The Life of Willie Morris
A fresh look at the life of a revered southern writer and editor
In 2000, readers voted Willie Morris (1934–1999) Mississippi's favorite nonfiction author of the millennium. After conducting over fifty interviews and combing through over eighty boxes of papers in the archives at the University of Mississippi, many of which had never been seen before by researchers, Teresa Nicholas provides new perspectives on a Mississippi writer and editor who changed journalism and redefined what being southern could mean. More than fifty photographs—some published here for the first time, including several by renowned photographer David Rae Morris, Willie's son—enhance the exploration.
From an early age, Willie demonstrated a talent for words. At the University of Texas at Austin, he became a controversial editor of the Daily Texan. He later studied history as a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford, England, but by 1960 he was back in Austin, working as editor for the highly regarded Texas Observer. In 1967 Willie became the youngest editor of the nation's oldest magazine, Harper's. His autobiography, North Toward Home, achieved critical as well as artistic success, and it would continue to inspire legions of readers for decades to come.
In the final tally, he published hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, along with twenty-three books. His work covered the gamut from fiction to nonfiction, for both adults and children, often touching on the personal as well as the historical and the topical, and always presented in his lyrical prose. In 1980, he returned to his home state as writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi. In 1990, he married his editor at the University Press of Mississippi, JoAnne Prichard, and they made a home in Jackson. With his broad knowledge of history, his sensitivity, and his bone-deep understanding of the South, he became a celebrated spokesman for and interpreter of the place he loved.
"Willie Morris was a true force in publishing. He had an eye for talent and an incredible gift for nurturing writers. Teresa Nicholas's biography draws a portrait of Morris as both a man of his time and as a force for change in a vibrant and turbulent period of American letters. "- Gay Talese, author of A Writer's Life and renowned journalist for the New York Times and other national publications
"I had the good fortune to know Willie Morris, and Teresa Nicholas has done a fabulous job of vividly rendering his larger-than-life personality in these pages. Like its subject, her book is both clear-eyed and generous. If Willie were around to read it, I'm convinced he'd say, 'That's me. '"- Steve Yarbrough, author of The Realm of Last Chances, The End of California, and other works
"Willie: The Life of Willie Morris is a poignant biography that chronicles Morris's life-long love affair with the American South and his beloved Yazoo City, Mississippi. Teresa Nicholas shows how the celebrated talker, editor, and writer first wrestles with expatriation, then returns home as a literary hero. Nicholas eloquently captures Morris's life and his impressive literary canon of twenty-three books. "- William Ferris, author of The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists
"In a fine, honest biography graced by many poignant photographs, Teresa Nicholas follows Willie Morris's rich life from his childhood in Yazoo City to the rarefied air of New York's literary circles, then through years of loss and melancholy before he returned triumphantly to Mississippi to become 'a most treasured son' of the state. "- Curtis Wilkie, author of The Fall of the House of Zeus and Assassins, Eccentrics, Politicians, and Other Persons of Interest