Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mississippi Autobiographies (copy)

Reading Richard Wright’s autobiography Black Boy this week, I was suddenly hit with an epiphany. Many writers have found their upbringing in Mississippi as either idyllic or horrific, but all have written excellently about their experience; thus, the state of Mississippi produces quality autobiographies!

As a new manager of the Como Public Library in 1996, I found myself in uncharted waters. I grew up in Tennessee and was unfamiliar with my new adopted state. To gain knowledge, I decided to ask patrons about Mississippi authors or books about the state. A lovely woman suggested Mildred Topp’s Smile Please.

What a state treasure! Mildred’s mother found herself a widow after only five years of marriage and forced to move back to her hometown of Greenwood, MS, in 1907. In order to support herself and her two girls, she opened a photography shop using her late husband’s equipment.

Little Mildred had a keen eye for the characters of Greenwood. Nowhere else will one read about a conjure woman named Mammy Lou, or a cowboy who came to town to steal a widow’s heart. Published in 1948, copies are rare but still available at your public library. Within the book’s cover, readers will be rewarded with photos taken at the studio.

Another excellent autobiography is Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings. Eudora was that little fly on the wall constantly hiding under tables, behind chairs, and in closets waiting for the chance to hear adult conversation. She took those forbidden stories and created the truest characters in the South. Plus, who would not enjoy skating up and down the halls of our state’s Capitol along with young Eudora.

Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi will have you on razor’s edge as she fights for her rights. I consider Anne, a humble sharecropper’s daughter who raised attitude to a new level, to be a modern day hero. Many Mississippian’s can learn from her experiences as she faces the harsh realities of being black and female during the Civil Rights Movement in Woodville, MS.

Two newer autobiographies worth mentioning are Mississippi Sissy by Kevin Sessums and The Peddler’s Grandson by Edward Cohen. Kevin speaks of growing up gay in Forest, MS, and Edward writes of his experiences feeling like the only Jewish man in Jackson, MS.

What would your Mississippi story be if you could write one?

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