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High Cotton - Four Seasons in the Mississippi Delta

High Cotton

Four Seasons in the Mississippi Delta

By Gerard Helferich
Series: Banner Books

Paperback : 9781496815712, 336 pages, October 2017

A paean to the vanishing family cotton farm


This dirt-under-the-fingernails portrait of a small-time farmer follows Zack Killebrew over a single year as he struggles to defend his cotton against such timeless adversaries as weeds, insects, and drought, as well as such twenty-first-century threats as globalization. Over the course of the season, Helferich describes how this singular crop has stamped American history and culture like no other. Then, as Killebrew prepares to harvest his cotton, two hurricanes named Katrina and Rita devastate the Gulf Coast and barrel inland. Killebrew's tale is at once a glimpse into our nation's past, a rich commentary on our present, and a plain-sighted vision of the future of farming in the Mississippi Delta.

On first publication, High Cotton won the Authors Award from the Mississippi Library Association. This updated edition includes a new afterword, which resumes the story of Zack Killebrew and his family, discusses how cotton farming has continued to change, and shows how the Delta has retained its elemental character.


Weather, weather, weather—it's pretty much all about the weather when you're a cotton planter in the Mississippi Delta. That's the area writer and editor Helferich calls home, and for a year he dogged one particular cotton planter, Zack Killebrew. He looked over Zack's shoulder--well, stood at his side—during an entire growing season, from spring to spring again, and got down on paper all the details of the hard life anyone interested in raising cotton is agreeing to take on. Interesting facts are the foundation of Helferich's riveting and ironically inspiring account: since colonial days, economic, social, and political life in the Delta has been tightly wrapped up in the cotton industry, and eighty percent of Mississippi's cotton is still grown there. Zack has been involved in it for thirty years, and not only his dedication but also his gut wisdom about the cycles of nature are to be marveled at. The history of cotton cultivation, the tractor as a farm implement, and sharecropping are all topics explored for the grateful reader.

- Booklist


- Wall Street Journal

Valuable insights into the historical and cultural significance of cotton in the United States

- Publishers Weekly

Perceptive and unaffected

- Business Week

Helferich [shows] understated eloquence and a lyrical feel for his legendary crop.

- Times Literary Supplement

Helferich's book, though, stands on narrow and precious ground: here is a clear-eyed writer offering a story that is personal, sympathetic and honest.

- Boyce Upholt, Clarion-Ledger

Fascinating and masterful . . . a unique treasure trove of information about a long-neglected and much-misunderstood segment of American life

- William F. Winter, former governor of Mississippi