NORTH CARROLLTON Miss. — I was sitting in a scuffed wicker chair on a big ole’ wraparound screen porch in the waning heat of day watching dusk overtake light chasing among live oak trees while civilly discussing ”the great truths” with highly intelligent people — my companions on a weeklong bus literary tour of the Mississippi Delta.
What is friendship? Where does the universe end? What constitutes fine writing?
Before ”American Idol” Facebook Twitter and the Kardashians that’s how we passed an evening. Exploring ideas. The life of the mind as my beloved Aunt Eleanor called such civil discourse.
Those memories returned under the high ceilings of Cotesworth Plantation where I balanced on my lap a plate of fried chicken trimmings and lime Jell-O cottage cheese congeal with ice cold tea to wash it down.
We’re exploring literary Mississippi visiting purlieus of some of America’s most honored writers and musicians. The annual expedition open to the public is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at University of Mississippi.
We adjourned to folding chairs on wooden planked floors to hear scholar Marion Barnwell discuss the life and work of Pulitzer nominee Elizabeth Spencer author of the novel ”Light in the Piazza” which was made into a 1962 movie and a 2005 Broadway musical.
Mississippi has birthed some of America’s most revered creative talents — Tennessee Williams Eudora Welty Oprah Winfrey B.B. King John Grisham and Jim Henson to name a few of many.
Our day began at ”Where the Southern Cross the Dog” an iconic site in Moorhead where at right angles Southern Railroad crosses tracks of the Yazoo Delta a now-defunct train nicknamed Yellow Dog. (What could go wrong there?) In 1903 Bluesman W.C. Handy born in nearby Clarksdale heard a stranger singing the phrase which he converted musically. If you can’t explain what it means you aren’t a real Mississippian.
We had lunch at The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center opened in 2008 in Indianola converting in part a mammoth room where a cotton gin once rumbled. The comprehensive exhibits preceded by an engaging film about the legendary musician are outstanding — well worth a half day viewing.
”The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you” King is quoted.
In Cleveland self-taught artist Carolyn Norris greeted us in her tiny home where she sells her remarkable work that began years ago when she tore the wooden back of a dresser to use as canvas painting with house paint and makeup. Norris is included in the book ”Spirit of the Delta.”
Greenwood our tour hub is still abuzz about the Los Angeles types who invaded their red brick streets in 2010 to film the novel ”The Help” the subject of an afternoon panel discussion at Turnrow bookstore of the evolution of the civil rights movement in Mississippi.
Maude Schuyler Clay a fifth-generation native of Sumner and a 2008 visiting artist at Yale University spoke to us about her book ”Delta Land” a photographic homage.
Her work is at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and many prestigious venues.
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