20 October 2009

Natchez, Mississippi: Literary Landmarks of the Southern United States, #9

23 September 2009

Our original reason for visiting Natchez was to see the Richard Wright home, but on arriving at the visitor centre there we were told that the house had completely burned down a few years ago. However, one compensation for this was the display of eleven Natchez-associated authors there, the majority of whom I'd never heard. These are the written details on display in full:

'John Francis Hammtrack–Claiborne (1807–1884)

'Born near Natchez, Claiborne had a varied career as an attorney, politician, speculator and newpaper editor. As an editor and essayist, he defended slavery, denounced abolition, supported states' rights, and opposed secession. His collection of historical material and books on political and military subjects earned him the moniker "Father fo Mississippi History".

'William T. Johnson (1809–1851)

'Johnson was a successful Natchez barber and business man who had been born into slavery. His descriptive journals illuminate the details of everyday Natchez life from 1835 until hus murder in 1851, especially the world of free people of color. Published letters and journals of his wife, sister, and daughters also add to our understanding of the time.

'Judith Sargent Murray (1751–1820)

' Murray's brother Winthrop Sargent came to Natchez from Massachusetts in 1798 as the First Territorial Governor of Mississippi, but she did not move to the area until 20 years later at the end of her life. Her essays and books, beginning in 1784, frequently focused on women and girls and have garnered her attention as one of America's first feminists.

'Ann Moody (1940– )

'Born in nearby Centerville, Moody attended Natchez Junior College and then Tougaloo College where she became a civil rights activist. Her autobiography [Coming of Age in Mississippi] (shown above) provides moving insights into the segregated, poverty-stricken world of her rural childhood and her battles with racism as a young woman.

'Alice Walworth Graham (1905–1994)

'Born in Natchez, Graham studied writing at Louisiana University under Robert Penn Warren. Her fictional romances reflect a sentimental view of Southern History with a deep sense of place and attention to daily details.

'Ellen Douglas (1921– )

'Ellen Douglas is the pen name of novelist Josephine Ayres Haxton. Haxton was born in Natchez and is the author of fictional accounts set on mythical Mississippi towns resembling Natchez and Greenville, as will as nonfiction stories about Natchez.

'Catharine Ann Ware Warfield (1816–1877)

'Born in Natchez but raised in Philadelphia, Warfield was educated with and devoted to her sister Eleanor, with whom she wrote poetry until Eleanor's death in Natchez at age 30. Warefield was the author of popual genteel domestic novels written in a conventional style, including the critically acclaimed Jousehold of Bouverie (title page shown above).

'Richard Wright (1909–1960)

'Wright was born to sharecroppers on a plantation near Natchez and grew up in unstable and difficult circumstances in Mississippi and Arkansas. He later moved to Chicago and New York, and ultimately to London and Paris, where he died and is buried. A voracious reader as a child, he became an internationally acclaimed author writing unsentimental novels protesting the ecomomic and social conditions of black Americans.

'John Roy Lynch (1847–1939)

'Born into slavery, Lynch ws freed in Natchez in 1863 when the Union Army occupied the town. Lynch rose to prominence as a politician during Reconstruction, becoming, in 1873, Mississipp's first black member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Lynch's writings advocated integration, equality, and cooperation between the races.

'Greg Iles (1960– )

'Iles was born in Stuttgart, Germany, grew up in Natchez, and returned here as an adult. He published his first novel in 1993. He writes in a number of genres and is the author of many New York Times bestselling fictions.

'Edith Wyatt Moore (1884–1973)

'Moore was a journalist for major city newspapers before moving to Natchez in the early 1930s, where she turned her skills to history. She founded the local historical society and was active in the collection and preservation of historical materials, including William Johnson's diary, and she interviewed formerly enslaved individuals for the Federal Writers' Project. she wrote romantic histories, including a book about Natchez-under-the-Hill, and wrote many of the histories of tour homes in the area.'

Conspicuously absent from the above list of authors is Andrew Marschalk, to whom a marker is dedicated in downtown Natchez, at the corner of Wall and Franklin, and reads, in an odd, almost telegrammatic style:

'Site of the printery of "father of Mississippi journalism." Printed first book in state, 1799. Became first public printer and in 1802 founded famed newpaper, "Mississippi Herald."'

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