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Q&A With Leigh Johnson

Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Rhodes College



In light of Memphis' high ranking on so many negative lists, Leigh Johnson began to wonder why she'd chosen to stay here. The native Memphian and Rhodes philosophy professor posted a few thoughts about why she's still here on her blog, "Read More Write More Think More Be More."

After receiving a wealth of positive responses, Johnson began a series of blog posts called "Why I Chose Memphis," where she publishes stories from residents on why they moved to the city.

Recently, Johnson's blog featured guest posts by WMC news anchor Anna Marie Hartman Birkedahl, Rhodes economics professor Art Carden, and Memphis Flyer wine columnist Michael Hughes among others. — Halley Johnson

Flyer: What prompted you to ask people why they

chose Memphis?

Johnson: What motivated [the project] is all the bad press that Memphis has gotten in the last year. We've been called miserable and ugly. Of course, we're always up there on the crime rankings.

How have you chosen the people whose stories you've featured?

I put up my own story and said if you want to share, send me something. Within six hours my inbox was full. It wasn't a matter of twisting people's arms to say why [they] chose Memphis. I have been trying to shape it a little bit more now by finding people who I know have stories, but aren't on the Internet all the time.

It seems that most of the responses are from academics. Are you planning to branch out?

I'd like to have a more representative cross-section of Memphians. I've been soliciting stories, and I've got several in the works from musicians, artists, newscasters, business people, and medical researchers. I'm trying to hit the highlights of Memphis culture.

What's the source of the bad attitudes you're trying

to combat?

I've lived here most of my life, and I'm not naive or delusional about the problems that Memphis has. There's poverty, and then there are all the things that come along with poverty, with crime being just one of them.

But I don't walk around the city afraid. It would be a lie to say that I've not been the victim of crime in my life; I have. But there's a sense that Memphis is this dangerous, scary place, and people conduct themselves as if they are afraid. I don't feel like this is a place where you have to live in fear. It's a false stereotype, and it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How does your project help counter that

negative image?

"Why I Chose Memphis" is largely about disabusing people of that notion. One thing I like about creating an archive of these stories is that it's not just me. There are a lot of people who are different from each other but have this kind of communal bond that's difficult to explain except in first-person narrative.

Memphis is one of those cities where the reasons that people love it are these quirky and odd "you really have to be here" stories. That's what I wanted, those first-hand accounts of "you have to be here to know X."

Read Leigh Johnson's blog at

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