I am so in awe of author Willie Morris. During our snow break, I read Yazoo: Integration in a Deep-Southern Town, Remembering Willie, Good Old Boy, and The Ghost of Rowan Oak: William Faulkner’s Ghost Stories for Children. In the last book mentioned, he wrote the introduction portion for one of his best friends, Dean Faulkner Wells.
Morris mentions in Yazoo that he was reluctant to leave his boyhood home and walk around the town where he grew up after writing his bestseller, North Toward Home. Three years after publishing the book, he returned to the community to begin Yazoo. It was his hope to flesh out the trials and tribulations of forced integration in his own Yazoo City High School and maintain a dignity to all those who he was about to write.
Morris explained his reluctance to venture into the community because of North Toward Home by stating, “My book, as such things always do in our country, had deeply disturbed the town. Many people there thought I had damaged and condemned it. One person wrote me that I had besmirched the memory of my father. Another wrote a letter published on the front page of the Yazoo Herald that I had embarrassed my church, my school, and my friends. My mother received a few threatening calls. I got pointed warnings about what would happen if I ever came back.”
It was Willie’s childhood friend, Bubba Barrier, that got him out and amongst his people. He called Willie who was living in New York to let him know that North Toward Home was selling like hotcakes in town. The drugstore had a line around the block to buy it and over 100 holds on the library copy.
Bubba eased Willie’s fears by explaining that the reaction to the book was split. Fifty percent loved the book and were very proud of it and the other half hated it. Bubba felt that the half that hated it were mad because they were not mentioned.
It took another group of friends to talk Willie into returning to Mississippi to live out the rest of his life. Larry and Dean Faulkner Wells paved the way for Willie Morris to be the first writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi.
Larry Wells will be appearing at the second annual Author Rodeo Roundup, Saturday, March 28 at the R.C. Pugh Library from 2:00-4:00 p.m. on the Northwest Senatobia campus. As a panelist, Wells will be discussing his new Yoknapatawpha Press release of RIOT: Witness to Anger and Change by Edwin E. Meek.