What to Read Before You Go to Mississippi
The Mississippi River has been a muse for writers like Mark Twain and William Faulkner. Here, three contemporary writers explore the beauty, tragedy and humanity in the Mississippi River region.
DISPATCHES FROM PLUTO
Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta
By Richard Grant
321 pp. Simon & Schuster. (2015)
This book was born of an impulsive decision by the British travel writer Richard Grant to buy a plantation in Pluto, Miss., a small town in the Mississippi Delta, and move there with his girlfriend. Grant introduces readers to a colorful cast of characters: the blues musician T-Model Ford, the actor Morgan Freeman and an array of catfish farmers, among others. He inserts himself into the culture and makes insightful observations about public education in the South, race relations and poverty. This travelogue is rich with insight into the Mississippi River Delta. Our reviewer wrote: “His empathic manner, reportorial talent and eye for the unexpected detail make this a chigger-bitten trip that entertains as much as it informs.”
A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast
By Natasha Trethewey
144 pp. University of Georgia Press. (2010)
In this memoir, Natasha Trethewey, who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for poetry and was the poet laureate in 2012, mixes prose, poetry and personal letters to capture both the physical and psychological toll of Hurricane Katrina on her family. She paints a picture of the Mississippi of her childhood, describing the North Gulfport neighborhood where she spent her summers and where her brother, Joe, would eventually live with their grandmother. The story is anchored by Joe’s experiences: His father (Trethewey’s stepfather) killed their mother, and while his life was on track before Katrina, it is derailed after the storm; he is arrested and serves time for a drug-related offense. In this meditation, Tretheway reflects on what was lost and uses her family’s story to discuss the area’s recovery.
SING, UNBURIED, SING
By Jesmyn Ward
304 pp. Scribner. (2017)
This haunting new novel, which has been shortlisted for the National Book Award in Fiction, follows 13-year-old Jojo, and his family on a road trip to Parchman Farm, a prison in Mississippi from which his father, Michael, will soon be released. The trip is his mother’s attempt at reuniting their nuclear family, despite her persistent drug abuse and the children’s attachment to their grandparents. Ward weaves the Mississippi River into her characterization, describing Jojo as having “the scent of leaves disintegrating to mud at the bottom of a river, the aroma of the bowl of the bayou.” The characters are haunted by ghosts, and our reviewer writes that in Ward’s novel, ordinary people “possess the weight and the value of the mythic.”
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