Guest Post: Grocery Shelf Fresh

Written by Julian Rankin

The ingredients of a place are the people who call it home. They are often mismatched, thrown together like scraps and dry goods from a barren cupboard or picked haphazardly from the aisles of a small town grocer, cooked down into something worth coming back for. Jackson is no different. It has its share of the saccharine sweet, the condensed-milk-variety of 1970s Ole Miss Tri-Delts, like my mother, quick to converse with any old body, departing their company with hugs and kisses whether stranger or no. The farm to table is represented well here; I smell hay sometimes in the middle of downtown – maybe a fanciful nostalgia for country living or maybe because the fair has just pulled out. And Jackson has a good bit of hambone in it. The places here have their unique character, too, and none more so than The Wolfe Studio compound just across the way from Lemuria. The city and the suburbs have grown up around it, but when you cross that imaginary boundary and pull up the gravel road for the first time, as I did not long after I moved here, it looks and feels not unlike it did when Mildred and Karl Wolfe began it and when William Hollingsworth painted it.

And when the ingredients of a place are preserved, they are jarred most often in the forms of art and literature. Mildred Wolfe, for example, lives on not only in the generations of Wolfe’s that carry forth her artistic legacy, but in the work she left behind, like the Four Freedoms murals that now hang here at the Mississippi Museum of Art, a recent donation by the family who commissioned them.

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If one had done some of that hungry-hungry-hippos-grab-this-grab-that shopping in B.M. Stevens Company store in Richton, Mississippi back in the late 1950s, the murals might have caught the eye then, too, where they hung just above the produce section. They were commissioned by the owner, Benjamin McClellan Stevens, Sr. The giant Masonite boards were provided to Mrs. Wolfe as canvasses from the Stevens’ timber company, and they hung in the store until the 1980s. The inspiration for their creation came from President Roosevelt 1941 message to Congress where he articulated the four “essential human freedoms” – freedom of speech and expression, of worship, from want, from fear. That was eleven months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

“We sell hardware, silks, satins, fertilizer, and feed. Used to sell coffins but we gave that up,” said Stevens in the article “Richton Grocer Buys Mrs. Wolfe’s Murals” written by Jane Reid-Petty for The State Times in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1959.

Wolfe described each panel of the Four Freedoms for Jane Reid-Petty’s article: “I painted a newsboy, because freedom of speech is something forever young, forever being fought for and renewed,” she said about the first panel. In Freedom of Religion, praying figures are rendered as in a stained glass window. A frail, elderly woman with hands folded in Freedom from Want is “touched with the thin sunlight of afternoon.”  In the finished Freedom from Fear panel, Wolfe used a composition of a woman protecting two children as she looks with terror at an airplane dropping a bomb. The artist said, “I think the fear of a mother for her children must be a climax to all fears, possibly more powerful than any other.”

On Tuesday at the Museum, as part of the Unburied Treasures: Cover to Cover humanities series, descendants of both the artist and the donors come together to talk about the past and about the artworks that continue to keep their stories intertwined. The perhaps unlikely relationship formed between artist and collector all those years ago still has resonance. As part of the Museum’s permanent collection, the works of art now have a lasting place.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Unburied Treasures: Cover to Cover

Mississippi Museum of Art, Trustmark Grand Hall

5:30 PM cash bar; 6 PM program
This humanities series is comprised one-hour programs  at the Mississippi Museum of Art in downtown Jackson. This month’s featured artwork is Mildred Wolfe’s Four Freedoms, 1959. oil on Masonite. Gift of Daisy McLaurin Stevens Thoms, Benjamin McClellan Stevens, Jr., Henry Nicholson Stevens, William Forrest Stevens. The featured book is Mildred Nungester Wolfe, edited by Elizabeth Wolfe (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005). Commissioned by Arlean and Benjamin McClellan Stevens, Sr. of Richton, Mississippi, the Four Freedoms by Mildred Nungester Wolfe was inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech to Congress on January 6, 1941. Elizabeth Wolfe, daughter of Mildred Nungester Wolfe and curator of her mother’s artistic legacy, speaks of her memories of the artist. David Thoms, grandson of Arlean and Benjamin McClellan Stevens, Sr. talks about his grandparents’ commissioning of the paintings. Arlean Mecklin Stevens, whose grandparents commissioned the Four Freedoms and who is an English instructor at Pearl River Community College, reads two texts that are telling of freedom as described by Roosevelt, now, then, and as depicted in the life of Benjamin McClellan Stevens, Sr. Ensemble Polonaise discusses and performs a selection of classical music appropriate to the artworks. Funding is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities through the Mississippi Humanities Council. Cost: Free to the public

 

Author Steinke – a ‘Barry Hannah’ person! – in Jackson Tuesday

Written by Jim Ewing 

Author Darcey Steinke, who will be in Jackson on Tuesday at Lemuria Books to read from her latest book, Sister Golden Hair, is one of those Barry Hannah people.

Like I consider myself a Willie Morris person. As in, we all have idols or mentors who helped us most as writers, or at least the thought of them or their writing had that effect.

Regular readers of this blog may recall some of my Willie stories — including the time I was visiting with Willie in Oxford and Hannah and I almost came to blows. (We later made amends.) But I digress.

Steinke gives a great tribute to Hannah, posting recently in The Millions literary blog a memorial titled Barry Hannah and I.

(Photo: Author Darcey Steinke and the late author Barry Hannah. Credit: Darcey Steinke, The Millions magazine)

In it, she relates:

“I still remember with hallucinatory precision reading Barry Hannah’s Ray while laying out on my futon in my graduate school hovel in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was a southern transplant having moved from the north to the south when I was ten. I had a love/hate relationship with the place. None of the then popular southern writers moved me much—Lee Smith, Clyde Edgarton, Jill McCorkle—all romanticized the South and its characters. Hannah, on the other hand, hadn’t gotten the memo about the folksy-soft-glow south; instead he drove full throttle into the taboos of the messed up region, taking on the Jesus-obsessed nuts, the macho lunatics still hurting from the loss of the Civil War, the racial friction, and the lush almost mystical landscape.”

Steinke goes on to explain how they met, how he was supportive of her writing when she needed it the most, and that it was Hannah who got her the job as writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi.

She writes:

“The day I arrived with my three-year-old daughter, Abbie, at the lovely sprawling house the college provided across the street from William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak, Barry drove up in his pickup truck with four stray dogs yapping in the back. In person, he was a round-faced, handsome, and deeply charming man. Our meetings around town thrilled me. Once as I walked into Ajax, a restaurant on the square, for lunch, Barry, who was sitting at a table eating an oyster po’boy and reading the new Phillip Roth novel, yelled out “Steinke! It’s a literary scene. It only takes two of us in Mississippi.”

As you can see, she’s good at hooking the reader into a good story.

She is the author of four novels, Up Through the Water, Suicide Blonde, Jesus Saves, and Milk. She teaches creative writing at Princeton University and the American University of Paris and in the graduate programs at New School University and Columbia University.

She will sign Sister Golden Hair at Lemuria at 5 p.m., then give a reading afterwards, at 5:30 p.m. Lemuria is located at 4465 N Hwy 55 #202, Jackson, MS 39206 (601) 366-7619

I look forward to meeting her, reading her book, and maybe sharing some Willie and Barry stories. Did I tell you about him calling me up and saying he saw Jesus? But I digress again.

Maybe I’ll see you Tuesday at Lemuria and we can chat some more.

Jim PathFinder Ewing has written six books, published in English, French, German, Russian and Japanese. His latest is “Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating” (Findhorn Press, 2012). His next book — Redefining Manhood: A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them — is scheduled to be released in Spring, 2015. Find him on Facebook, join him on Twitter @EdiblePrayers, or see his website,www.blueskywaters.com

Read. Or Read. (an Album)

It’s October.  With only three months left in the year, it’s about the time to start gathering the books that I’m going to close the year out with.  I like to choose my books with a certain rhythm in mind.  For example, when a group of musicians decide to put together a great album, they have to keep in mind the progression of the songs.  The songs have to fit together individually, as well as within the structure of the album.  When choosing what to read, I try to do the same thing.  This is my soundtrack based on the year as told through books.

(meta disclaimer.  this blog will use describe books and music interchangeably.)

January

Track 1. Intro (Moby Dick): Kicking things off at the start of the album is the Intro.  Many people choose to read classics at this time to get them in the right mindset for a year of reading.  As far as releases go, publishers aren’t going to release the big name books at this time of year.  With the start of the year being so dry (let’s face it, that backlist is not going to ever be read) this is the perfect time to read Infinite Jest, Moby Dick, Brave New World, or Dracula.  I chose to take things easy and read the one book everyone lies about having read; Moby Dick.  I did not finish it.  Much like the intro on most albums, I got about a quarter of the way through, realized that better stuff was hiding behind this prerequisite, and pressed next.

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February

Track 2. A Marker to Measure Drift:  The first song on the album is often the best.  Alexander Maksik’s novel fits this role quite nicely.  The book is packed with mystery and intrigue.  It builds suspense in a way that many authors try, but end up flailing.  Like a duck.  Or a flail.  Anyway, A Marker is a winter read, despite it taking place mostly on a beach.  Go figure.

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March

Track 3. The Martian:  The first radio hit single!  The second song needs to have that reliable hook/gimmick to get people excited about the album (year in reading).  This is the pivot point and for many, their entire memory of the album will be anchored with this song. Andy Weir’s brilliant first effort in The Martian is the 1901 of books.  FOLDING, FOLDING, FOLDING readers onto mars with Mark Watney.  This book is that anytime book that builds itself a little nostalgia house before you’ve finished.  It accomplishes  deja entendu while feeling fresh all the same.  The perfect song(book) to turn your headphones all the way up (down) and get lost in the music (words).

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April

Track 4. Communion Town by Sam Thompson:  Well, they can’t all be winners.  Communion Town is that song you just keep waiting to be great.  Remember the 2008 VMAs when Kanye West came on stage and the DU DOO DU DOOM started.  I was wild with anticipation but just like in the song, this book forgot to climax.  It just kept going and DU DOO DU DOOMing.  It’s the book you should skip the first time you listen to it.

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May

Track 5. Interlude (My Brief History):  After the garlic breath equivalent of books is in your mind, it’s nice to have something heartwarming and light.  It is at this point, that most albums begin to fade.  You’ve already heard the song everyone has been talking about and now you can’t get it out of your head.  The last one was a complete hype vacuum.  The best thing to do at this point is slow things down and lead the reader into the next phase of the album.  The swing is up next and you need a sure-fire melody to restore your faith in the page.  This past year, I chose Stephen Hawkins to play that part.  My Brief History is the perfect interlude.  The book is a short autobiography of the brilliant scientist’s life.  It’s the first nonfiction book of the year and provides the introductory change of pace for the next song.

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June

Track 6.  The Answer to the Riddle is Me by David Maclean:  Every great album has the halftime ballad and The Answer to the Riddle is Me gave me a great feeling after reading it.  I still have that happy, “wow the human race is amazing” feeling months after shelving it.  Now hear me out: the book is about taking malaria medication, developing amnesia and “waking up” on a train in India.  I understand how terrifying that may sound, but the book is really about the kindness of strangeness and the lengths our love-ones would go through to get us back home.

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Well, your drive to work is only so far.  You have to get out of the car at some point.  If you’re anything like me, you probably sit in your car with the book in your hands squeezing those last few paragraphs our before you have to walk inside.  Let’s be responsible here people.  Take those keys out of the ignition and turn the album off.  There’s always the drive home.

 

 

Written by Andre

We Are the Music Makers

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About a dozen years ago, my book pal Katherine Walton introduced me to the fine work of Tim Duffy. His first book, Music Makers, was nearing publication and she wanted us to become friends. I loved Tim’s first book so much that Lemuria kept it in our blues section until it went out of print. The effort in that first book was special; and it was my introduction to the music of Willie King of Macon, MS. Willie’s music is inspiring to me personally, and fortunately I was able to develop a friendship with him before he passed in 2009.

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We Are the Music Makers is Tim’s new effort, put together with his lovely wife Denise, to celebrate the last 20 years of the Music Maker Relief Foundation and it’s work. Together they have helped over 300 musicians, arranged over 9.693 grants for artists, and have promoted 4,384 performances. They have produced CD’s and have released 1,996 songs by 365 partner artists. (A companion CD set is included in the new book)

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On October 11 of this year, Music Makers had a fun-filled music weekend in North Caroline to celebrate their 20th year of work. I had the good fortune to attend and hear over 50 Music Makers musicians share their stories and tunes for 2 days.

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Over the years with Music Makers, Tim has helped many Mississippi artists including Othar and Sharde Turner, Jack Owens, Joe Lee Cole, Como Mamas, Ironing Board Sam (of 930 Blues Cafe fame) and Willie King. Music Maker support continues, and two of their new artists are some of my favorites: New Orleans bluesman Ernie Vincent and my pal Willie James Williams, Willie King’s great juke joint drummer.

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Another way Music Makers is celebrating 20 years is in their traveling photo exhibit, which will be stopped at the B.B. King museum in Indianola from October 23 to November 30. I was able to experience this exhibit while in North Carolina and it is reflective of Tim’s amazing contributions to music today.

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On Wednesday, October 14 at 5:00, Tim will be at Lemuria to sign We Are the Music Makers. If you love the blues, come meet Tim and become a friend of Music Makers. I think it would be great fun for Mississippi to have more support for and with this fine organization.

 

We Are the Music Makers: Preserving the Soul of America’s Music                                                               Pictures and stories by Denise and Timothy Duffy                                                                                   Nautilus Press, 2014                                                                                                                                       $38

 

Written by John

In Defense of David Mitchell and the Nostalgia Complex

The Bone Clocks is Mitchell’s best yet. The characters are labyrinthine, loving and hating. The plot is ridiculously well done. This book seems to have oozed from the psyche like some bathybic mythocreature. Its prints will be on my mind for a long time.

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This is the blurb I sent in to our Random House reps after reading this book:

William O’Connor of The Daily Beast reviewed David Mitchell’s latest book writing: “One of the best novelists alive, Mitchell probably couldn’t write a truly bad book, but while his latest effort is always entertaining, nothing about it sticks with you.”

Several months away from the book, I have to disagree with Mr. O’Connor.

Instead of stiffly trying to refute point by point the aforementioned review I’m just going to tell you what I loved about this book, why I think it worked, and why I liked it better than Cloud Atlas.

Or, without shitting around, let’s just get to the heart of the problem. No one is going to contest  David Mitchell’s ability to craft characters; If someone has a problem with this book, it’s most likely to do with the plot. To map out the plot of this book would be both annoying and pointless to readers. I’ll relate like this: where there seem to be holes, there are, and they are there for a purpose. And instead of the word holes, we should use the term voids. These voids create the cerebral and abstract situation necessary to capture the torrent that is the inner experience where the conscious and the unconscious meet. It’s essential to this book, and not an inconsistency. It’s like talking about a David Lynch film. If you need things to be reasonable, you probably just shouldn’t watch any Lynch films. Same thing with the other David. I personally found the story incredible, as opposed to credible, and thought it was spectacular. If I wanted to read a story about a middle aged man wasting away in a cubicle for three hundred pages I wouldn’t read David Mitchell. But, if you want to read something incredible, do it.

Most of The Bone Clocks detractors have a nostalgia complex. You loved Cloud Atlas so much that when you now read any of of his works it is accompanied by this sentimental longing for the past. Whenever you read about Timothy Cavendish or Luisa Rey in the new novel, you’re struck with that excitement only a long lost friend can conjure – feeling that disparate warmth reserved for the familiar, but you slowly come to realize Tim and Luisa have changed somehow, slightly, but enough to be untrustworthy, enough to be lulled out of your reverie in the clouds. Mitchell’s characters change just as they should, just like we do. For all of you experiencing this nostalgia complex, take one from Gregory House, M.D., “people never change” (at least not substantially).

Here is a subtle example of this complex from Mr. O’Connors piece:

And where are the clever insights so prevalent in Cloud Atlas, e.g., “If war’s first victim is truth, its second is clerical efficiency.” Or, “all revolutions are fantasy until they happen, then they are historical inevitabilities.”

O’Connor, not one paragraph before, writes:

The observations are witty, and Hershey’s self-destructive wallowing is as addictive as the best reality show. The next chapter, on the Horologist Marinus, allows Mitchell to dazzle us with his seemingly endless random knowledge of people and global history.

His willingness to praise Mitchell’s prose as witty and then immediately disavow it to ask ‘where is the wit we once saw in Cloud Atlas?’ is at once disturbing and telling. Despite their similar form, this latest novel is not supposed to be an iteration of the “masterpiece”. It’s an elegant, chaotic enrichment to the masterpiece that is being made.

If you have this complex, go see a psychoanalyst, because there is never going to be a Bone Atlas.

 

 

Written by Austen

 

Loving Lila

There are books that are markers, books that you read at the exact moment when you needed to read them, books that ask the questions you are still trying to form into words, books that change your course.

Seven years ago I picked up Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead for the first time. Seven years ago I wrote my first poem. I just completed my MFA in poetry this summer.

Marilynne Robinson shouldn’t be able to do what she does. It seems impossible to create characters shrouded in mystery yet full of life, characters in doubt and love and life. It is like they grew from the same Iowa soil they seek to tame.

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Lila, Robinson’s newest addition to her books set in the small town of Gilead, Iowa (Gilead and Home being the previous) is the best yet. Lila, the Reverend John Ames’ wife, has been a reliable sidekick, a foil to fill in the shadows of other characters of the books. But here, in her own book, an itinerant woman living in a shack outside of Gilead, she is lovely. Whereas the Reverend opened his memories up to us in the pages of Gilead, Lila keeps us in the shadows, slowly unspooling her past as she attempts to sew herself into something new.

If you have never had the pleasure to read Marilynne Robinson, do it now. Although her novels are interwoven, they stand alone. I promise that she reads like nobody you have ever read before.

Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: Heat, Redfish, and Regret

Written by Matthew Guinn, a Jackson native and author of the Edgar Allen nominated book The Ressurrectionist. The following selection is a part of an upcoming essay collection titled 601. 

I came to Mississippi hoping to be a writer. I was just out of the University of Georgia, where I had read Larry Brown and been floored by his lyrical naturalism, and of course I was aware of the others—that grand pantheon running back to Faulkner and kept alive in that present day of 1992 by the likes of Larry, Barry, Steve Yarbrough, Richard Ford. Eudora Welty and Shelby Foote were still alive, and there were others to come: Tom Franklin, Cynthia Shearer, Donna Tartt. The concentration of literary talent was incredible.

Athens, Georgia, had that kind of artistic brilliance, but in music. The B-52s and R.E.M. had put the town on the map, and Widespread Panic was building its momentum; we used to go see them monthly at the Georgia Theater. I remember when ticket prices went up, from $3.50 to $4, some suspected that Panic had sold out.

It wasn’t too uncommon to cross paths with these musicians. Kate Pierson and Michael Stipe still lived in Athens then, and you might pass them on a streetcorner downtown, or shopping in Wuxtry Records, where the guitarist for Guadalcanal Diary worked. But Athens had a code regarding its celebrities: it was absolutely verboten to approach them. It was understood that you could perhaps nod in passing, but to speak would be a breach of decorum, and to engage one of these luminous talents in conversation would be downright gauche.

So perhaps you can imagine how I felt when, in the fall of ’92, in Jackson for the first time, with my soon-to-be fiancée and in-laws, eating at the Mayflower, I realized that the man at the table behind ours was Willie Morris. There, with a female companion and a brown-bagged bottle on the table, sat the former editor of Harper’s, the man who wrote North Toward Home and The Courting of Marcus Dupree. Eating broiled redfish like the rest of us.

“Don’t look,” I said, “but Willie Morris is at the next table.”

My future father-in-law looked over his shoulder—brazenly—at the table. Willie caught his eye and the two nodded to one another. “You should go talk to him,” my future in-law said. “Since you want to be a writer.”

I didn’t. Could not bring myself to interrupt his meal, to barge in, to impose on his time. I wouldn’t have in Athens and didn’t think I could in this new locale.

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What I didn’t realize at the time was just what it meant that Willie was a Mississippian, and a Jacksonian to boot. I hadn’t yet come to understand that in this new, strange terrain—with its flat vistas and searing temperatures—good manners took precedence over all else, that Mississippi holds itself to a higher standard of social graciousness than anywhere else. That Willie would have obliged me with a few minutes of his time—would likely even have asked me a few questions about myself.

I’ve come to suspect over the years—this has been my fourteenth Mississippi summer—that the heat has something to do with it. That manners do indeed, as Flannery O’Connor said, save us from ourselves. As though without them to hold us in check, we’d all snap from the heat index come July and August. And by September, we’d be down to the last Jacksonian standing.

God knows how much I could have learned from Willie Morris, how much a single conversation might have helped me with craft, tone, rhythm. In time, in Oxford, I would come to know Larry Brown. And find that he was a kind and generous man who made time to advise and help younger, struggling writers. That some unspoken standard obliged him to do it. I know now that Willie held himself to the same standard.

But I would never get to know Willie. Years later I was on a flight to Jackson from Atlanta with my squalling infant son on my lap, crying the entire trip. I’d shaken William Styron’s hand in the aisle when we boarded. I was thinking the entire flight, I hope Styron doesn’t put me together with this crying—I have aspirations to a writing career. Then, when we landed, I met Richard Ford at the baggage claim. From the same flight. Incredible. Staggering. Jackson.

They were flying in for Willie’s funeral. Too late to introduce myself, as I should have, that night in ’92, in the Mayflower. I could have. But I did not realize it at the time. Did not know, then, that Mississippi is that kind of place, that Jackson is that kind of a town.

 

Jackson: photographs by Ken Murphy is available now for purchase. To order a copy, call Lemuria Books at 601.366.7619 or visit us online at www.lemuriabooks.com. 

Let’s Talk Jackson: Remembering Craig Noone

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To celebrate the life of my young friend Craig Noone, I recently had supper with a group of around 75 folks at Parlor Market. Parlor Market was founded by Craig in 2010 and the night I dined there was 4 years to the day that the restaurant opened in downtown Jackson.

My perspective of the Parlor Market Journey began around 6 years ago. My son Austin and Craig had played baseball together and now as young adults they rekindled a bonding friendship. Through Austin I met, partied, and traveled with this young guy who was on a quest to open his own restaurant. Austin and Craig shared similar drives to be involved in the restaurant & beverage industry. Eventually, both succeeded with Craig opening Parlor Market Restaurant and Bar and Austin starting Cathead Vodka.

Craig’s light was bright and I had the luck to travel some with these young men, and they didn’t seem to mind as this old guy hung around. We lit out early one morning from Austin’s Fondren apartment (which I think at times was Craig’s home away from home) to go spend a weekend of celebrating food and wine in Charleston, SC. In Clarksdale at Ground Zero we all palled up for music, fun, beverages, and a weekend of endless partying. Craig was always welcome at my home and he crashed there on occasion as he and Austin worked to make their dreams a reality.

Craig’s desire was to open a downtown Jackson restaurant with an abundance of local and state influence. He discussed his ideas concerning food, beverage, and design concepts constantly, and had a creative, entrepreneurial spirit. He pushed himself and others to be their very best and for everyone to contribute in enhancing Jackson’s culture. Too soon for us all, Craig died tragically.

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On the night I dined at Parlor Market, we were assembled to honor the “Rock It Out” Foundation established in Craig’s name. Seven chefs, all whom worked with Craig and now carry on his tradition in their own way, cooked his dishes and shared their stories about our friend:

Ryan Bell–Hal & Mal’s
Gary Hawkins–The Fairview Inn
Jesse Houston–Saltine Oyster Bar
Reynolds Boykin–Caet
Grant Hutchinson–The Pig & Pint
Karl Gorline
Whitney Maxwell

In just a short life, Craig contributed so much to so many. He brought people together and was a leader who instilled in young and old a passion to make our work better. It is only fitting that his legacy endures and his foundation encourages creative cooking in his honor.

 

Written by John

Pulitzer finalist brings Civil War general to life in biographical narrative.

Article by Jana Hoops originally published in the Clarion-Ledger on Saturday, October 4 2014.

New York Times best-selling author S.C. Gwynne will mark the release of his highly acclaimed “Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson” with a stop at Lemuria Books at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

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S.C. Gwynne (Photo: Special to The Clarion-Ledger )

This is Gwynn’s second venture with Scribner and his first release since the extraordinary reception of his “Empire of the Summer Moon” in 2010. It was the success of “Empire,” which earned him a spot as finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, that enabled Gwynne to make that fortunate transition to full-time book writer.

He has spent most of his career as a journalist, working as a magazine writer and editor for both Time and Texas Monthly; and as a reporter for two daily newspapers. He is also the author of “Selling Money” and “Outlaw Bank.”

Gwynne holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Princeton University and a master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and daughter.

“Rebel Yell” is a sweeping 672-page biographical narrative of the personal and military life of an enigmatic, brilliant Civil War general, and a detailed account of the conflicts Stonewall Jackson commanded for the Confederacy. You have included your extensive research efforts for this book in 60 pages of notes, bibliography and photo credits. How long did it take you to write this book?

About four years.

What inspired you to take on a project of this magnitude?

I have been fascinated by the Civil War for a long time and finally just decided to take a shot at it. What interested me most about Jackson was the idea of personal transformation — how an obscure, eccentric physics professor could, in 14 months, become the most famous military man in the world.

Tell me about the title of the book.

Thomas J. Jackson got his nickname “Stonewall” for his remarkable performance at the Battle of First Manassas, or First Bull Run, in 1861. After making a spectacular defensive stand against Union assaults, he ordered his men to charge, and “Yell like the Furies.” What the men of his five Virginia regiments then did was what later became known as the “Rebel Yell.” Since Jackson and his men invented it, I thought it would be a good idea for a title.

Who should read this book?

I have spent my career writing for general audiences, and I have written “Rebel Yell” the same way. I wanted it to be accessible to as many people as possible. I would assume my readers would have at least some interest in and familiarity with the Civil War, but they don’t have to be buffs or fanatics. I would hope that buffs would like it, too.

As a long-time journalist writing a biographical work about a historical figure, was it hard to keep your objectivity about your main character when you had “spent” so much time with him?

You bring up a good point, and as a reporter you understand the phenomenon. Over the years Jackson books tend to fall into two categories: either the writer loves him unconditionally and believes he can do no wrong or, more recently, the writer’s goal is to tear the Jackson myth down, expose his flaws.

My own feeling is that Jackson was a great and tragic American hero. He was a great man. I fully embrace his flaws. They are part of him and part of his greatness. I think that in many ways his idiosyncrasies are the most interesting things about him. You may have seen the movie “Patton.” What makes General George Patton interesting are his flaws — his vanity and ambition. And, what makes General Douglas MacArthur interesting — to me, anyway — are his flaws as much as his amazing talents. They are all American heroes.

Your accounts of Jackson’s personality show a dichotomous figure who was at once a devout Christian and a violent crusader for the cause of the South. Your book also describes him as a serious and eccentric leader, yet devoted to his family and his soldiers. In two years’ time, he rose from an obscure school teacher to a military leader of legendary proportions. Describe the figure you discovered through your vast research.

Jackson is a phenomenally complex character. I found him to be something of a dual personality. In public he was a stiff, odd, silent man with all sorts of eccentricities. In private with his two wives (he remarried after the death of his first wife) and sister-in-law he was joyous, sometimes boisterous, and loving. He loved Shakespeare and Gothic architecture, gloried in sunsets, was a first-rate gardener, and taught himself to be completely fluent in Spanish. This side of him was unknown to the public.

Why is Stonewall Jackson important in American history?

He was one of the most important factors in the first two years of the Civil War. His amazing partnership with Robert E. Lee changed the course of that war and very likely extended it. Without their victory at Second Manassas, Richmond might have fallen.

Jackson represented what the South considered to be the best of itself. He came along just when hopes were at their lowest. What the Confederacy had desperately needed, in a war that it was obviously losing at that point, was a myth of invincibility, proof that their notions of the brave, chivalrous, embattled Southern character were not just romantic dreams, proof that with inferior resources they might still win the war. Jackson gave them all that.

“Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson”By S.C. Gwynne

Scribner, Hardback, 672 pages, $35.

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S.C. Gwynne will be at Lemuria on Tuesday, October 7 at 5:00. 

Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: The Medgar Evers Historic House

Written by Minnie Watson, curator of the Medgar Evers Historic House

For those visiting Mississippi, Jackson is fast becoming the most popular place to be in terms of good food, great entertainment, wonderful historical sites to see, and fantastic service–all delivered with warm welcomes and friendly smiles. How do I know this? Well, this is what I hear on a daily basis from tourists who visit the Medgar Evers Historic House. No matter what state or country they call home, they tell me, “People in Jackson are some of the friendliest people we’ve ever met. Everybody speaks to you, give directions as to the best places to eat, shop and sites you need to visit.” They usually end their comments with “This is my first time in Jackson but it certainly won’t be my last.” I simply smile and say, “We’ll welcome you with open arms and a big smile.” When the Medgar Evers’ Historic House opened its doors to visitors some 17 years ago, one could not have not imagined nor understood the impact that this modest house, home to Medgar, his wife, and their three children, would have not just on Jackson and Mississippi, but the entire world.

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As curator of this Historic House, it has been my pleasure to welcome visitors from basically every State in the United States and other countries as well as. I cannot tell you the impact that this position has had in my life. People come to see where “Medgar Wiley Evers, Field Secretary for the Mississippi NAACP, lived and died.”  Contrary to what they may have heard about Mississippi in general and Jackson in particular, while  visiting the House they get a chance to see the South, Mississippi, and Jackson through my eyes and experience, as one who has lived in Mississippi all of my life.  We share experiences, both good and bad, that happened during our growing up in a world perplexed with many problems. We usually come to the agreement that no matter what state we lived in, problems existed then and still do in some form or fashion. The difference, perhaps, is how we dealt and/or deal with the problems. As curator, I cannot tell you how many repeaters I have welcomed to Jackson and to the Evers House. As time goes on, I am sure there will be many, many more in the future. After all, Jackson’s “Welcome Mat” is always out and the Medgar Evers Historic House doors are always open.

 

Jackson: photographs by Ken Murphy is available now for purchase. To order a copy, call Lemuria Books at 601.366.7619 or visit us online at www.lemuriabooks.com.