Letters from My Father
A poignant collection of letters from Willie Morris accompanied by photographs by his son, David Rae Morris
Winner of the 2023 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letter Award for Photography
Love, Daddy: Letters from My Father examines the complexities of father-and-son relationships through letters and photographs. Willie Morris wrote scores of letters to his only son, David Rae Morris, from the mid-1970s until Willie’s death in 1999. From David Rae’s perspective, his father was often emotionally disconnected and lived a peculiar lifestyle, often staying out carousing well into the night. But Willie was an eloquent and accomplished writer and began to write his son long, loving, and supportive letters when David Rae was still in high school. An aspiring photographer, David Rae was confused and befuddled by his father’s warring personalities and began photographing Willie using the camera as a buffer to protect him and his emotions.
The collection begins in early 1976 and continues for more than twenty years as David Rae moved about the country, living in New York, Massachusetts, Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Minnesota, before finally settling in Louisiana. “All the while my father was writing to me I somehow managed to save his letters,” David Rae writes. “I left them in storage and in boxes and in piles of clutter on desks and in basements. They were kind, offering a love that he found difficult to express openly and directly. He simply was more comfortable communicating through letters.”
The letters cover topics ranging from writing, the weather, Willie’s return to Mississippi in 1980, the Ole Miss football season, and local town gossip to the fleas on the dog to just life and how it’s lived. Likewise, the photographs are portraits, documentary images of daily life, dinners, outings, and private moments. Together they narrate and illuminate the complexities of one family relationship, and how, for better or worse, that love endures the passage of time.
"When author Willie Morris died in 1999, he left behind an enduring legacy as a journalist, nonfiction writer, novelist, editor, and essayist. He was also a prolific correspondent and for decades relied on notes and letters as a principal means of communication with his son, whom he often kept away at an emotional arm’s distance. In Love, Daddy, David Rae Morris includes more than one hundred of these letters, as well as dozens of photographs that he took over the course of his award-winning filmmaking and photography career. He also explores—with unflinching candor yet affection—his and his father’s complex and at times stormy relationship, a detailed examination that provides a personalized biography of one of Mississippi’s favorite native sons."- Jack Bales, editor of Conversations with Willie Morris and Shifting Interludes: Selected Essays
"Love, Daddy: Letters from My Father explores the complex, troubled relationship of a father, Willie Morris, a brilliant writer and editor, and his son, David Rae Morris, a gifted photographer and writer. David Rae gathers letters his father wrote him over a twenty-three-year period and illustrates them with his beautiful photographs. Willie’s struggle with alcohol, his deep love for Mississippi, and his devotion to David Rae are recurring themes in his letters, each of which he signs, ‘Love, Daddy.’
The layering of Willie’s prose and David Rae’s photographs has a hypnotic effect on the reader. Together, they draw us into a world that is at once painfully familiar and hauntingly strange. Willie encourages David Rae to, ‘Allow the words to flow from the photographs. This will work for you. Wait and see.’ David Rae wisely followed his father’s counsel, and the result is Love, Daddy, a book that will touch the heart of every reader."- William R. Ferris, Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History Emeritus and Senior Associate Director Emeritus of the Center for Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
"There is a time in every man’s life when he becomes more father than son. It is that moment that he must stare deeply into places in his heart that evoke both pain and joy. In Love, Daddy: Letters from My Father David Rae Morris looks back at his relationship with his father, Willie Morris, in letters and photographs with grace, elegance, and humility, free of bitterness. There is a poignancy to the father-son relationship captured in these photographs as well as in Willie’s wise and elegant words that introduce the images."- W. Ralph Eubanks, author of A Place Like Mississippi: A Journey through a Real and Imagined Literary Landscape
"Love, Daddy is a poignant, heartening, and honest portrayal of the often-complicated relationship between a father and son. David Rae’s photographs cover a lot of visual ground, and Willie’s letters make us love and appreciate him more than ever. It is a wonderful combination of pictures and words from two artists. David Rae proves in his introduction that he, too, can write well, and the excellent foreword by Kaylie Jones tells us as much about the deep friendship between her father, James Jones, and Willie Morris, as it does about the peripatetic times in which they lived. This book is a real labor of love."- Maude Schuyler Clay, photographer and award-winning author of Delta Land, Delta Dogs, Mississippi History, and Mississippi
"Should the world need a reminder of the profound value of old-fashioned letter writing, Love, Daddy ought to do the trick. Wise, funny, and deeply loving, Willie Morris’s letters to his only son trace the arc of a deeply bonded father-son relationship as well as the late career of an important southern literary voice. Willie went at life in a messy, complex, big-hearted fashion. David Rae’s photographs and accompanying essays round out this honest portrait of a flawed but exceptional man."- Alexandra Styron, author of Reading My Father: A Memoir