Although the canon of Mississippi writers features many writers from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, Mississippi has produced some fine contemporary authors as well. One of these was Willie Morris, and unlike many of the other authors from Mississippi, he lived a portion of his life here. Furthermore, his prose tends to hearken toward his home state. Union residents should all hear the story of Morris.
Born during 1934 in Jackson, Morris showed an early affinity for writing that he would rely on throughout his career. After moving to Yazoo City at the age of six, he lived his entire childhood there and attended high school there as well, editing for the school newspaper and participating in a variety of extracurricular activities. He also graduated valedictorian of his class. Morris then attended the University of Texas where he wrote for The Daily Texan while earning his degree, which paved the way for him to study modern history at Oxford University in England (Beavers). After returning to the United States in 1960, Morris took a few editing jobs and attended graduate school in New York before starting his career as a writer (Beavers). He wrote both fiction and nonfiction books that allowed him to show his creativity and his scholarship.
His first books include “Yazoo: Integration in a Deep-Southern Town,” “Good Old Boy,” “The Last of the Southern Girls” and “James Jones: a Friendship” (“Willie Morris”). His early experiences and early publishing ultimately brought him the success that laid the foundation for the rest of his career.
During 1980, Morris returned to Mississippi where he worked as the writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi, allowing him to focus on his writings and reconnect with his home. He assisted young authors at the university while also writing his own works, He wrote his creative fiction, scholarly works and even works about writing (“Willie Morris”). Many of these works feature the South, and ultimately, Morris writes of the people, the traditions and the problems of the American South through his own experiences (Beavers). For example, his nonfiction book “The Ghost of Medgar Evers” discusses the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Jackson. In fact, this work is of such high quality that it earned Morris the job of reporting on the reopened case of Byron De La Beckwith, the man who killed Evers (“Willie Morris”). Moreover, Morris also worked as a historical consultant on several movies during this time. In fact, his work “My Dog Skip” was made into a movie as well, but after a private screening during 1999, Morris tragically died of a heart attack at age 64. He is currently buried in Yazoo City’s Glenwood Cemetery; the same graveyard inhabited by the infamous Witch of Yazoo (“Willie Morris”).
Willie Morris exists as one of Mississippi’s most famous contemporary authors, but unlike some others, he also shows a scholarly side as well. Through his works, he combines history and creativity; he could write fiction, nonfiction, autobiography or a mixture of any of those. He truly deserves the same level of respect and admiration as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, and Richard Wright. He has truly earned his place among Mississippi’s literary greats.