The literature of Mississippi, United States, includes fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Mississippi has a literary tradition that arise from a diverse mix of cultures and races. Traditional themes from this genre of literature lean towards the past, conflict and change, and southern history in general; however, in the modern era, work have shifted towards deeply Southern works that do not rely on these traditional themes.
Some prominent writers from Mississippi's past include William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Tennessee Williams, and Eudora Welty, while modern writers include John Grisham, Natasha Trethewey, Jesmyn Ward, and Michael Farris Smith.
Early history (1800s-1920s)Edit
Beginning from statehood in 1817, Mississippi played a very small role in United States literature. Weber (1898) mentioned that at the time of his writing, Mississippi had "few grounds for boasting. The list of Mississippi books is not long; the average quality is nothing. Of pure literature, of the real literature of power, we have contributed scarcely 50 pages to the world's store."
Mississippi's general trend of apathy towards serious literature continued into the 1920s, with Elsie Dersham (1921) reiterating Weber's statements in "An Outline of American State Literature" and discussing lost opportunities to add to Mississippi's literary repertoire. The author writes:
Mississippi has contributed much more to politics than to literature. With the single exception of the poems of Irvin Russel, Mississippi has produced nothing which literary men have been willing to give a place in American literature. She has many interesting Indian legends and negro folk tales, and accounts of the doings of Mississippian laws that should be collected and made a part of her literature. Williams Ward is one of Mississippi's best poets and is the author of the well known poem "Katie Did."
Literary beginnings (1930s-1940s)Edit
Civil rights era (1950s-1970s)Edit
The University Press of Mississippi began operating in 1970. With the support of the state's eight public universities and the Mississippi Institutes of Higher Learning, the press publishes around 85 books a year on topics concerning the culture of the South, expert books, and writings related to specialized topics, such as African American, Caribbean, and pop culture studies.
Modern era (1980s-present)Edit
In the modern era, writers have shifted towards deeply Southern works that do not necessarily rely on traditional themes related to the Lost Cause and racial conflict. The change in race relations over the years contributed to the expansion of topics from race to broader areas such as the working class and underdogs.
Beginning in 2005 and relaunching in 2016, The Cirlot Agency, located in Jackson, ran advertisements promoting the state's literary history as part of the Mississippi, Believe It! campaign. The campaign cited William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Richard Wright, and John Grisham as a few examples of Mississippi's literary heritage.
In 2018, the Mississippi Arts Commission and Mississippi Humanities Council announced intentions for the Mississippi Writers Trail, modeled off of the Mississippi Blues Trail and Freedom Trail. The markers, shaped like open books, will be placed in strategic locations related to the author. The first two markers were unveiled at the 2018 Mississippi Book Festival; they are for Eudora Welty and Jesmyn Ward, which represents both past and present contributions of Mississippi authors. Receipt and placement of trail markers will be determined by scholar recommendations.
Some highlighted Mississippi authors include:
- Barnwell, Marion (1997). "A Place Called Mississippi" (PDF). Cleveland School District. Retrieved 2019-09-20.
- Fouriezos, Nick. "Meet the Next Generation of Mississippi Writers". OZY. Retrieved 2019-09-20.
- Weber, W. L. (1898). Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society.
- Dershem, Elsie (1921). An Outline of American State Literature. Universal Digital Library. World Company Publishers.
- "About the Press | University Press of Mississippi". www.upress.state.ms.us. Retrieved 2019-09-19.
- "'Believe it!' campaign heads to classrooms". The Clarion Ledger. Retrieved 2019-09-19.
- "The Mississippi Writers Trail". Mississippi State University Department of English. 2018-12-17. Retrieved 2019-09-20.
- "Mississippi Writers Trail". Visit Mississippi. 2018-09-04. Retrieved 2019-09-20.
- "First Chapter of Mississippi Writers Trail Begins - MDA". Mississippi Development Authority. 2018-08-16. Retrieved 2019-09-20.