GREENWOOD Miss. — An imperious friend asked ”Why are you going to Mississippi? There is nothing there.”
Many of America’s most gifted world-famous creative legends were born and reared in Mississippi I countered.
”Well like who?” she demanded impatiently harrumphing away when I began reciting a partial roll call of Mississippi’s cultural luminaries: Oprah Winfrey Jim Henson B.B. King John Grisham Eudora Welty Tennessee Williams Alice Walker Willie Morris Jill Conner Brown Hodding Carter Jr. The New York Times Editor Turner Catledge and longtime New York Times restaurant critic Craig Claiborne.
Other than Massachusetts perhaps no American state has produced so many top tier writers as Mississippi as has the South in general.
Mississippi vies with some other states as claimant to being the birthplace of the American-born blues music genre.
I was on a bus for a week touring the flat Mississippi Delta visiting the environs of these ultra famous American cultural icons and legendary blues musicians chatting with people who knew them walking small towns they called home and from which they derived inspiration to create transcendent enduring works of genius.
The annual tour open to the public is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Ole’ Miss. Visit www.olemiss.edu.
The woods were alive with white dogwood and redbud blossoms and I was in the company of like-minded folks who find joy in the creative processes of American giants.
Our tour began in Greenwood population of about 13000 in the gossipy wake of the departure of Los Angeles film types who invaded the red brick streets in July through October for the 2010 filming of ”The Help” based on Kathryn Stockett’s book about interrelationships of African-American domestic help and Caucasian employers in the 1960s. Tales of LA types linger on the tongues of locals.
The upscaled historic Alluvian Hotel was our base near Turnrow Bookstore where we gathered to wile a languid Sunday afternoon hearing Eudora Welty biographer Suzanne Marrs analyze Welty’s Delta wedding and photographers Maude Schuyler and Langdon Clay showed their book on Welty’s garden in Jackson. Welty (1909-2001) whose cadences are both hilarious and serious won the Pulitzer Prize the Presidential Medal of Freedom and multiple premier honors.
Naively I thought it was the Turow bookstore named after Chicago thriller writer Scott Turow. Wrong It is the Turnrow Bookstore named after a wider row in cotton fields where machinery can turn.
We closed our first tour day at the Delta Bistro an upscale sophisticate with delicious food. After dinner I wandered 100 yards in the dark from the bistro to the steep banks where the Tallahatchie and Yalobusha rivers meet to form the Yazoo River.
Foreign visitors tell me they have ”seen America” after visiting New York and LA. That’s not America. You have to see our South and West I advise.
This riverbank in the Mississippi Delta — that is America too.
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