“A Year in Mississippi,” the fifth book of Mississippi stories from editors Judy Tucker and Charline McCord, may perhaps be their most delightful account of the Magnolia State yet.
Although these 40 non-fiction stories with four seasonal sections offer a satisfying view of a year’s passage in our state, some of the best stories are focused upon the Delta and the Coast.
David Sheffield’s “The Blessing of the Fleet” provides a colorful history of Biloxi and how the fleet came to be blessed, including, ultimately, a veritable “armada of shrimp boats, fiberglass yachts, runabouts and kayaks.” Vivid Coast sayings such as fais do-do and “Whatchall doin’ fah da blessin?” find expression here; and we sympathize with the diocese’s first African-American priest, being called upon to shake “holy water on a parade of ski boats loaded to the gunnels with sunburned revelers.”
Alice Jackson’s “Way Down Yonder” on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is a joyous celebration of Mardi Gras in Pass Christian, while Cheri Thornton McHugh’s “Hurricane Season” recalls Camille and Katrina, reminding us that the former storm brought 200 mph winds, while the latter “moved at a snail’s pace, dallying with her victims.”
The flatlands up north, the coast’s spiritual and political ally for two hundred years, comes across as unique as the coast. Revel in Bill Lucket’s “Juke Joint Festival,” Thomas McIntyre’s “A Delta Hunt,” a modern-day take on William Faulkner’s “The Bear” and “Delta Autumn,” and Peggy Gilmer-Piasecki’s “High Cotton,” a lovely ode to a hard day’s work in the Delta’s ubiquitous cotton fields. Lawrence Well’s “Always on My Mind — A Blues and Civil Rights Tour” of the Mississippi Delta, adds some hearty meat to go with the other delta authors’ tasty sauce, while Julia Reed’s “Green Day” is perhaps the most artfully rendered description of St. Patrick’s Day in Greenville.
Patti Carr Black’s delightful “Whiskey Christmases” explains once and for all Deltans’ quirky penchant for utilizing whiskey in every conceivable recipe.
But none of Mississippi’s sections get short shrift here. The central region shows off in Donald Butts’ “Celtic Fest Mississippi,” Brenda Trigg’s “International Ballet Competition,” Johnnie Mae Maberry’s “The Story of Tougaloo Art Colony,” and Walter Biggins’ “Jacksons St. Paddy’s Day Parade,” where he notes that although Jackson’s population is 4.25 Irish and 79.4 percent African-American, that city’s parade is the third largest of its kind in America.
Perhaps the two best stories are set in the northeastern hills. Willie Morris’s “The Glory of the Game” reminds how beautifully Morris could turn a phrase — “the heat lay heavy on the grass … which glistened from yesterday’s rains, and a faint veil of mist rose from the puddles…” Not to be outdone, Judy Tucker renders a hill country Revival in the best Mississippi literary tradition when she writes, “It was a beautiful awful thing to be a sinner on such nights.” She also waxes universal, declaring “It was hard to avoid sin. Wearing lipstick was a sin, dancing was the devil’s doings. Rock and roll,” she concludes, “was beyond redemption.”
If you seek to relive catfish celebrations, high school reunions and pecan festivals, or explain to visitors just why the Battle for the Golden Egg rages so violently, or what they might expect to find at the Lord’s Acre Harvest Festival, “A Year in Mississippi” is the literary revelation you’ve been waiting for.
‘A Year in Mississippi’
Edited by Charline McCord and Judy Tucker
University Press of Mississippi; March 8, 2017