The Delta Literary Tour passed through Turnrow this week. A kind of opening act to the popular Oxford Conference for the Book, the Delta tour is an intensive, three-day study of Delta culture and tradition. Participants stay at the famous Alluvian Hotel and are bussed all over the region, eating in our most popular local restaurants and listening to various writers and regional personalities speak on matters ranging from the Jewish influence in the Delta to quilt-making to the finer points of Tennessee Williams' Baby Doll.
The tour kicked off and wound down at Turnrow this year. Several lectures and slide shows on Monday afternoon culminated with wine and readings by local writer Dorothy Shawhan of Cleveland and newcomer Hillary Jordan (left), whose debut novel Mudbound is receiving great praise. Jordan is originally from Texas but was inspired by the land of her grandparents' farm on the Arkansas side of the Delta. Her novel is set right after World War II and follows two families — white land owners and black sharecroppers — as they try to make a go of it farming cotton in a place that saw little of the era's social change.
The novel won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for literature of social responsibility and builds toward a confrontation that reveals the notorious and violent clashes between blacks and whites in the Jim Crow South. What many fans of Southern literature may find most memorable about the novel are the subtler dynamics between white and black characters and the vivid imagery of the Delta landscape, which won oohs and aahs from the crowd during Jordan's reading. Read this excerpt and see for yourself.
The tour traveled to Greenville and Cleveland and points in between for the next two days. We hosted the closing reception, though the literary travelers looked weary from their hard-driven indoctrination to Delta life. We tried to pep them up with samples of habanero pepper beer from Mississippi's own Lazy Magnolia brewery, and some hot licks from Delta favorite Duff Dorrough (photographed here by Langdon Clay).
Duff is a good friend and veteran Delta soul/blues musician, as laidback and carefree as you can be. He performed a new tune which his hometown hospital, North Sunflower County Hospital, asked him to write for a television commercial. It was a hit with the tour-goers and will surely be a classic in Ruleville. Have a listen:
Duff also left us copies of The Holy Rollers, a new CD he made with Carl Massengale. Spirituals and traditional gospel with a Delta swagger. They're $15, so holler if you'd like us to send you one.