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Welcome to the Mississippi Writers Page Newsletter for November 1-7, 2002

In this issue:


The following events all happened during this week in Mississippi history.

1848: The University of Mississippi opened its first semester of classes, with a class consisting of 79 Mississippians and one Tennessean. The first university president was George Frederick Holmes, a 28-year-old who would remain in office for only five months. (Nov. 6)

1900: English professor Walter Fuller Taylor was born in Clinton, Mississippi. (Nov. 1)

1903: Psychologist and historian Zed H. Burns was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Nov. 3)

1915: Educator Jewel Goodgame Varnado was born in Collins, Mississippi. (Nov. 3)

1918: Medical writer and historian John F. Stegeman was born in Gulfport, Mississippi. (Nov. 6)

1919: English professor Gwin Jackson Kolb was born in Aberdeen, Mississippi. (Nov. 2)

1919: Psychologist John Calvin Glidewell was born in Okolona, Mississippi. (Nov. 5)

1924: Tennessee Williams’ first story, “Isolated,” was published in Junior Life, a bi-weekly newspaper of Blewett Junior High School in St. Louis, Missouri. (Nov. 7)

1926: Theologian James Earl Sellers was born in Lucedale, Mississippi. (Nov. 1)

1931: French professor H. Gaston Hall was born in Jackson, Mississippi. (Nov. 7)

1934: William Faulkner published the short story “Raid” in the Saturday Evening Post. (Nov. 2)

1938: English professor and poet Robert W. Hamblin was born in Jericho (Union County), Mississippi. (Nov. 5)

1939: William Faulkner published “Hands upon the Waters” in the Saturday Evening Post. (Nov. 4)

1940: Historian Jane F. Lancaster was born in Hamilton, Mississippi. (Nov. 7)

1941: Novelist Jessie Rosenberg was born in Greenville, Mississippi. (Nov. 1)

1941: A Curtain of Green by Eudora Welty was published by Doubleday in New York. (Nov. 7)

1943: Writer Linda Peavy was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. (Nov. 5)

1944: Fiction writer Karen Beth Luckett was born in Canton, Mississippi. (Nov. 1)

1946: Walker Percy, aged 30, married Mary Bernice Townsend. (Nov. 7)

1947: Poet and educator Rose Parkman Davis was born in Silver Creek, Mississippi. (Nov. 2)

1965: Historian William Leo Hansberry died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Chicago, Illinois. (Nov. 3)

1974: Tennessee Williams’ play Battle of Angels opened at Circle Theatre in New York, 34 years after its Boston premiere. (Nov. 2)

1980: Journalist and editor George W. Healy, Jr., died. (Nov. 2)

1981: Crimes of the Heart, a play by Beth Henley, premiered on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre. The play would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1981. (Nov. 4)

1981: Novelist, playwright, and film-maker Edwin Corley died of a heart attack in Gulfport, Mississippi. (Nov. 7)

1983: Theologian and philosopher James Brown died. (Nov. 7)

1999: Psychologist Sarah Harman Broman died after a stroke near Washington, D.C. (Nov. 2)


After ten-year wait, new Donna Tartt novel finally hits bookstores

Nov. 1, 2002

The wait is over.

In 1992, first-time novelist Donna Tartt took the publishing world by storm when her novel The Secret History became a surprise best-seller. The novel, set in a New England college town rocked by a shocking murder, instantly established Tartt as one of those rarities in the publishing world: a writer who achieves both popular and critical success on the first try.

Then … nothing. Fans who eagerly awaited her next novel had to settle for occasional fiction or nonfiction pieces published in periodicals such as Harper’s or listen to her radio appearance on NPR on the topic of Gothic literature. Fan web sites speculated, when would we see the next Donna Tartt novel?

That wait is finally over, as Knopf Publishers have just released The Little Friend, Tartt’s second novel.

At first glance, it seems quite different from her earlier work. Instead of pastoral New England, The Little Friend is set in a small Mississippi. Rather than characters deeply versed in classical Roman and Greek, here the characters include virtual prototypes of the southern redneck akin to William Faulkner’s Snopes family.

Still, both novels feature a gruesome murder, and it is the exploration of that dark side of humanity that Tartt chooses to highlight in both novels.

“I’m interested less in the act of murder itself than in what drives people to it, and the echoes and repercussions of the act,” Tartt says in an interview published on the Knopf web site.

Critics for the most part have responded favorably to the new novel. Reviewer A. O. Scott in the New York Times Book Review notes resemblance between Harriett, the twelve-year-old protagonist of the novel who sets out to avenge the murder of her brother twelve years earlier, and other classic heroines of southern literature, including Caddy in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Frankie in The Member of the Wedding, characters to whom she is linked “by deeper affinities of temperament—by a fierce, adolescent sense of right and wrong and by the dangerous habit of sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong.”

To publicize the novel, Tartt will be traveling around the country to make appearances, including stops in New York Massachusetts, Florida, Tennessee, Colorado, California, Washington, and of course, Mississippi. Her full tour schedule is available on the Knopf web site.


Ole Miss English professor heads to Italy in prestigious Rockefeller program

Nov. 4, 2002

Alfred Lopez, UM assistant professor of English, pictured with his 4-1/2-year-old African Grey parrot, is researching the conflict between Castro's regime in Cuba and Cuban Americans in Miami.

By Deidra Jackson
University of Mississippi News Services

OXFORD, Miss. — Alfred Lopez, an assistant professor of English at the University of Mississippi, has been invited by the Rockefeller Foundation to attend a prestigious summer residency in Bellagio, Italy.

Lopez, who joined the UM faculty this fall, is at work on a book about the history of ideological conflict between the Castro regime on the island of Cuba and the Cuban Americans in Miami, Fla. During his May to June 2003 residency at the Bellagio Study and Conference Center in northern Italy, Lopez said he plans rigorous research.

“There’s a lot of reading to be done before I can write a full draft of the book, so I’ll be using my time at Bellagio to read, read, read,” said Lopez, a New York native who grew up in Miami’s Little Havana community. His research includes work by Jose Marti, a 19th century Cuban nationalist writer and patriot, and divergent bodies of criticism and biography that have been written since his death in 1895.

“I’ve always wanted to write a book that would present a more balanced, nuanced picture of what everyone—participants included—sees as a very polarized, ‘with-us-or-against-us’ environment in both Miami and Havana.”

Lopez is one of 15 Rockefeller summer residents of various fields and countries who expect a publication, exhibition, performance or other product to result from their visit.

“This is a significant honor for him and for the Department of English, and as we hired Dr. Lopez, it’s a nice confirmation of our good judgment,” said Joseph Urgo, chair of the UM Department of English.

The author of Posts and Pasts: A Theory of Postcolonialism, Lopez has written an excerpt of his current book project, which will be published in the spring 2003 issue of Cuban Studies, a top journal in its field. He said his topic is personal, referring to his longtime interest in Marti and Cuban issues.

“As a Cuban-American, these questions cut very, very close to me, since I grew up in the heart of the Cuban exile community in Miami,” Lopez said. “I’ve always suspected that there were other ways of thinking about Cuban-ness and what it means to identify as a Cuban than what we were told as children in history and literature classes.”

This semester, Lopez is teaching a world literature survey and major authors in world literature, and he is planning courses in psychoanalysis and literature, postcolonial studies and the Cuban migration story.

Widely published in journals and essays, Lopez has two other projects soon to be published—a translation of Cuban writer Daina Chaviano’s “El hombre, la hembra, y el hambre” (“Man, Woman, Hunger”) and a collection of essays, Postcolonial Whiteness: A Critical Reader.

Before his UM appointment, Lopez was an assistant professor of English at Florida International University in Miami. He received doctoral and master’s degrees in English from the University of Iowa and master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Ohio State University and Florida International University, respectively.

The Rockefeller Center is a global foundation that works to enrich and sustain the lives and livelihoods of poor and excluded people throughout the world, through themes including creativity and culture. Applicants are accepted not just for individual excellence or for the potential of their proposed projects, but also for their geographical diversity and their capacity to contribute to the intellectual mix at the Bellagio Center.

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NEW BOOKS by Mississippi Writers

The Little FriendThe Little Friend

By Donna Tartt

Knopf (Hardcover, $26.00, ISBN: 0679439382)

Publication date: October 2002

Description from Publishers Weekly:

Widely anticipated over the decade since her debut in The Secret History, Tartt’s second novel confirms her talent as a superb storyteller, sophisticated observer of human nature and keen appraiser of ethics and morality. If the theme of The Secret History was intellectual arrogance, here it is dangerous innocence. The death of nine-year-old Robin Cleve Dufresnes, found hanging from a tree in his own backyard in Alexandria, Miss., has never been solved. The crime destroyed his family: it turned his mother into a lethargic recluse; his father left town; and the surviving siblings, Allison and Harriet, are now, 12 years later—it is the early ’70s—largely being raised by their black maid and a matriarchy of female relatives headed by their domineering grandmother and her three sisters.

Although every character is sharply etched, 12-year-old Harriet-smart, stubborn, willful-is as vivid as a torchlight. Like many preadolescents, she’s fascinated by secrets. She vows to solve the mystery of her brother’s death and unmask the killer, whom she decides, without a shred of evidence, is Danny Ratliff, a member of a degenerate, redneck family of hardened criminals. (The Ratliff brothers are good to their grandmother, however; their solicitude at times lends the novel the antic atmosphere of a Booth cartoon.) Harriet’s pursuit of Danny, at first comic, gathers fateful impetus as she and her best friend, Hely, stalk the Ratliffs, and eventually, as the plot attains the suspense level of a thriller, leads her into mortal danger. Harriet learns about betrayal, guilt and loss, and crosses the threshold into an irrevocable knowledge of true evil.

If Tartt wandered into melodrama in The Secret History, this time she’s achieved perfect control over her material, melding suspense, character study and social background. Her knowledge of Southern ethos—the importance of family, of heritage, of race and class—is central to the plot, as is her take on Southerners’ ability to construct a repertoire, veering toward mythology, of tales of the past. The double standard of justice in a racially segregated community is subtly reinforced, and while Tartt’s portrait of the maid, Ida Rhew, evokes a stereotype, Tartt adds the dimension of bitter pride to Ida’s character.

In her first novel, Tartt unveiled a formidable intelligence. The Little Friend flowers with emotional insight, a gift for comedy and a sure sense of pacing. Wisely, this novel eschews a feel-good resolution. What it does provide is an immensely satisfying reading experience. Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Description from Booklist:

Tartt’s second novel (following The Secret History, 1992) is well worth the long wait. It is an exceptionally suspenseful, flawlessly written story fairly teeming with outsize characters and roiling emotion, and at its center, in the eye of the storm, is a ruthlessly clever, poker-faced 12-year-old named Harriet. When she was just a baby, her nine-year-old brother, Robin, was murdered. In the years since, her mother has been entirely defeated by her grief, often lying in bed with a headache, while her father has been absent, working in another town. Harriet’s stern grandmother and dithering aunts have idealized and exalted Robin, leaving Harriet and her sister feeling wholly inadequate.

After suffering an immense loss—the firing of her “beloved, grumbling, irreplaceable” black maid and surrogate mother—Harriet decides to get revenge on Danny Ratliff, the man she believes murdered her brother. She thinks she can resurrect the happy family she knows only from photographs. With muscular, visceral descriptive prose and a relentless narrative drive—the climax is almost unbearably tense—Tartt details how a young girl exacts street justice with cold cunning. And the abusive Ratliffs are a stunning creation; hopped up on methamphetamine and twisted dynamics, they are a modern-day version of Faulkner’s Snopes family. Tartt’s first novel was a surprise runaway best-seller; this time around, no one should be taken by surprise. —Joanne Wilkinson. Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.

AUTHOR EVENTS: Book Signings, Readings, and Appearances

Nov. 11: Bondurant Hall Auditorium, University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi, 7:00 p.m.

Poetry Reading by J. D. McClatchy. He is the author of four books of poetry, including The Rest of the Way (1992) and Ten Commandments (1998), two collections of essays, and has edited numerous books, including The Vintage Book of World Poetry (1996) and The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry (1990). Since 1991 he has been editor of The Yale Review, and in 1996 he was named a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets. Sponsored by the John and Renee Grisham Visiting Writers Series and the Department of English. For more information, contact the English Department at (662) 915-7687,

Nov. 12: Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi, 5:00 p.m.

Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides, Beach Music and The Great Santini, will be at Square Books to read and sign copies of his new book, My Losing Season. For more information, visit the Square Books web site,

Nov. 13: Lemuria Bookstore, 202 Banner Hall, Jackson, Mississippi, 5:30 p.m.

Donna Tartt, author of The Secret History, will sign and read from her long-awaited second novel, The Little Friend, at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi. For more information, visit the Lemuria Books web site,

Nov. 14: Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi, 5:30 p.m.

Donna Tartt, author of The Secret History, will sign and read from her long-awaited second novel, The Little Friend, at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. For more information, visit the Square Books web site,

Nov. 14: Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi, 4:00 p.m.

Mary Carol Miller will sign copies of Lost Landmarks of Mississippi. For more information, visit the Square Books web site,

Nov. 15: Burke’s Bookstore, Memphis, Tennessee, 5:00 p.m.

Donna Tartt, author of The Secret History, will sign and read from her long-awaited second novel, The Little Friend, at Burkes Bookstore in Memphis, Tennessee. For more information, visit the store web site,


If you know of upcoming literary events by or about Mississippi writers, please let us know by writing us at 


The following events are planned for the coming weeks and months. You may wish to begin planning now to attend or participate.

January 16, 2003

Poetry Reading by Tom Chandler, Bondurant Hall Auditorium, The University of Mississippi campus, in Oxford.

February 6, 2003

U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2002) Billy Collins reads from his poetry and offers commentary on his work and other matters. Bondurant Hall Auditorium, The University of Mississippi campus in Oxford.

February 17, 2003

A reading by Clifton L. Taulbert on the University of Mississippi campus in Oxford.

March 25, 2003

Poetry Reading by Andrew Hudgins, Bondurant Hall Auditorium, The University of Mississippi campus, in Oxford.

March 26-30, 2003

Seventeenth Annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, New Orleans, Louisiana. For information, visit their web site at

April 10-13, 2003

Oxford Conference for the Book, Oxford, Mississippi.

July 20-25, 2003

30th Annual Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference, The University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi

If you know of additional news items for this newsletter or if you have suggestions, please write us at

For more information about events in the Oxford and University of Mississippi community, see the Ole Miss Community Calendar:

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