Category: Southern Culture (Page 1 of 12)

Author Q & A with Panny Mayfield

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (September 3)

Panny Flautt Mayfield

Panny Flautt Mayfield

As an award-winning journalist and lifelong Mississippi Delta native, Panny Mayfield of Tutwiler has captured decades of blues and gospel music history through her camera lens–and her debut book, Live From the Mississippi Delta (University Press of Mississippi), tells that unique story through her unique, up-close perspective.

The recipient of more than 30 awards granted by the Mississippi Press Association, the Associated Press, the Mississippi Film Commission, and the College Public Relations Association of Mississippi, Mayfield’s work has been exhibited in museums across the U.S. and in Europe.

In Live from the Mississippi Delta, she shares more than 200 photos of Delta performers and their musicians, fans, friends, and families, taken at churches, clubs, festivals, and iconic juke joints, alongside her own detailed accounts of the lives and fortunes of dozens of familiar blues and gospel performers–including those who were Delta natives as well as international superstars who traveled from around the world to pay homage to the legends who influenced their own music.

Tell me about your childhood in Tutwiler and how you came to be a noted Mississippi Delta photographer.

Growing up in Tutwiler, a busy railroad town south of Clarksdale, I enjoyed small town life watching Randolph Scott movies at the Tutrovansum Theatre (a [portmanteau] for the Mississippi communities it served: Tutwiler, Rome, Vance, and Sumner), playing kick the can, and catching lightning bugs in Mason jars. I was aware of places like Lula Mae’s Sunrise Cafe where infectious music spilled out on the street, but it was totally off limits to me until I became an adult.

Photography fascinated me at about the age of 12. I began taking pictures and writing about cross-country family trips, became newspaper editor in high school and at Ole Miss, and began a lifelong career as a journalist and photographer.

I began taking blues photographs in the late 70s when Sid Graves founded Clarksdale’s Delta Blues Museum. Bluesman Wesley Jefferson needed a portfolio and asked me to photograph his Southern Soul Band playing at Margaret’s Blue Diamond Blues Club on the railroad tracks in Clarksdale’s New World District. I organized a folder for James “Super Chikan” Johnson who needed to get serious booking gigs.

It was Mae, Michael James’ lady, who began teaching me to dance to blues music in her kitchen. Decades later, I’m still working on my dancing and sharing the drama of the passionate music that is the Mississippi Delta blues.

After a career as a newspaper journalist and a public relations director for a community college, Live from the Mississippi Delta is your first book. How did this book come about?

My careers with newspapers, magazines, and Coahoma Community College were incredibly busy. Although I considered a book somwhere down the line, I was busy making a living and meeting ever-present deadlines until I retired in 2013. I was encouraged to put a book together by Molly Porter of Vermont, who scanned many of my photographs. Initially it was a book of photographs until Craig Gill, University Press of Mississippi’s director, urged me to include stories and text about many of the images, musicians, and events. The book itself is half text, half photos.

Explain what the blues, as a music genre, means to the Mississippi Delta.

I’m not sure if I can explain how much blues means to the Mississippi Delta. They are inseparable, conjoined. When the eminent folklorist and musician Alan Lomax returned to Clarksdale in 1994, he emphasized the similar, unique qualities of Coahoma County blues to the original rhythmic music of Senegal in Africa, and he encouraged a cultural revival in the Delta.

You helped launch Clarksdale’s Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in 1988. Are you still involved in it?

Jim O’Neal, co-founder of Living Blues magazine, and research director of Mississippi’s Blues Trail, co-founded the Sunflower River Blues Association, and he was here last month for the festival’s 30th anniversary. In 1988, we were considered an avant-garde bunch, but we followed Jim’s lead, staging a free music festival showcasing local musicians as well as well-known artists.

I asked Jim at that time what he thought of today’s Sunflower (festival), and he said he was glad it continued to be a unique, grassroots event where people felt comfortable and at home. This year, we had people from New Zealand, Italy, Germany, Paris, and Bangkok, Thailand.

I’m still publicist for the festival and I love our multiracial, diverse membership. I believe this contributes to the success of our festival.

Your book includes sections on Delta landscapes, “homegrown” and international blues musicians, Delta festivals, juke joints, and more, and your career as a photographer has given you front-row access to scores of musically influential events and people. What have you enjoyed the most and what have you found to be the most challenging?

My book begins with my own beginning in Tutwiler–also the birthplace of blues. it’s where W.C. Handy first head a guitar being played with a kitchen knife in 1903, and where the charismatic Robert Plant paid tribute in 2009 to the music that influenced his own phenomenal career.

I have been one incredibly person to have this background and to fine-tune it in Clarksdale, center of the blues universe. My books “homegrown icons”–radio broadcaster Early Wright, who invited me to his birthday dinners every February 10; and barber Wade Walton with his stuffed monkey Flukie–are just as important to me as international celebrities ZZ Top, James Brown, and Garth Brooks.

Describe Clarksdale’s association with its “sister city,” Notodden, Norway.

Clarksdale’s sister city relationship with Notodden, Norway, began in 1996 with initial visits by Norwegian journalists, musicians, and then city offiicials interested in researching blues history to enhance their own international festival and its connection with the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival.

Norwegian officials dined on catfish; were entertained at the Rivermount Lounge, a local club favored by Little Milton, Ike Turner, and Bobby Rush; and were taken to a Marvin Sease blues show at the City Auditorium that went on until 2 a.m. The next morning, they attended a service at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church at Friar’s Point, where members lined up to shake every Norwegian’s hand. Overnight, we became “cousins,” and exchanges between the two cities have flourished.

Tell me about the cover of your book.

live from the mississippi deltaI get emotional about the cover of my book. The musician–Arthneice Jones–is one of the most talented and articulate bluesmen I have known. A harmonica master and singer/songwriter, Arthneice was leader of The Stone Gas Band–a talented and popular bunch who played all over north Mississippi and Memphis before his untimely death. A musician who worked in concrete, Arthneice intrigued, charmed, and connected intimately with Sunflower acoustic audiences each summer with sidewalk philosophy mixed with music.

My initial choice for the book cover was a juke joint scene from Shelby’s Dew Drop Inn. But when University Press of Mississippi emailed, unannounced, the image of Arthneice imposed on raw Delta cotton fields, i cried. It was so perfect.

Do you have any plans for more books?

As a journalist trained to condense news and feature articles into brief, interesting opening lines with zero personal commentary, writing a book was a new experience. Fortunately, Craig Gill and the UPM staff were patient and encouraging. Helpful also were remembrances of my mother’s storytelling traditions.

A future book about 25 years of celebrating America’s great playwright with the Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival is a possibility.

‘Civil Rights, Culture Wars’ shows how textbook fight mirrors battle of Mississippi legacy

By Jere Nash. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (July 9).

civil rights culture warsNot until 1980 were Mississippi high schools allowed to use a textbook that accurately and dispassionately covered the entire history of the state, complete with the horrors of slavery, the motives behind the Civil War, the value of Reconstruction, and the triumphs of the civil rights movement. Civil Rights, Culture Wars: The Fight Over a Mississippi Textbook (University of North Carolina Press) by University of Mississippi historian Charles Eagles explains how it happened.

Several years ago, the University of North Carolina Press published The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss, the authoritative account by Eagles of the one event in the 1960s that defined Mississippi for the rest of the nation.

The disastrous response of whites in our state to the demand for civil and voting rights was prompted in part by 80 years of school textbooks that marginalized black men and women and distorted black history.

Eagles is unsparing in his descriptions of those earlier textbooks: one explained that “the life of a slave [was] pleasant,” while another textbook defended the role of the Ku Klux Klan, while yet another applauded the 1890 Constitutional Convention in seeking to “insure control of the state by the white man.” After eight decades of indoctrination of generations of white Mississippians with historical myths, it is not hard to see how that helped to fuel the fire of massive resistance.

MississippiConflictandChangeWhich brings us to James Loewen and Charles Sallis. In the 1970s, Loewen, a professor at Tougaloo College, and Sallis, a professor at Millsaps College, began to work together on a new kind of textbook, called Mississippi: Conflict and Change, that, as Eagles writes, “argued that conflict produces change, and [that] embraced controversial subjects related to race and class, examined unpleasant subjects such as economic depressions and violence, and included subjects neglected by other books–blacks, women, workers, and the arts.” Eagles takes us through how the book was researched, written and ultimately published in 1974.

Getting the book published, though, didn’t automatically mean it would show up in high schools. In Mississippi, then as now, a state board approves the textbooks for classroom use. And in November 1974, the board said no to Conflict and Change. With access to rich primary material, Eagles gives us a perceptive behind-the-scenes accounting of why that decision was made.

But the story doesn’t end there. Loewen, Sallis, and Eagles are just getting warmed up. The authors filed a historic lawsuit, asking a federal judge to force the state to accept their textbook, and Eagles delivers this development with backroom negotiations, trial testimony and lucid analysis. The litigation took six long years and was finally resolved on April 2, 1980, when Judge Orman Smith ordered the board to place Conflict and Change on the approved list.

Eagles captures the untenable position of the state in one short exchange between the judge and John Turnipseed, a teacher who rated the book unfavorably. After objecting to a photograph of a lynching because it would cause “harsh feelings in the classroom,” Turnipseed was asked by Judge Smith, “But this happened, didn’t it? Didn’t Mississippians have more lynchings than any other state?” Turnipseed testified, “Well, yes. But that all happened so long ago. Why dwell on it now?” To which the exasperated judge responded: “Well, it is a history book!”

As with his book on Meredith and Ole Miss, Eagles’ writing is marked by three qualities that I like. One, he builds the narrative around primary sources. He interviews people, he digs through old file boxes, and finds the records that tell the truth.

Two, he provides context. He not only sets the state for the story, he give us succinct biographical information on the players. The journey of Conflict and Change involved lawyers, historians, journalists, activists, including Ernst Borinski, Frank Parker, Mel Leventhal, Margaret Walker Alexander, Fred Banks, Clarice Campbell, Duncan Gray Jr., Jeanne Middleton, David Sansing, and John Bettersworth.

Third, Eagles doesn’t hesitate to give his opinion. I agreed with some, other I didn’t, but I like authors with opinions; it makes me stop and think.

I’ll close this review with an observation on the import of Conflict and Change by the incomparable Frank Parker, one of the lawyers for Loewen and Sallis: “Desegregation of the public schools in the South is now protected even more by a constitutional prohibition against maintaining racial segregation in the curriculum and in textbooks.”

Jere Nash is the co-author of Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power, 1976-2008, Mississippi Fried Politics, Tall Tales from the Backroom, and America’s Great Storm: Leading Through Hurricane Katrina.

Endurance in the Delta: ‘Trials of the Earth’ by Mary Mann Hamilton

unnamed-6Mary Mann Hamilton was a remarkable women who was encouraged to write down her life as a female pioneer. Hamilton was born in 1866 and passed away in 1936. It was later in her life that she began to write down her experiences of “taming the American South”– she writes about living through floods, fires, tornadoes, and her husband’s drinking. An early draft of Trials of the Earth was submitted to a writers’ competition sponsored by Little, Brown in 1933, but, unfortunately, it was not chosen at the time. Now, eighty-three years later, Mary Mann Hamilton’s book is the only known first-hand account of a woman pioneering her way through the South.

Hamilton is a fierce woman that I found absolutely fascinating.
She starts her book off with the marriage to her husband, Frank, whom she only marries because he has promised to care for her younger siblings. She doesn’t know much about Frank, a mysterious Englishman, which is shown throughout the book, but they seem to get along well. Together, they start to run a logging camp where Hamilton alone cooks, morning and night, for an average of 70 men working for her husband. She does this while also raising her children, some of whom do not make it through the perils of pioneer life.

Hamilton at the logging camp

Hamilton at the logging camp

Hamilton spends the majority of her book writing about her time in the Mississippi Delta’s woods and marshlands, as well as the role she plays in clearing a path for future cotton farmers. Throughout this time in her life, she encounters a flood that completely washes away her home and the family’s logging camp, buries children, and deals with her husband’s secretive life and drinking problem.

Hamilton in her later years

Hamilton in her later years

As it says on the dust jacket: “The extreme hard work and tragedy Hamilton faced are eclipsed only by her emotional and physical strength; her unwavering faith in her husband… and her tenacious sense of adventure.”

For what small amount of education Hamilton had during her life, she has created a beautifully written book. I sat down to read ten pages before bed one night and ended up reading seventy. I couldn’t put it down.

Nonfiction paperback picks for summer 2016

It’s that time of year. Spring is giving way to summer, school is letting out, and people are hitting the highway for vacations. It’s a perfect time to squeeze in some time for the reading that you’ve been meaning to do. I would like to recommend some nonfiction books, all out in paperback, that I think will be just the thing. They’re lightweight for packing, affordable, and hold up a lot better than your average e-reader when exposed to sand and water. So, with that in mind, let’s get to the recommendations…

CATEGORY 1: NEW IN PAPERBACK, BREEZY READING

[Both of these books were released in hardcover just last year, and they are both easy to read (and finish) books about cultural phenomena.]

Jacket (5)So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Ronson is the fey-voiced Welshman you might have heard on This American Life. He is also the author of The Pyschopath Test, among other books. Here he examines the concept of public shaming, specifically in the form of mass Twitter vigilantism. Whoever said “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” probably wasn’t anticipating the mass-volume payload delivery system that social media provides. Ronson thoughtfully examines the implications of a justice system that started with good intentions but is often used mercilessly against private citizens with momentary lapses of good judgment. Just keep reading past the section about Jonah Lehrer, his first case study (and not his most sympathetic).

Jacket (6)The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette

Man, the 90s were a weird time, filled with unwarranted optimism and unchecked consumerism. The story revolves on its axis of Ty Warner, the founder and CEO of the company that produced the Beanie Babies, a pretty great toy maligned in our memory by the mania that accompanied our desire to “collect them all.” The whole tale is outrageous and engaging from start to finish and a valuable reminder of the foibles of human nature.

CATEGORY 2: PAST YEAR GEMS, CRASH COURSES

[Both of these books are not quite new in paperback and are a little longer (in part because they are augmented by fascinating footnotes), but they are absorbing narrative reads to keep your mind sharp over the summer.]

Jacket (7)Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist

I must admit, I have always been in love with New Orleans. And what a fantastic subtitle this book has—if that doesn’t get you interested in history, what will? This account of New Orleans from the 1890s to 1920 weaves together the narratives of red-light district “mayor” Tom Anderson, conflicted brothel madam Josie Arlington, coronet player and jazz progenitor Buddy Bolden, a mysterious ax murderer, and many more. It explains how myth and reality, culture and class divide, hospitality and violence, have always existed in the city that care ostensibly forgot. It was only by coincidence that the beating heart of this tale, the red-light district Storyville, got its name from one subsequently-embarrassed city councilman (named Sidney Story) who was just trying to segregate sin from the more respectable parts of the city. But, trust me, after reading this whole book, you could wonder how the whole city isn’t called that.

Jacket (8)The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean

I’m not sure where you have to be in your chemistry education to be in the proper range between being able to understand it and also learning new things, but if you remember chemistry okay from high school, you should be fine. From his charming first anecdote about his mother spearing mercury droplets from broken thermometers to blowing my mind with how elements are made by stars in a process called stellar nucleosynthesis, this is a clear, exciting, and engaging look at the fundamental stuff the universe is made of that doesn’t forget to give things a human touch. Ask for a second bookmark to keep a place for the many wonderful footnotes you’ll be referring to constantly.

CATEGORY 3: THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION

Jacket (9)Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant

If you are reading a book blog from an independent book store in Jackson, Mississippi, I can only imagine that you might have heard of this book already. If you haven’t investigated this local literary phenomenon for yourself, I highly recommend that you do. Grant takes a probing, often hilarious, always empathetic, occasionally baffled look at life in the Mississippi delta. It’s got hunting, blues, and blood feuds mixed in with serious examinations of race, class, prisons, and education. It’s not so much that Grant discovers what native Mississippians don’t already know about our state; it’s how he elucidates the problems with a critical eye while still finding plenty of causes for celebration. It’s bound to be a Southern classic for a long time to come, and now is as good a time as any to read all about it for yourself.

“The Outlaw Years” by Robert M. Coates

According to Welty’s biographer Suzanne Marrs, it was a member of the Night-Blooming Cereus Club –Welty’s close group of friends who gathered to witness the night-blooming flower and enjoy one another’s company—who suggested that Welty read “The Outlaw Years” by Robert M. Coates. Welty was so affected by Coates’s harrowing stories of the Natchez Trace that she was inspired to write “The Wide Net” and “The Robber Bridegroom.”

outlaw years BKCL FE 11.15“The Outlaw Years” is a riveting read, the story of the murderous land pirates of the Natchez Trace. Originally a maze of animal migration routes later adapted for use by Native Americans, the Trace was eventually adopted by white traders and settlers migrating South. Thieves and murderers saw this population as an easy target.

Even today, Coates brings the history of the Natchez Trace land prates to life. While “Outlaw Years” may not be the most accurate history of the Trace, Coates reveals the mood and atmosphere of the 1800s. Many versions of the blood-thirsty Harpe brothers existed and Coates simply chose descriptions which made sense to him. In his defense, Coates rescued many old histories and travelogues from complete obscurity by retelling the stories of the Natchez Trace land pirates.

outlaw years FE woodcutCoates’ list of sources are as equally intriguing as the entire book: Fulkerson’s “Early Days in Mississippi” (1885) is cited as an “excellent book of gossip”; “Ashe’s Travels in America” (1808) is noted as a “very interesting chronicle of an astonished Englishman, on a trip down to the Mississippi”; and Rothert’s “The Outlaws of Cave-in-Rock” (1924) is credited as a major source for the book.

outlaw years FE 11.15Any Mississippi bookcase would not be complete without “The Outlaw Years.” First editions are embellished with illustrations and beautiful maps on the end papers. For collectors, note that there is a book club edition also published in 1930 through the Literary Guild of America. The true first edition is published in 1930 by the Macaulay Company. However, both of these editions are desirable as “The Outlaw Years” is out of print today.

Written by Lisa Newman, Original to The Clarion-Ledger. 

2015, I’d like to kiss you on the mouth.

dbdb37f2-a00d-4114-b5d6-1e42a0bc65cfThis year was a doozy. I consumed everything from nonfiction about animal consciousness to the modern classic Fates and Furies by Lemuria’s new best friend, Lauren Groff. I can’t even get into the second paragraph without telling you that The Godfather was hands down my favorite read of the year. You can read my blog about it here. I had the chance to sit down and talk to Garth Risk Hallberg about his meteoric rise in the literary world. Jon Meacham made me cry.

I personally made the move from the hub that is Lemuria’s front desk to the quieter fiction room, where I now am elbows deep in the mechanics of our First Editions Club; and am coincidentally even more in love with fiction than I was before. My TBR pile has skyrocketed from about 10 books to roughly 30 on my bedside table. It’s getting out of control and I love it.

[Sidebar: This year, I fell even more in love with graphic novelsNimona surprised us all by making one of the short-lists for the National Book Award, and we were so pleased to see it get the recognition that it deserves. Go Noelle Stevenson! You rule!]

As a bookstore, we were able to be on the forefront of some of the most influential books of 2015 (see: Between the World and Me– when we passed that advance reader copy around, the rumblings were already beginning). Literary giants Salman Rushdie, John Irving, and Harper Lee put out new/very, very old works to (mostly) thunderous applause, and debut novelists absolutely stunned and shook up the book world. (My Sunshine Away, anyone? I have never seen the entire staff band behind a book like that before. We were/are obsessed.) Kent Haruf’s last book was published; it was perfect, and our hearts ache in his absence.

We marched through another Christmas, wrapping and reading and recommending and eating enough cookies to make us sick. We hired fresh new faces, we said goodbye to old friends, we cleaned up scraggly, hairy sections of the store and made them shiny and new. We had the privilege of having a hand in Mississippi’s first ever book festival. We heaved in the GIANT new Annie Leibovitz book, and spent a few days putting off work so that we could all flip through it. In short, this year has been anything but uneventful; it’s been an adventure. So here’s to 2016 absolutely knocking 2015 out of the park.

Read on, guys.

 

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Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: Willie’s House

This blog originally ran last year just before the release of Lemuria’s book Jackson: Photographs by Ken Murphy. We’ve been so grateful for the outpouring of love and hope for our great city that you’ve shared with us over the past year and a half; and we’re enormously proud of this book. Our hope is that every time you flip through its pages, you’re reminded of the Jackson you have loved, and join us in dreaming to achieve a great future for our home.

Written by Chris Ray

We always felt that the house chose us as much as we chose it. Carolyn and I had been to a couple of JoAnne’s parties, the last one being the celebration of the movie release of My Dog Skip after Willie died. I was always struck with how real their home felt, surrounded by genuine laughter, someone playing the piano, curiosities and ephemera, and of course, a library’s worth of books.

When JoAnne decided that the house was too big for her to keep up, I believe that she not only wanted to find someone to buy the house, but also to honor it. Which brings up an interesting challenge: how do you make a home yours, while honoring those who came before you?

We’ve tried to do both – and I think that Willie would be happy to see that the cats from the neighborhood still hang out in the crawl space. Curious literary fans still drive by slowly. There are dozens of assorted balls and sports gear scattered about the house, garage, and yard. In fact, our son John keeps a collection of baseballs in the same small closet where Willie kept his. And the books, my gosh, the books. They are everywhere.

We have Willie’s highway map of Yazoo County framed upstairs and a photo downstairs of Willie taken by his son, David Rae. And every now and then, we will find some odd treasure that Willie had hidden or misplaced. I think Willie would like the fact that our neighbors, Governor Winter and Dick Molpus, still tell Willie stories every time we see them. Dick told me recently that Willie would walk down to his house every Christmas to say hello as part of his “once-a-year exercise.”

But I don’t think Willie would want his former home to be a shrine. Or something too precious. I think he would appreciate that the paint is peeling here and there and there’s a patch where we just can’t get grass to grow. I think he’d be happy to see it alive, with the same kind of love and laughter that you felt and heard when he lived there.

To order a copy of Jackson: photographs by Ken Murphy , call Lemuria Books at 601.366.7619 or order online here

Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: My dream of reliving the Farish Street of my youth

This blog originally ran last year just before the release of Lemuria’s book Jackson: Photographs by Ken Murphy. We’ve been so grateful for the outpouring of love and hope for our great city that you’ve shared with us over the past year and a half; and we’re enormously proud of this book. Our hope is that every time you flip through its pages, you’re reminded of the Jackson you have loved, and join us in dreaming to achieve a great future for our home.

Written by Jimmie E. Gates, political writer/columnist at The Clarion-Ledger

When I was in my teens, one of my biggest thrills was coming to Farish Street in downtown Jackson.

It was the sight and sounds of a hustling mecca of black life. There were snappy dressed females with their hats. There were men dressed in classy suits, which made you think of The Apollo Theater or the old Cotton Club in Harlem. We had our Crystal Place on Farish Street, and for good measure, we had our Alamo Theater, which was a movie theater. I will never forget going to the Alamo Theater to watch Bruce Lee movies, Godzilla versus the Three-Headed Monster, and most of all watching actress Pam Grier in films.

Those were the days for me growing up. Farish Street was like a whole new world to me. There would be Mr. Armstrong selling Jet Magazines on Farish Street and vendors selling roasted peanuts in small bags and other items. The shoe shine guy, “Bear Trap,” would stay busy; there was a bakery/donut shop, but my favorite was the ice cream plant. Whenever we would be on Farish Street, we would always go by the ice cream plant. The ice cream man, whose name escapes me today, would give us ice cream bars. He would always be dressed in a white uniform and wearing a hat to match.

We would always come to Farish Street and shop. Although Farish Street was the mecca of black life in the 60s and 70s, many of the clothing stores and shoe stores were Jewish-owned.

I will never forget my Farish Street days. I don’t know when Farish Street began to deteriorate, but it probably occurred after the first mall opened in the city. Jackson Mall opened in 1969 followed by  Metrocenter in 1978. Farish Street stores and other stores began to leave the downtown area for the malls.

We longed for the bygone days of our youths; sometimes wondering if we can recreate those years.

I pass the empty shell of the buildings lining Farish Street today wondering if the hustle and bustle of the street will ever live again.

Decades have gone by since Farish Street was the place to go. There have been talk about reclaiming the area as an entertainment district, but the talk hasn’t materialized into returning Farish Street to its heydays.

I know others have their own fond memories of places and things in Jackson that were once special to them. Farish Street was that place for me.

There was a song by the late Luther Vandross  called “Dance With My Father” that was one of my favorites. The lyrics were based upon Vandross’ childhood  memories of  his late father and mother often dancing together. Vandross knew his dream could never come true when he wrote the song because his father was deceased. We all have our dreams; the dreams that would make us happy. Seeing Farish Street alive again with life and vitality would be a dream come true for me.

 

Ken Murphy will be joining us in the store all day today (December 23) and will be signing copies of all of his books!

Why Maude Schuyler Clay’s ‘Mississippi History’ is Breathtaking

Jacket (1)Maude Schuyler Clay has a new photography book. On a whim, I decided to flip through its pages because I do love a good coffee table book. Looking at these photos, I felt goose bumps; as someone who appreciates art, and the intricacies that are often involved in the history of art, this collection of photographs feels both intimate and timeless. And as there has been a bent and focus on the Delta recently (Richard Grant’s Dispatches of Pluto, an incredible outsider’s view of Mississippi), the sense of place in these photos counterbalanced Grant’s book and is clearly an insider’s view of Mississippi.

At first, I did not know that these people, or subjects of the photographs, were Clay’s own family and friends. But every time I would see a character’s name appear in a different photograph, in a different time, in a different location, I felt a jolt of recognition, a connection with that person who I had also seen several pages back.

What I love about this collection is that it is not chronological. Pictures of her children at twelve appear before pictures of her children when they are toddlers. And because of this repetition, the people in these photographs aren’t just subjects, but characters, part of a story. Clay could have easily called this book “My Mississippi History.” But it wouldn’t have retained the same mysteriousness; it was only after reading the closing words at the end of the book that I learned these people were her own children and family—after all, there are pictures of them in the bathtub, and on Christmas morning. Where else would the photographer be on Christmas morning than at home with her family?

The ambiguity with which the photographs are arranged and presented allows the viewers to place themselves in that moment, to recognize a piece of themselves in Mississippi History. The photographs were taken over the past three decades, so I also loved guessing when the photographs were shot. Some are clearly recent; “Mr. Biggers” has Apple earbuds in his ears as he stands with fresh greens in his hand. Some are unmistakably from the 70s. My favorite picture is of “Anna as Heidi.” All of the photographs are gorgeously artistic and intimate. The majority of these photos are of children, especially Clay’s own children in different stages of their lives, so the photographs have a very evident “mother’s eye-view” in them, a look at what a real Mississippi mother truly sees.

Today, anyone can take a picture on Instagram, put a fancy filter on it and call themselves a “photographer.” Clay shows that she is a genius in the art of photography, and has been using light and shadows in nature to create those illusive filters we place on photographs today.

Flipping through the pages of Mississippi History feels like flipping through a good friend’s photo album. It is the perfect gift for that person who loves to take pictures of their children, and also perfect for anyone who has grown up here in the Magnolia State.

 

Join us on Thursday, December 17 at 5:00 for a signing event for Mississippi History! 

Repost: Christmas in Small Business, Mississippi

Originally posted during the intoxicating rush of Christmas season 2014.

“Why are there 10 people behind the desk right now?!”

It’s a frequently asked question here during the holidays at Lemuria. You could say that we prepare for Christmas the way armies prepare for war…but it’s less terrible and way more fun. We beef up the staff, pump up the inventory, order pizza for the troops, and wait at the front lines to take special orders, ship presents to your cousins in L.A., and find you the perfect novel for your best friend.

Working at Lemuria during the holidays is undoubtedly my favorite time of year. Tis the season for Kelly and myself to don dresses and blazers, lovely earrings and kitten heels, sore feet be damned. It’s when I can put my favorite classics into the hands of parents to give to their children. Classics for Christmas! I can’t explain it, but it’s definitely a thing. It’s when we get to reflect on all of the books that we read in the past year and tell you all about them. Me? I killed some pretty incredible middle grade this year. Oh and graphic novels? Don’t even get me started, it’s been 12 months of nothing but wonderful discovery in that area.

Christmas in a bookstore is when we’re stretched both mentally and physically. Those boxes of of the Jackson book are definitely heavier than they look. Christmas is about lifting with your legs, not your back. We get asked some pretty weird questions around this time of year, too. You guys love your friends and family so much that you’re willing to go to almost any lengths possible to get them what they want for Christmas, and we appreciate that. Still, there’s only so much we can do when you ask for books by “Jill Lasagna”. (not a real person)

Anywhere else in the world, working retail during the holidays can truly be a nightmare, but here at this little bookstore, we are so lucky to be selling something that we all love so much to people who have kept us in business all these years. A lot of times, I tell my friends that it’s like something from a movie with all the bustling about with wrapped packages and the warm coziness of being surrounded by books. The store is full, and although we wish it was this full all year long, we cherish the few weeks leading up to Christmas. We love talking to you all. We love recommending books that will spread joy and imagination.

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