other way. This is about all there is for most of us. We can join in the fight any way we can, with whatever weapons we have. Words are about the only thing I have in my toolbox. Words are all I’ve got. If lending those words to somehow make this struggle even the smallest bit easier, if we can raise even a little money, I’m honored to be a part of that in whatever way I can. It is always encouraging to see so many people willing to join in the fight against this awful disease.”
During his early years as a journalist, Rick Bragg worked for The Anniston Star and then moved on to the Birmingham News and the St. Petersburg Times. His priority during his career with the St. Petersburg Times was the political and economic unrest happening in Haiti. His reporter status quickly changed to Miami bureau chief.
At the age of 32, Bragg was awarded Harvard University’s Nieman Fellowship, which provides tuition-free career development education for working journalists.
Shortly after being awarded the fellowship, Bragg was hired by The New York Times as a correspondent. During his years working for The Times, he had the opportunity to live in New York, Miami, Atlanta and New Orleans. In 1996, Bragg won a Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing for his reporting work at The Times.
“While I was working for The New York Times, I covered mostly hardships,” Bragg said. “I wrote a lot about poverty, crime, drugs and prisons. Along the way, I won a Pulitzer, which I was very proud of.”
While his journalism career was aflame, Bragg explained, he was simultaneously writing books. As of today, Bragg has written 12 books, many of which are New York Times Best Sellers.
“I was very fortunate to be in New York at the time I was writing books,” Bragg said. “I was noticed by publishing houses and wound up with the best agent. She saw something in my writing that she liked. The best book I had was a book about my mom, ‘All Over but the Shoutin’.”
Bragg has a house in Fairhope but currently lives minutes away from where he grew up in Jacksonville with his mother, whom he looks up to greatly.
“I’m right back where I grew up. I like being here with my mom. She raised me and my brothers by herself, picking cotton, taking in laundry and cleaning other people’s homes. She had a hard life,” Bragg said.
Bragg teaches journalism and creative writing courses at the University of Alabama.
For more info and to buy tickets to the gala, visit roarthecure.org.