Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Crooked Letter Year in Review

James Redd's Mississippi Authors Conversation Series
James Madison Redd

Hurricane weather again in Mississippi. Not too bad in my city: just a chilly patch, overcast sky, and some refreshing wind. A southern wind fills my sails and returns me to the mythic sands of the Great American Desert.

I wash ashore in Lincoln a few times a week in the company prairie schooner. I’m the Schooner’s Southern messenger, receiving email and transcribing spoken word from Mississippi writers, many of whom I’ve been lucky enough to meet – recently, Richard Ford and Natasha Trethewey. I seek conversation with contemporary writers whose feet have pressed the rich soil of the Mississippi Delta, caressed the warm sands of the Gulf Coast, or crushed a bed of Pine Belt needles. My passion for music, spirituality, the oral tradition, family, and the past have blown me easily through this year and on to another.

Before my family and I left Nebraska to return to Mississippi, I asked Kwame Dawes how I could contribute to the Schooner from a distance. He told me that our journal not only valued international writing, but also regional writing, having long been a publisher of writers from the Midwest. With some research, I found that the Schooner has also had a long tradition of publishing writers from Mississippi. We’ve featured Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, and Ellen Gilchrist to name a few. Tasked with a worthwhile project - which I dubbed the Crooked Letter Interview Series - I began a search for contemporary Mississippi writers that has led me across the country.

Just as I communicate to blog readers via the ethereal Internet, today’s Mississippi writers are bound to no region and no place. We go where we can find work (usually the university) and where ears attune to listen (usually university towns, such as Oxford, Starkville, and Hattiesburg or other regions of the U.S.).  We communicate an American message: in spite of past failures and an uncertain present, we endure, seeking hope in the future.

 

So who have I met this year, and what did we talk about?

August 2012 - On the fiftieth anniversary of riots over James Meredith’s admission into the University of Mississippi, I drove to Oxford to meet poet and professor of creative writing and African-American studies, Derrick Harriell, in the Ole Miss Blues Archive. This first conversation about music, religion, and performance poetry is still my favorite.

October 2012 - My writing mentor and former drummer, Michael Kardos met me in my music studio, where we talked about blurring genre boundaries and his novel, The Three-Day Affair.

October 2012 - Catherine Pierce revealed what should be a groundbreaking discovery to any physicist: poetry can travel through time and place.

November 2012 - The prolific poet and editor, T.R. Hummer, spoke with me about politics, region, and language, not to mention his terrific book of poems, Ephemeron.

November 2012 - I was fortunate to have a conversation with Richard Ford about his recent novel, Canada, as well as his aversion to tying region or place to his writing.

December 2012 - Steven Barthelme taught me about good creative nonfiction writing, a course I was never lucky enough to take at the University of Nebraska.

March 2013 - Olympia Vernon elaborated on the gift of writing, its downsides, and the ghostlike presence that characters can maintain in an author’s imagination. Finally, we dare to imagine literary poverty.

March 2013 - At the Mississippi University for Women, I met author and editor, Sonny Brewer under an ancient gingko biloba tree to discuss money and the writing business.

May 2013 - I visited Oxford again to rendezvous with poet, memoirist, and now novelist, Beth Ann Fennelly. Unlike many of the other authors I’ve met, she didn’t shy away from the label of the Southern writer. We had a great conversation about motherhood and the process of co-writing The Tilted World.

June 2013 - My friend Becky Hagenston didn’t disappoint with her playful answers about magic, folklore, and the surreal in her award-winning writing.

July 2013 - Most recently, Richard Lyons, a poet never before interviewed for a literary journal despite his impressive resume, spent time discussing the development of imaginative writing landscapes, as well as what older poets can bring to the page that younger poets might not.

 

What does next year hold for my crooked letters to you, my dear companions set adrift in this prairie schooner? A challenge and a privilege: a conversation with U.S. and Mississippi poet laureate Natasha Trethewey. I’ll also put a new spin on things with interviews with the poets from Affrilachia, including Kelly Norman Ellis (also from the crooked letter state) and Frank X Walker. I can’t forget the Midwest either, represented admirably by Brad Watson, a Mississippi native who now teaches in Wyoming.

Keep your sails patched and high. Check our blog. You’ll be hearing from this crooked letter writer soon.

In peace,

Redd


A winner of the Mari Sandoz / Prairie Schooner Prize and finalist for the St. Lawrence Book Award, James Madison Redd’s fiction was nominated for Best New American Voices. His fiction, poetry, and scholarship have or will appear in The Oxford American, New Orleans Review, Fifth WednesdayFiction SoutheastDeep South Magazine, and Briefly Noted. He is the editor of the Prairie Schooner blog.