Mississippi's Literary Trail
Take a road trip through the Mississippi cities that shaped the literary works of Southern scribes from Williams to Welty.
Day One: Drive to Jackson
Every great road trip has a sound track, and this one should begin with Eudora Welty's audiobook reading of One Writer's Beginnings. "A sheltered life can be a daring life as well," she says in that perfectly unmistakable drawl. "For all serious daring
starts from within." With these words echoing across the decades, make your way to her lifelong stomping grounds in Jackson,
Your first stop is the Eudora Welty House, a charming Tudor where Welty spent more than 70 years writing beside her bedroom window, "so the world is always with me." It is less a museum than a home that feels as if your host is just in the other room—with piles of books strewn on couches, manuscripts on the dining room table, and notebook pages with lists of character names scrawled in her spidery cursive. Tours ($5) are by appointment Tuesday through Friday.
Across town, browse the signed first editions at Lemuria Books, whose expansive Southern lit section includes the expected (Faulkner's As I Lay Dying) and the surprising (Dinner with Tennessee Williams, a cookbook with a side of essays). Have supper at one of Eudora's haunts, the Mayflower Cafe (123 West Capitol Street), a downtown institution known for fresh seafood cooked simply (such as broiled redfish, $21.95) and for its silver-screen cameo in scenes from The Help. Then settle down at the Old Capitol Inn (from $99), where some one-room suites have reading nooks, a ideal spot to curl up with North Toward Home, the Willie Morris classic that sets the stage for tomorrow's drive.
Day Two: Jackson to Clarksdale
Distance: 134 miles
After biscuits and gravy at the Inn, spend the morning at the Margaret Walker Center, home to the nation's second largest collection of a modern black female author's papers (second only to Maya Angelou's). Make the one-hour drive to Yazoo City for an award-winning pulled-pork sandwich ($8.75) at Ubon's BBQ. Then stop by Glenwood Cemetery (at the corner of Grady Avenue and Mike Espy Drive) to pay respects to the late Willie Morris. "He was a great lover of cemeteries," says his wife, JoAnne Prichard Morris, "and his grave is 13 paces from the witch's tombstone." The witch of Yazoo City, local legend has it, avenged her death by burning the town in 1904, a tale that Morris made famous in Good Old Boy.
Stop next at Greenwood's TurnRow Book Co. to sip coffee on the screened back porch while flipping through the shop's well-curated Southern lit. End the day in Tennessee Williams' childhood town, Clarksdale, savoring the buttermilk-fried quail with butter-whipped potatoes ($24) at Morgan Freeman's Madidi. Check in to the historic Clark House (from $75), where rooms are named after Williams' characters (Stella!). Bring a laptop—rooms have TVs but no DVD players—to watch Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, set in the Delta.
Day Three: Clarksdale to Oxford
Distance: 67 miles
After a continental breakfast, walk next door to the Cutrer Mansion, an Italianate home said to have inspired Belle Reve in A Streetcar Named Desire. Head across town to St. George's Episcopal Church (106 Sharkey Avenue), a small Gothic chapel where Williams lived as a child with his family in the church rectory, opened to the public last fall. (Call 662/627-7875 for tours.) At lunch, order a plate of Mr. Turner's Hot Tamales ($11) at Ground Zero Blues Club , Freeman's juke joint, then make the 64-mile drive to Oxford. For the drive, download A Rare Recording of William Faulkner, a perfect preamble to touring Rowan Oak, home of the Nobel Prize-winning author, who penciled an outline of The Fable on his bedroom walls. (Call 662/234-3284 for tours.) Shop the Faulkner section at Square Books, across from the statue of the Confederate soldier mentioned in several of his books. Drive past Maud Falkner's home on South Lamar Avenue on your way to see the Thompson-Chandler House (923 South 13th Street), the model for the Compson family home in The Sound and the Fury. End with the most decorous homage a Faulknerphile can pay: Take a pull of whiskey (preferably Jack Daniel's, his favorite) at his grave in St. Peter's Cemetery (Jefferson Avenue and North 16th Street), and leave the bottle as a gift.
Literary Companions for the Road
These audio titles are available on CD at amazon.com or by download at audible.com, which lets you listen on some smartphones and tablets.
1. One Writer's Beginnings, written/read by Eudora Welty
2. Essential Welty, three short stories written/read by Eudora Welty
3. A Streetcar Named Desire, written by Tennessee Williams, read by a full cast
4. A Rare Recording of William Faulkner, from his 1949 Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Switzerland
5. Light in August, written by William Faulkner, read by Will Patton