Mississippi Books and Writers

September 2002

Note: Prices listed below reflect the publisher's suggested list price. They are subject to change without notice.

Absalom, Absalom!

A Novel by William Faulkner

First published 1936

Random House (Hardcover, $22.00, ISBN: 0375508724)

Publication date: September 2002

Brief Review:

One of Faulkner’s greatest novels, Absalom, Absalom! recounts the story of Thomas Sutpen, born into a poor farm family in western Virginia in the early 1800s who runs away with plans to create a vast “design” of wealth and power. When he appears in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi (Faulkner’s apocryphal setting for most of his novels), he carves out of the wilderness a vast plantation, marries a local shopkeeper’s daughter, and settles into the life of a planter when his wife bears him two children, Henry and Judith. But when Henry brings home Charles Bon, a classmate from the University of Mississippi, who becomes romantically engaged with Judith, Sutpen’s design begins to unravel. On the eve of the Civil War, Henry spurns his birthright, and together he and Bon leave. It is only after the war, after Henry and Bon have served together in the same regiment throughout the war, that one of the central mysteries of the novel emerges: why did Henry shoot Charles Bon at the gate of Sutpen’s mansion?

The present-day of the novel is 1909-10 and is told primarily by contemporaries, including Rosa Coldfield, the fiercely proud sister of Sutpen’s wife, a spinster who after her sister’s death spurns Sutpen’s rude sexual advances; Jason Compson, a confirmed cynic and nihilist who did not witness the key events befalling the Sutpen family but heard most of them from his father; Quentin Compson, Jason’s son, a romantic young man who is drawn into the Sutpen saga against his will by Rosa Coldfield, but once he is involved he must follow it to its logical end; and Quentin’s roommate at Harvard, the Canadian Shreve McCannon, who along with Quentin feels compelled to complete the saga by any means necessary. These memorable characters not only recount historically factual information about Sutpen’s story; they also freely add to it and change it in order for it to make sense. The novel, then, which is a compelling exploration of Southern history, race, and gender, is likewise a powerful statement about how we interpret the past and impart meaning to it. John B. Padgett

In the Deep Heart’s Core

By Michael Johnston

Grove Press (Hardcover, $22.00, ISBN: 080211721X)

Publication date: September 2002

Description from Publishers Weekly:

Fresh from a postcollege, intensive five-week crash course, Johnston began his two-year stint with Teach for America, a program that addresses the needs of some of America’s most desperate classrooms. In Johnston’s case, it’s a high school classroom in Greenville, Miss., with “chalkboards so scratched, rusted, and embedded with chalk dust that I couldn’t read the boards even if I wrote on them with fresh white paint.” There he teaches students who have been through “more funerals than honor roll assemblies” due to drugs and gang violence. The school system’s countless institutional failures (among them, a counselor who sells high school credits) challenge Johnston’s assurance that education was the “one valuable skill I could bring to Mississippi that she could use.” The students’ truancy, sexual promiscuity and aggression sorely test Johnston’s conviction that “underneath, they were vulnerable … still children.” Successes are minuscule and failure is rampant.

What makes Johnston’s account noteworthy is his ability to move beyond making generalizations about impoverished schools and students. Rather, he takes readers into the constricted and often doomed lives of individuals: Corelle catches up on months of work with a six-hour marathon, but drops out of school; “confident, gracious, and charismatic” Egina becomes the accidental victim of cross fire. Although Johnston occasionally catches sight of a “few students who were trying to work effectively,” they occupy the periphery. “In making the Delta my home,” he observes, “I found inside her a despair beyond any I could have imagined.” That compassion, leavened with good sense, makes this honest and often painful account a moving, memorable call for action. —Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

The Spirit of Retirement: Creating a Life of Meaning and Personal Growth

By James A. Autry

Prima Publisher (Hardcover, $22.95, ISBN: 0761563539)

Publication date: September 2002

Description from Publishers Weekly:

For some people, the word “retirement” evokes images of farewell parties, vacations, golf games and, at long last, real progress on oft-postponed household projects. But according to Autry (Love and Profit), who once served as the president of a large corporation and is now a public speaker and consultant, the initial euphoria soon wears off, leaving the retiree with a hard realization: “For the first time in my life I don’t have a job.” In this compact, inspiring book, Autry insists that retirement is actually an opportunity for people to “stop doing and concentrate on being.” To that end, he shares stories about retirees who made successful transitions to retirement and juxtaposes these anecdotes with questions and exercises for readers. Retirement is a time for changing one’s approach to life, reinvigorating friendships, serving the community, finding nature and expressing one’s inner creativity, explains the author, and his book—alternately pragmatic and spiritual—should serve disillusioned retirees well. —Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

On Writing

By Eudora Welty

Modern Library (Hardcover, $14.95, ISBN: 0679642706)

Publication date: September 2002

Description from Publishers Weekly:

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Welty (The Optimist’s Daughter; The Golden Apples; One Writer’s Beginnings), who died last year, was a master of the short story, of small town eccentricities, of dialogue and place and the messiness of human relationships—she was a writer’s writer. Now, seven of her essays about the craft of fiction, taken from 1978’s The Eye of the Story, are repackaged together in a little book that marks a welcome break from the myriad how-to-write-a-novel-in-six-weeks guides and good-natured but often ineffectual volumes of creative encouragement. In elegant and insightful investigations, Welty considers Hemingway’s moralizing, Virginia Woolf’s intellectual use of the senses, the “lowlier angel” of setting, the problem of polemical, crusading fiction and the novel as “an illusion come full circle” that “seems to include a good deal of the whole world.” There is some advice to be had—narrative pleasure can arise from authorial obstruction, for example—but by and large this is a book of fond analysis, addressed to the serious reader and dedicated writer. —Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Touring Literary Mississippi

By Patti Carr Black and Marion Barnwell

University Press of Mississippi (Paperback, $20.00, ISBN: 157806368X)

Publication date: September 2002

Description from the publisher:

A guide to the adventures waiting in one of the richest literary states in America.

By taking the literary traveler on seven preplanned tours—through the Delta, along Highway 61, to the heart of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha country, to sites near Interstate 55 and the Natchez Trace, to the piney woods of East and South Mississippi, and along the sun-struck Gulf Coast—this book captures the phenomenal abundance and diversity of Mississippi literature.

More than a guidebook, this book includes capsule biographies and well over a hundred photographs of writers, their residences, and their literary environments. It also provides maps and gives explicit directions to writers’ homes and other literary sites.

The sheer number of writers discovered, recovered, and claimed by Mississippi will astonish travelers both from within and from without the state. Included are not only such major figures in the pantheon of American literature as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, and Richard Wright but also the less well-known.

Every nook and cranny of the state claims a piece of Mississippi’s literary heritage. Literature pervades Yazoo City, Jackson, Greenville, Oxford, Natchez, the Gulf Coast, and the Delta Blues country. Willie Morris, Richard Ford, and Beverly Lowry have declared that a famous writer’s presence in their hometowns convinced them that they too could be writers.

As the locations bring to life the connection of ordinary rituals with the stuff of fiction, poetry, and memoir, these hands-on tours make evident the special cross-pollination of writer and community in Mississippi.

Patti Carr Black is the author of Art in Mississippi, 1720­1980 and The Southern Writers Quiz Book (both published by the University Press of Mississippi). Marion Barnwell, a fiction writer and an assistant professor of English at Delta State University, compiled and edited A Place Called Mississippi (published by the University Press of Mississippi).

I, Rhoda Manning, Go Hunting with My Daddy: And Other Stories

By Ellen Gilchrist

Little, Brown & Company (Hardcover, $25.95, ISBN: 0316173584)

Publication date: September 2002

Description from Booklist:

Gilchrist’s most captivating recurring character, the classy and indomitable Rhoda Manning, starred in many of the best offerings in Gilchrist’s altogether splendid Collected Stories (2000). Now more fascinating than ever at age 65, Rhoda rules this potent new collection, too, as she reflects on her contentious past, especially her complicated relationships with her tough and commanding father and her three headstrong sons. Her macho and assiduous father amassed a fortune selling tractors, abruptly left the “decadent” South for the clean and godly mountains of Wyoming, then schemed to lure his clan to his new world. Rhoda finally recognizes how much she resembles her impossible but righteous father, how much she misses him, and how much they both suffered over their failure to keep her wily sons away from drugs and other risky escapades. With Rhoda as her foil, Gilchrist writes with startling clarity about the narcotized 1970s, the wildness of teenagers, and the helplessness of parents.

Another of her intriguing regulars, Nora Jane, headlines in a superbly suspenseful tale that is set in earthquake-rocked San Francisco and features a band of Islamic terrorists. A virtuoso in the art of understatement with a profound sense of place and a flair for sly dialogue, Gilchrist choreographs unnerving scenarios with a devilish offhandedness.

Acutely observant, wry, and wise, Gilchrist loves to write about characters who have it all—beauty, wealth, and strong family ties—and therefore stand to lose so very much. “Nothing human is easy,” says a woman in one spring-loaded tale, and that says it all.

—Donna Seaman. Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.

Little Cliff and the Cold Place

By Clifton L. Taulbert, illustrations by E. B. Lewis

Dial Books for Young Readers (Hardcover, $16.99, ISBN: 0803725582)

Publication date: September 2002

Description from School Library Journal:

(Kindergarten-Grade 2) Little Cliff loves to look at maps and hear about places far away from his small, rural Mississippi town. His imagination is especially captured by his teacher’s description of the Arctic. He begs his great-grandfather to take him there so that he can see the snow houses, the children riding on sleds pulled by dogs, and people fishing in the ice. Poppa Joe explains that the few inches on a map can represent a great distance, shows him a book about the Arctic, and takes him to visit Mr. Jacob, who shows him photographs of his long-ago trip to Alaska. The next day, Poppa takes him to the one cold place in town-an icehouse. He puts several live fish in a bucket and gives Little Cliff a string and hook. “Now you can fish, jest like them boys in Alaska,” he says. “And you’ll be able to tell yore teacher that yore Poppa took you to the cold place after all.” The warm intergenerational relationships and the encouragement of intellectual curiosity and imagination are engaging. The ending is humorously satisfying with Poppa’s clever solution to the boy’s desire to go ice fishing. Lewis’s fresh watercolor illustrations are especially effective in evoking the loving relationship between the dignified African-American Poppa Joe and his great grandson. This sequel to the earlier “Little Cliff” titles stands well on its own. —Adele Greenlee, Bethel College, St. Paul, MN. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

The Selected Letters of Tennesee Williams, Volume 1: 1920-1945

By Tennessee Williams, edited by Albert J. Devlin and Nancy M. Tischler

New Directions (Paperback, $21.95, ISBN: 081121527X)

Publication date: September 2002

Description from Booklist:

It is fascinating to watch a major artist emerge—the first flashes of talent, the false steps, the distractions of friends, lovers, and family. It is doubly fascinating when the artist is someone as seductive and determined to capture attention as Tennessee Williams. This volume of his letters begins with a note, riddled with spelling errors, from the eight-year-old Williams at his grandfather’s house to his mother and ends with a flurry of excited letters dating from the weeks following his first Broadway success, The Glass Menagerie. In between, we see Williams in several phases: distracted student; defensive college dropout; money-begging pathetic case; outraged, rejected writer; high-potential low achiever drifting through New Orleans, New Mexico, and New York. At times, especially during the period when he attended, in succession, the University of Missouri, Washington University, and the University of Iowa without ever quite finding his calling, it seems miraculous that he ever did pull it together. Each letter in this addictively readable collection is accompanied by some biographical text that places it in context in Williams’ life and explains the obscurer and more personal allusions he makes. —Jack Helbig. Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.

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