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Carey professor edits "A Literary History of Mississippi"

William Carey University associate professor Lorie Watkins is the editor of a new book, “A Literary History of Mississippi.” The book is being promoted as the “first comprehensive history of literature from a state with perhaps the nation’s richest literary lode.”
 
Watkins submitted a proposal to the University Press of Mississippi in 2011 for a book that would become part of the Heritage of Mississippi Series celebrating the state’s bicentennial in 2017. The book is a compilation of contributions by scholars from Mississippi or intimately connected to the state, but Watkins said the book is not intended solely for scholars.
 
“It’s for the general reader, one who knows that Mississippi has this rich literary legacy and wants to learn about it,” she said. “I wanted to take that legacy beyond the walls of my current classroom, and I hope this volume tells our story in a way that makes it accessible to everyone. Our state has a literary history that should make every Mississippian proud, and this book celebrates that tradition.”    
 
Watkins and contributors Ted Atkinson and Ellen Weinauer will discuss the book during “History is Lunch” presented by the Department of Archives and History on Wednesday, June 28 at the William F. Winters Archives and History Building in Jackson. 
 
Watkins describes Mississippi as a study in contradictions. One of the richest states when the Civil War began, it emerged as possibly the poorest and remains so today. Geographically diverse, the state encompasses 10 distinct landform regions. As people traverse these, they discover varying accents and divergent outlooks. They find pockets of inexhaustible wealth within widespread, grinding poverty. Yet the most illiterate, disadvantaged state has produced arguably the nation’s richest literary legacy. 
 
“What does it mean to write in a state of such extremes?” asked Watkins. “The country’s fascination with Mississippi persists because the place embodies the very conflicts that plague the nation.” 
 
The collection examines indigenous literature, Southwest humor, slave narratives, and the literature of the Civil War. Essays on modern and contemporary writers and the state’s changing role in southern studies look at more recent literary trends, while essays on key individual authors offer more information on luminaries including Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Tennessee Williams, and Margaret Walker. Finally, essays on autobiography, poetry, drama, and history span the creative breadth of Mississippi’s literature. 
 
Watkins has studied and read the literature of her home state for more than 25 years, and she was surprised no one had written about Mississippi’s literary history. As she began thinking about which authors, periods, and topics to include, she soon realized what a big task it would be. “I realized that no one person could do that work alone, so I proposed a multi-author approach in which scholars intimately connected to the state through their life and work would join me in chronicling the rich literary heritage that we share.” 
 
Contributors include Ted Atkinson, Robert Bray, Patsy J. Daniels, David A. Davis, Taylor Hagood, Lisa Hinrichsen, Suzanne Marrs, Greg O’Brien, Ted Ownby, Ed Piacentino, Claude Pruitt, Thomas J. Richardson, Donald M. Shaffer, Theresa M. Towner, Terrence T. Tucker, Daniel Cross Turner, Lorie Watkins, and Ellen Weinauer.
 
Watkins is from Seminary and is an associate professor of English at William Carey University in Hattiesburg. She is the author of “William Faulkner, Gavin Stevens, and the Cavalier Tradition” and editor of the annual “Publications of the Mississippi Philological Association.”
 
“A Literary History of Mississippi” is available from the University Press of Mississippi, Lemuria Books in Jackson, and on Amazon.