Personal Journeys


Tell us your story
Personal Journeys

Tell us your story

Share your Personal Journey with the AJC and win $750. The contest opens June 27.

Everyone has a story to tell. Here’s your chance to share yours with readers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. We’re seeking first-person manuscripts from writers, both professionals and newbies, for its annual Personal Journeys Writing Contest. The winner will be published Oct. 2, 2016, in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Deadline is midnight July 31. Winner will be notified by Sept. 1.

Mom on a mission

Stephanie Stone was thrust into action by the senseless death of her son.
Special Presentation

Making amends

Georgia-born war veteran returns to Vietnam to help clean up the mess left behind.
Special Presentation

Becoming Jericho Brown

How the poet endured a violent childhood, got a new name and received a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Special Presentation

Some gumshoes die hard

Despite a knack for sniffing out the truth, the answer private eye Bob Poulnot wants most still eludes him.
Special Presentation

'The Underdogs'

Tethered to a service dog, twins with autism find freedom. An exclusive book excerpt by Melissa Fay Greene.
Special Presentation

Curses and blessings

A devastating motorcycle accident saves Tim Keel’s life by revealing a deadly secret.
Special Presentation

'Suburban Gospel'

A boy ponders his dad’s place in the world against the backdrop of Atlanta’s child murders. A book excerpt by Mark Beaver.
Special Presentation

Grandmother of the year

Like 100,000 grandparents in Georgia, Loretta Jenkins is raising grandchildren, and every day is a challenge.
Special Presentation

Going once, going twice

After 50 years of collecting vintage vehicles, music boxes, jukeboxes, Houdini memorabilia and more, auctioneer Preston Evans is set to pound his gavel one last time.
Special Presentation

'Alligator Candy'

The death of his brother prompts a man to go back and investigate his memory of the events. An excerpt from journalist David Kushner's memoir about the 1973 murder of his big brother in Tampa, Fla.
Special Presentation

Hope and faith

A photo of in utero surgery made Samuel Armas famous before he was even born. He continues to astonish today.
Special Presentation

Keeper of the island

Centenarian Sandy West wants to live out her days on Ossabaw Island, but time may be running out.
Special Presentation

Fixing to die

Battle with deadly superbug upends writer’s life. He’s one of the lucky ones.
Special Presentation

Reclaimed lives

Troubled siblings find success in lessons rooted in their grandfather’s teachings.
Special Presentation

The fixer

Jane Warring helped move Leon Sims out of his bug-infested apartment and into her heart.
Special Presentation

'Sing to Me'

Excerpt from the new memoir by music industry legend Antonio 'LA' Reid.
Special Presentation

Shooting stars

Robb Cohen has spent more than a decade of capturing a wide variety of musical artists for the AJC.
Special Presentation

The ref

72-year-old lacrosse crew chief Louie Diaz reluctantly eyes retirement from the sport he loves.
Special Presentation

The Gathering

An excerpt from ‘Crooked Letter I: Coming Out in the South’ by James Villanueva.
Special Presentation

Journeys revisited

Four stories about the uplifting power of family and friends, new and old.
Special Presentation

Uno the therapy dog

At Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, a chaplain's four-legged colleague is on the job, helping children heal.

Special Presentation

'A Thousand Naked Strangers'

‘A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back’ — a book excerpt by former EMT Kevin Hazzard.
Special Presentation

Mind the gap

On a mother-son trip to NYC, the torch is passed on the definition of cool.
Special Presentation

In the spirit

Tenor Sam Hagan has been the sound of the holiday season for nearly 40 years.
Special Presentation

The self-made philanthropist

How a stranger’s gift and a family’s love transformed the life of a foster child who has changed the lives of others.
Special Presentation

Missing Vicki

An adventurous teen, her devoted sister and a trip of a lifetime gone wrong.
Special Presentation

From lawless to lawyer

David Lee Windecher was on the road to prison until he turned his life around.
Special Presentation

Maximus the Great

Meeting her child’s special needs isn’t enough for Keri Janton. She wants to give her son a life of joy.
Special Presentation

The neighbors

Broke and lonely, Vicki Van Der Hoek had nothing to look forward to until she met 6-year-old Leon Shields. 15 years later, the unlikely friends are still very close.
Special Presentation

'The Lost Gulf'

An excerpt from Rick Bragg’s new collection of essays, ‘My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South.’ 

Special Presentation

The new normal

Cyclist Greg Germani is on a long road to recovery after hit-and-run crash.
Special Presentation

The secret wedding party

A daughter adopted at birth resurfaces in Maxene Raices’ life and helps heal old wounds. But secrecy still looms. Read the winner of our first Personal Journeys Writing Contest.

Special Presentation

The great stayer

My first memory of life is being kidnapped.

It’s Aug. 5, 1971, and I am 6. I don’t remember how the day started or how I found myself in the backseat of this car, sitting next to my sister Cindy, who is almost 9. But I know I don’t want to be here.

Behind the steering wheel is my mother, Charlotte, looking like a blonde beauty queen. She had abandoned our family six months earlier to live in Tampa with her friend Mary Ellen. Beside Charlotte in the front passenger seat is her small, browbeaten mother, Gan.

“Let us go home and pack something,” I plead. “Or we can do this another time. Just take us back home and we’ll figure it out from there.”

Those may not have been my exact words, but that is the case I’m making for why Cindy and I should not be kidnapped.  

Special Presentation

Trouble in Nepal

After a great morning of trekking in Nepal, Decatur's Martin Emanuel stopped at a tea house near Gong Gang.

While sitting on the terrace looking out over the Himalayas that Saturday, Marty ate dal bhat, a traditional lentil soup with rice and spinach, and watched the owners' two children play.

The sky was so clear, it sparkled.

"It was absolutely gorgeous," Marty said. "We'd had a wonderful morning, a wonderful lunch."

Marty couldn't believe his good fortune.

"Things couldn't have been better," he said.

That was when he heard a loud, low rumble. It was a noise he had never heard before.

Special Presentation

The road home

A photojournalist's love letter to Ga. Highway 83. Story and photos by Kevin Liles, for the AJC.

Driving my favorite part of Ga. Highway 83, it's easy to lose track of time. With only an occasional house or rusted fence to break up the miles of pine trees, irrigated cornfields and rolling pastures dotted with anthills, driving easily takes a back seat to my thoughts.

Deemed a Scenic Byway by the state, Ga. 83 is an 86.5-mile two-lane road that traverses from Monroe south to Forsyth, passing through the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge and crossing the Ocmulgee River along the way. Its shoulders are so narrow at times, road signs fight for real estate among the milkweed and oak saplings.

» Get the whole story, including a special video presentation, in a vibrant and photo-rich format.

Special Presentation

The novice farmer

As a teen Nathan Brett learned the guitar and performed in the church band between his father's prayers. From his home in Madison County, he could reach the rock 'n' roll mecca of Athens by car in 20 minutes. Music consumed his thoughts.

Nathan attended the University of Georgia, studying history and music business. When he finished school, Nashville called. He interned for a year at a small recording studio, and at night he wrote songs and explored the bustling singer-songwriter scene.

After his internship ended, he got a job loading and unloading trucks and cooking in a restaurant. Time to write music and perform grew scarce.

Back home, Murray Brett worried. What kind of life was his oldest son choosing? Murray feared that spiritual bankruptcy loomed.

Every summer Murray took his three sons to the Georgia coast to toss seine nets for shrimp. One evening, tending to the day's haul, Murray wanted to know when Nathan would wake from Nashville's trance.

Everyone says give it five years, Nathan said.

I don't think you've got five years, Murray said. In five years you'll be 29 and starting over; you'll have to find a new career, start at the bottom. What if you have a family by then? Come home, Murray pleaded, we'll work together, father and son. We'll open a wood shop, make guitars. Maybe we'll do a little farming, who knows?

Special Presentation
'Remain Free'

'Remain Free'

How a death-row inmate changed the life of an Alpharetta teen. A book excerpt by Gautam Narula.
‘My Father and Atticus Finch’: An excerpt

‘My Father and Atticus Finch’: An excerpt

About the story: Before Harper Lee published “Go Set a Watchman” last summer, Atticus Finch ranked right up there as the consummate father figure for many fans of “To Kill a Mockingbird.

Mom on a mission

Stephanie Stone was thrust into action by the senseless death of her son.
Special Presentation

Making amends

Georgia-born war veteran returns to Vietnam to help clean up the mess left behind.
Special Presentation

Becoming Jericho Brown

How the poet endured a violent childhood, got a new name and received a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Special Presentation

Some gumshoes die hard

Despite a knack for sniffing out the truth, the answer private eye Bob Poulnot wants most still eludes him.
Special Presentation

'The Underdogs'

Tethered to a service dog, twins with autism find freedom. An exclusive book excerpt by Melissa Fay Greene.
Special Presentation

'Alligator Candy'

The death of his brother prompts a man to go back and investigate his memory of the events. An excerpt from journalist David Kushner's memoir about the 1973 murder of his big brother in Tampa, Fla.
Special Presentation

Curses and blessings

A devastating motorcycle accident saves Tim Keel’s life by revealing a deadly secret.
Special Presentation
Sandy West to leave Ossabaw Island

Sandy West to leave Ossabaw Island

Sandy West, the 103-year-old doyenne of Ossabaw Island, will leave her beloved barrier island near Savannah next month.

'Suburban Gospel'

A boy ponders his dad’s place in the world against the backdrop of Atlanta’s child murders. A book excerpt by Mark Beaver.
Special Presentation

Grandmother of the year

Like 100,000 grandparents in Georgia, Loretta Jenkins is raising grandchildren, and every day is a challenge.
Special Presentation

Going once, going twice

After 50 years of collecting vintage vehicles, music boxes, jukeboxes, Houdini memorabilia and more, auctioneer Preston Evans is set to pound his gavel one last time.
Special Presentation

Hope and faith

A photo of in utero surgery made Samuel Armas famous before he was even born. He continues to astonish today.
Special Presentation

Fixing to die

Battle with deadly superbug upends writer’s life. He’s one of the lucky ones.
Special Presentation

Reclaimed lives

Troubled siblings find success in lessons rooted in their grandfather’s teachings.
Special Presentation

The fixer

Jane Warring helped move Leon Sims out of his bug-infested apartment and into her heart.
Special Presentation

'Sing to Me'

Excerpt from the new memoir by music industry legend Antonio 'LA' Reid.
Special Presentation

Shooting stars

Robb Cohen has spent more than a decade of capturing a wide variety of musical artists for the AJC.
Special Presentation

The ref

72-year-old lacrosse crew chief Louie Diaz reluctantly eyes retirement from the sport he loves.
Special Presentation

The Gathering

An excerpt from ‘Crooked Letter I: Coming Out in the South’ by James Villanueva.
Special Presentation

Journeys revisited

Four stories about the uplifting power of family and friends, new and old.
Special Presentation

Uno the therapy dog

At Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, a chaplain's four-legged colleague is on the job, helping children heal.

Special Presentation

Uno the therapy dog

At Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, a chaplain's four-legged colleague is on the job, helping children heal.

Special Presentation

'A Thousand Naked Strangers'

‘A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back’ — a book excerpt by former EMT Kevin Hazzard.
Special Presentation

Mind the gap

On a mother-son trip to NYC, the torch is passed on the definition of cool.
Special Presentation

In the spirit

Tenor Sam Hagan has been the sound of the holiday season for nearly 40 years.
Special Presentation

Missing Vicki

An adventurous teen, her devoted sister and a trip of a lifetime gone wrong.
Special Presentation
A veteran's story

A veteran's story

An excerpt from ‘Fighting the Cold War: A Soldier’s Memoir’ by late Jonesboro resident Gen. John R. Galvin

From lawless to lawyer

David Lee Windecher was on the road to prison until he turned his life around.
Special Presentation

Maximus the Great

Meeting her child’s special needs isn’t enough for Keri Janton. She wants to give her son a life of joy.
Special Presentation

The neighbors

Broke and lonely, Vicki Van Der Hoek had nothing to look forward to until she met 6-year-old Leon Shields. 15 years later, the unlikely friends are still very close.
Special Presentation

'The Lost Gulf'

An excerpt from Rick Bragg’s new collection of essays, ‘My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South.’ 

Special Presentation
The new normal

The new normal

Cyclist Greg Germani on the long road to recovery after hit-and-run crash.

The secret wedding party

A daughter adopted at birth resurfaces in Maxene Raices’ life and helps heal old wounds. But secrecy still looms. Read the winner of our first Personal Journeys Writing Contest.

Special Presentation
'Cooking as Fast as I Can'

'Cooking as Fast as I Can'

Childhood trauma spurred chef Cat Cora to be fearless. Read an excerpt from her upcoming memoir, exclusive to the AJC.

I spent the first week of my life at the Mississippi Children’s Home, waiting to be adopted. My name then was Melanie. The word means dark in Greek, and referred to my brown hair, my deep brown eyes.

My birth mother was 16 when she got pregnant with me. It was 1967. Whatever free-love thing was happening in other parts of the country in the late ’60s, it was not happening in Greenwood, Miss. A girl who got knocked up there brought shame upon herself and her family.

The great stayer

My first memory of life is being kidnapped.

It’s Aug. 5, 1971, and I am 6. I don’t remember how the day started or how I found myself in the backseat of this car, sitting next to my sister Cindy, who is almost 9. But I know I don’t want to be here.

Behind the steering wheel is my mother, Charlotte, looking like a blonde beauty queen. She had abandoned our family six months earlier to live in Tampa with her friend Mary Ellen. Beside Charlotte in the front passenger seat is her small, browbeaten mother, Gan.

“Let us go home and pack something,” I plead. “Or we can do this another time. Just take us back home and we’ll figure it out from there.”

Those may not have been my exact words, but that is the case I’m making for why Cindy and I should not be kidnapped.  

Special Presentation

Trouble in Nepal

After a great morning of trekking in Nepal, Decatur's Martin Emanuel stopped at a tea house near Gong Gang.

While sitting on the terrace looking out over the Himalayas that Saturday, Marty ate dal bhat, a traditional lentil soup with rice and spinach, and watched the owners' two children play.

The sky was so clear, it sparkled.

"It was absolutely gorgeous," Marty said. "We'd had a wonderful morning, a wonderful lunch."

Marty couldn't believe his good fortune.

"Things couldn't have been better," he said.

That was when he heard a loud, low rumble. It was a noise he had never heard before.

Special Presentation

The novice farmer

As a teen Nathan Brett learned the guitar and performed in the church band between his father's prayers. From his home in Madison County, he could reach the rock 'n' roll mecca of Athens by car in 20 minutes. Music consumed his thoughts.

Nathan attended the University of Georgia, studying history and music business. When he finished school, Nashville called. He interned for a year at a small recording studio, and at night he wrote songs and explored the bustling singer-songwriter scene.

After his internship ended, he got a job loading and unloading trucks and cooking in a restaurant. Time to write music and perform grew scarce.

Back home, Murray Brett worried. What kind of life was his oldest son choosing? Murray feared that spiritual bankruptcy loomed.

Every summer Murray took his three sons to the Georgia coast to toss seine nets for shrimp. One evening, tending to the day's haul, Murray wanted to know when Nathan would wake from Nashville's trance.

Everyone says give it five years, Nathan said.

I don't think you've got five years, Murray said. In five years you'll be 29 and starting over; you'll have to find a new career, start at the bottom. What if you have a family by then? Come home, Murray pleaded, we'll work together, father and son. We'll open a wood shop, make guitars. Maybe we'll do a little farming, who knows?

Special Presentation

The road home

A photojournalist's love letter to Ga. Highway 83. Story and photos by Kevin Liles, for the AJC.

Driving my favorite part of Ga. Highway 83, it's easy to lose track of time. With only an occasional house or rusted fence to break up the miles of pine trees, irrigated cornfields and rolling pastures dotted with anthills, driving easily takes a back seat to my thoughts.

Deemed a Scenic Byway by the state, Ga. 83 is an 86.5-mile two-lane road that traverses from Monroe south to Forsyth, passing through the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge and crossing the Ocmulgee River along the way. Its shoulders are so narrow at times, road signs fight for real estate among the milkweed and oak saplings.

» Get the whole story, including a special video presentation, in a vibrant and photo-rich format.

Special Presentation
Called for Life

Called for Life

Dr. Kent Brantly was a medical missionary with Samaritan's Purse, living with his wife, Amber, and their children in war-torn Liberia. While working at ELWA hospital, where only one Ebola patient out of dozens had survived, he began to run a fever.


"Kent, bud. We got your test result. And I'm really sorry to tell you that it is positive for Ebola."

I had not expected to hear those words despite the mounting evidence over the past three days — the worsening symptoms, the repeated negative malaria tests — that would have led me to suspect Ebola had I been the doctor rather than the patient.

Strong survivor

Strong survivor

"The first time I remember something happening was right after my fourth birthday. I was wearing blue jean overalls, Mary Jane shoes and a pink shirt.
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