Ask folks in Mississippi for directions, and they'll not only take you where you want to go, they'll tell you a good story on the way. Spinning yarns is sport there, which might explain why so many of the state's sons and daughters went on to become renowned authors. William Faulkner, Walker Percy, Eudora Welty, and Tennessee Williams were all Mississippi natives. Touring the state, you can see their homes and papers as well as experience the quirky Southern charm that inspired their work.
The capital, Jackson, is a good place to start. Spring is an especially fine time to visit, with the Japanese magnolias in bloom first, followed by daffodils, dogwood, and azalea. You'll see all of them in Eudora Welty's garden at 1119 Pinehurst St. (mdah.state.ms.us/welty/). Her garden was recently restored to the way it looked from 1925 to 1945, when Welty flowered as a writer. Open Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., March through October, it features 13 varieties of camellias and a rose-tangled arbor.
Welty's adjacent Tudor-style home won't be open to the public until renovations are finished in 2006, but you can still walk the perimeter and imagine the author, who died in 2001, gazing out her bedroom window while writing The Optimist's Daughter and the short story "Death of a Traveling Salesman." Other Welty-related sites around the city include the George Street Grocery, which is mentioned in her work, as well as the cemetery where she is buried. At the William F. Winter Archives & History Building, you can peruse Welty's photographs and papers.
WHERE "BLANCHE" LIVED
Author Willie Morris grew up less than an hour's drive northwest of Jackson, in Yazoo City (yazoo.org). Morris warmly portrayed his boyhood in this sleepy riverside town in North Toward Home and My Dog Skip. You can pass his modest, single-story childhood abode at 615 Grand Avenue. His grave is less than two miles away, in Glenwood Cemetery.
Drive 60 miles or so northwest of there and you'll find Greenville, which residents claim has produced more writers per square foot than any city its size. Hodding Carter, David Cohn, Shelby Foote, and W.A. and Walker Percy are among its native sons. "It's in the water," jokes Hugh McCormick, who will sell you a bottle at his bookstore, McCormick Book Inn. Also stop by the W.A. Percy Memorial Library to see authors' photos and papers.
Next on your tour, about an hour up the road, you'll find Clarksdale, where playwright Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" Williams spent his formative years. He lived in the Old St. George Rectory at 106 Sharkey Ave. with his grandfather, Reverend Walter Dakin. Williams said the high ceremony of the Episcopal church was his first introduction to theater. A few blocks away, on Clark Street, you'll spot the home of Blanche Clark Cutrer, the model for Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Your final stop is about 45 minutes away, in Oxford, where you can visit William Faulkner's 33-acre estate, Rowan Oak. It's a short but spooky walk through the woods from the University of Mississippi campus. Preserved on the first floor of Faulkner's antebellum house is his office, where you'll find his portable Underwood typewriter and the outline for A Fable scrawled on the wall.
Wander around Courthouse Square to see many of the places mentioned in Faulkner's work as well as a bronze of the author seated on a bench in front of City Hall. Bring a pen and paper and sit a spell. Maybe Mississippi will be your muse as well.
By Kate Murphy