Our Favorite Stories of 2021

By December 30, 2021
A language learning map from Connie Li’s 2021 essay, The Maps and Paths Our Words Make, exploring how have spaces of language learning, both physical and beyond, shaped our perceptions of the South.

Dear Readers,

Christian Siriano on view at SCAD FASH in Atlanta through October 9

If 2020 was a year of shipwrecks, upsets, and heartbreaks, 2021 has represented a time of learning how to love and care for each other and ourselves again. 

Together with you—our beloved readers, writers, and artists—Burnaway has thrived through this period of resurgence and remembrance, publishing over fifty in-depth magazine essays across three themes, Treasure: The 2021 Reader, seven artist projects, and dozens of short reviews, interviews and news stories covering hundreds of Southern artists. To celebrate the year, we’ve complied a short list below of some of our favorite essays and projects.

Outside of our daily editorial work, Burnaway took tentative steps to re-emerge from behind the screen. Twenty students joined us over the summer for our Art Writing Incubator and emerged as strong and considerate critics. We returned to Miami’s art fair week for the first time since 2019 to share the work of Dianna Settles with the world. And we grew in our friends, developing new partnerships with outstanding organizations across the South.

But our work to showcase the region continues, and continues to grow. To help Burnaway prepare for 2022, we ask that you consider making a tax-deductible donation or becoming a sustaining member. It’s going to be a big year — with exciting news themes, and new faces at our helm, all in support of our core mission: to elevate and celebrate the work and labor of Southern artists and writers.

We’ll see you in the new year!

Burnaway Editors + Staff

Vacation at War: In Conversation with Derek Larson

Rafael Soldi: A body in transit is now on view at the Frost Museum, Miami through December 4

One of my favorite was Daniel Fuller’s interview with Derek Larson about his animated series, Tres Mall. Absurdist and thought provoking, after publishing this interview I watched them all on dis and then spent a week thinking about malls and the Frankfurt School. Weirdly disenchanting and invigorating, Tres Mall was a great delight.

Jasmine Amussen

Crafting America at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Jessica Baran’s take on Crystal Bridges’ exhibition Crafting America beautifully weaves together three topics–patriotism and national identity, craft and/or art, and Walmart– that are considerably hard to navigate individually, let alone together in a sprawling group exhibition. Mirroring the conversation about the distinction between craft and art, she captures that mutable drift at the core of our national psyche (history vs. myth) which feels especially close to the surface after two years of pandemics, uprisings and elections.  Deftly challenging the curatorial premise while still giving the artists their due, Baran closes with a great line… “A map and territory as false as Betsy Ross.” 

Claire Dempster


Perhaps it is because of Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, which I am reading as this year comes to a close, that animals in particular have been resting heavily on my mind. The history of animals being tried in court is discussed at length by the narrator as well as her concern for animals’ rights and well being. In Parker Thornton’s Mood Ring however, it is humans who seem to be on trial for their peculiar relationships to animals. These written anecdotes which animate the artist’s project are hilarious, absurd, and emotional tales accompanied by video clips of animal activity from livestream or surveillance cameras monitored and set up by humans. The animals’ performances on camera are mundane, unlike the impish challenges imposed on humans here in Thornton’s stories where one girl in particular is left asking, “But, where will daddy live?”. 

Emily Llamazales

Letter From Atlanta: St. Roch Blues

This is one of the most difficult and emotional pieces I’ve ever written in my life, much less for this magazine. I had kept my participation private, on request of the study and my concerns from my own personal safety. I finished the essay and then realized I had to figure out some sort of imagery to explain the feelings and emotions I was trying to communicate. I asked Emily Llamazales to come with me down the stretch of Memorial Drive I navigated two or three times a month and take photographs. Her photographs were at once bleak and invigorating. It was comforting to be with someone else, to have someone else witness a very difficult time, and a time where I felt very alone. 


One of the most read pieces of the year for me, I read it over and over as I was making the images for it with Jasmine and I read it again when I got vaccinated in March, then again in the summer when masks were briefly shed and a corner was turned. I soon found myself reading it again through tears in August when the Delta variant flourished and my entire family came down with Covid. I was scared and couldn’t help them for fear of coming down with it myself. I shared it once again on my Instagram to remind and encourage others to get vaccinated as the variant swept through. Now I am reading it once more as we face yet another variant and the holidays, sharing time with those we love and can’t lose. 


Real Girl: Nellie Mae Rowe at High Museum, Atlanta

I’ll confess I knew little about the work of Nellie Mae Rowe except in passing, until I read Yves Jeffcoat’s review of the artist’s first major retrospective in two decades at the High Museum of Art. In a fully rounded consideration of her work and life, Jeffcoat skillfully draws Rowe’s legacy and impact through to the present reckoning with radical rest and the grind of labor.


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