CLARKSDALE Miss. — An ole’ blue plastic fly swatter awaits on Panny Mayfield’s porch to reprimand any obstreperous bees straying from worrying the white magnolias or to disturb dialogue of actors presenting outdoors scenes from a Tennessee Williams play to the accompaniment of live accordion music.
Williams (1911-83) himself trod the expansive porch of this 1894 house home of his childhood friend Phil Clark. A block away is St. George’s Episcopal Church where his maternal grandfather the Rev. Walter Dakin served as rector for 16 years and where Williams lived from age 3 in the parsonage with his mother Edwina and sister Rose.
Inside Clark House on a jasmine-fragranced languorous afternoon after applauding actors Alice Walker and Johnny McPhail there is cold sweet tea ladled from a crystal bowl into paper-thin porcelain cups and thick yellow slices of lemon pound cake dusted with white powdered sugar served on plates over crocheted doilies.
Walls up the mahogany-railed staircase to the cool darkness of the second floor are lined with sepia-toned photos of dashing men in white linen suits beautiful women and cars. Hostess Panny an ex-newspaper woman who works public relations at nearby Coahoma Community College glides over the Oriental rugs.
Williams wove real-life characters and situations from his Clarksdale years into the tapestry of his Pulitzer Prize winning work.
Next month Clarksdale hosts an annual Williams festival with plays and tours of historical homes of this quintessential Mississippi Delta town once known as the ”Golden Buckle on the Cotton Belt.” Similar southern literary festivals and tours can be found at www.southernliterarytrail.org.
I was on a weeklong bus tour of the Delta exploring environs of American literary and musical icons. The annual tour sponsored by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at University of Mississippi is open to the public.
In the morning we purchased quilt items from talented women at the Community Education Center in Tutwiler population 1201. Director Sister Maureen Delaney came to this impoverished area alone decades ago remaining to organize a clinic and the quilt cooperative.
It was difficult to remain seated confining one’s self to toe- tapping and not jump right up and shout Amen when the joyous all-female local gospel singers entertained us with upright piano and tambourine accompaniment. One member age 87 sang a solo.
The Tutwiler center is almost exclusively used and run by women.
”We don’t know why our men folk won’t come in. They just don’t” a staff member saic.
We ate the evening meal at Giardina’s Restaurant in Greenwood’s upscale Alluvian Hotel our base. Tables there and in other Greenwood restaurants are partitioned off — a relic some said of Prohibition days when liquor could not be served openly.
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