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Coastal Mississippi as Literary Hub

When you think of Coastal Mississippi, you likely don't think of literature or even mass market fiction or anyone of renown. William Faulkner's (and Donna Tartt's) Mississippi is many hours from the white sand beaches that were once ripped up by 120 mile per hour winds and the 27 foot high storm surge of Hurricane Katrina.

Yet from the moment I got here, I've had books on the brain. It started with the realization that, while I picked the town of Pass Christian (which is apparently pronounced Pass Chris-tee-anne) at random, I am only five miles from the home town of Jesmyn Ward, a writer I greatly admire. Her work is a tough emotional read and really gets at the heart of life down here for many poor people. If I could write a modern list of required reading in high school for kids to truly understand the breadth of the American experience, Salvage the Bones would be very high on the list.

Naturally, I had to go to her town. Being an outsider, I wasn't likely to see anything like the extreme poverty that her books describe, but I did find a very lovely café that I ordered takeout from several times. 

outdoor seating at a cafe

Then there is New Orleans. It's no surprise that in a town with so much art and culture, literature is everywhere. I'm no Anne Rice fan any more than I am a Stephen King fan, but she is undeniably successful and intrinsically linked to New Orleans. And as much as I despised A Confederacy of Dunces, I had to stop at the Ignatius J Reilly statue. 

woman in front of house     woman next to statue of a man

But back to Mississippi. The town I'm in has the loveliest little bookstore with an excellent collection of literary fiction and a vast selection of books by local authors. I bought and read Dispatches from Pluto in a matter of days, and you should too. While, like Faulker's tales, these stories take place in a different Mississippi, I was instantly enthralled. It's so refreshing to see a liberal couple take a chance on Mississippi and dive in with whole body and mind to find the good in the place and the people. The author and his girlfriend made a genuine effort to integrate and understand why people in this area of Mississippi are they way are instead of making judgments about them based on no similar life experience. And they had a great time! Also, the writing is so, so funny, along the same lines of Bill Bryson and Michael Perry.

I also picked up a novel from an author I've taken writing class with back in Denver. I'm not sure why I never bought one of Tiffany Quay Tyson's novels before, but when I saw her book sitting in the Mississippi authors section, I didn't hesitate to add it to my pile. Is it good? TBD but I'll let you know some day on my other blog.

books on a table with view of beach

I'll branch out from the literary for just a moment and note that, since being here, it has also come to my attention that broadcaster Robin Roberts and comedian Tig Notaro are from Pass Christian. Tig made a shortlived tragi-drama-edy about the region, which you can watch on Amazon. 

It seems this is not quite the sleepy little backwater town I imagined.

Finally, although I've never read a Neil Gaiman novel and he has nothing at all to do with this place, every time I run from my driveway down the beach, when I crest the tiny hill beyond which the sparkling blue becomes visible, I always think, ah, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. And I love it.

ocean beyond a stop sign