A father and son’s eloquent portrait and personal evocations of modern Mississippi
Few writers have ever approached their native terrains with such an inclusive and compassionate understanding as Willie Morris. This book, his last, circles back home where he started. To love it and discover it one more time, he and his son David Rae take us on a trip through contemporary Mississippi.
Who could express so passionately an understanding of the Mississippi landscape? Who could capture so unerringly the state's contrasting and often contradictory faces? For his readers, the answer is Willie Morris. For Morris, it is his photographer son.
Surveying the familiar yet always strangely evocative panorama that became his literary terrain, My Mississippi contemplates the realities of the present day, assesses the most vital concerns of the citizens, gauges how the state has changed, and beholds what Mississippi is like as it enters the twenty-first century. This southern homeland to which Morris returned after terminating his career as a New York editor remained for him a tantalizing mystery, the touchstone for all his thoughts, and one of the last unique places in America. For Morris, despite its flaws, Mississippi is beloved.
With father and son in their peregrinations, we witness what they see and hear—“the bugs on our windshield in the Delta springtime, the off-key echoes of high-school bands from the little Piney Woods football fields in the autumn, the supple twilights and sultry breezes on ‘the Coast,’ the hunting camps and picnics, and parades and pilgrimages, the catfish ponds and graveyards, the roadhouses and joints near the closing hour, the art galleries and concert halls, the riverboat casinos and courthouse squares, the historical landmarks of the old and the industrial complexes of the new. ”
“It has been a pleasure,” Morris says, “more than that, an honor, to collaborate with my son on this project. ”
The son grew up in New York City, seeing his father's native land from the perspective of an outsider. As an adult he has chosen to live in or near Mississippi and has spent the past twenty years traveling and photographing the state. In a thoughtful and provocative photographic narrative entitled “Look Away,” he presents striking, full-color images of his Mississippi.
This complementary collaboration of father and son unites their separate visions and shared love of a place that remains infinitely intriguing for everyone.
"The distinguished Mississippi writer Willie Morris (who died last year) was editor-in-chief of Harper's magazine in the 1960s, a period he wrote about in his fascinating memoir New York Days (1993). He was also the author, more recently, of a pair of sensitive pet books, My Dog Skip ( 1995) and Spit McGee (1999). Regardless of the time Morris spent away from Mississippi, it was a place that always remained in his heart. His last book, written in his characteristically limpid, lyrical prose, offers a heartfelt appreciation of his home state, a place often dismissed as poor and backward by ‘outlanders,’ Morris' term for non-Mississippians. This is not a defensive recitation of Mississippi's virtues nor is it a whitewash of its less-than-attractive features. First, Morris wants the reader to understand the state's beauty—'physically beautiful in the most fundamental and indwelling way, [in that] it never leaves you. ’ Then, with both pride and understanding, he brings into sharp focus Mississippi's peculiar tensions and ambivalence and also its passions—'we are a singular people,’ he says of his native folk. The second half of the book is an album of full-color photographs taken by Morris's son, a professional photojournalist. These shots informally capture ordinary moments in the lives of Mississippians, from a young couple standing next to their truck with their new baby in their arms to a group of local citizens hanging out in front of the main store in a small town. Together, the text and the photographs showcase Mississippians doing what they do best—being themselves completely without artifice. "- Brad Hooper, Booklist
"An excerpt from the book:
Through the years two of the most singular extremes have been the desire, on the one hand, to dwell forever with all the myths and trimmings of a vanished culture which may never have truly existed in the first place, certainly not the way we wished it to, and the frantic compulsion, on the other, to reforge ourselves as an appendage of the capitalistic, go-getting, entrepreneurial North. . . . Between these two extremes there have been complex lights and shadings, and considerable ambivalence and suffering. Mississippians watch the same television as other Americans, frequent the same shopping malls and national franchise chainstores and fast-food establishments, and live in the same kind of suburbias. . . . At the new century it is the juxtapositions of Mississippi, emotional and in remembrance, and the tensions of its paradoxes that still drive us crazy. . . . In my work on this book certain ironies never failed to tease me. "- Willie Morris, 1999