The August/September #250 issue of Living Blues celebrates the blues of Clarksdale, Mississippi and the 30th anniversary of the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival.
This interview by Scott Barretta originally appeared in the Fall 2017 Southern Register.
Adam Gussow is an associate professor of English and southern studies at the University of Mississippi whose latest book is Beyond the Crossroads: The Devil in the Blues Tradition (University Press of North Carolina), a survey that occupied seven years of research. Gussow has also grappled extensively with the devil in his parallel career as a professional blues musician—for over thirty years he’s recorded and toured internationally with Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee, a relationship he addressed in his memoir Mr. Satan’s Apprentice.
The Center, working with the University Press of Mississippi, independent booksellers, and cultural and academic institutions throughout the state, has planned a number of events celebrating the publication of The Mississippi Encyclopedia for the summer and fall of 2017. Each event will include talks by speakers like Encyclopedia senior editors Ted Ownby and Charles Reagan Wilson, subject editors, and scholar-contributors to the volume. We’ll announce who will speak at each event soon.
Work on a Center project that began in 2003 is at long last winding up. The Mississippi Encyclopedia—a mammoth collaboration that includes over 1,600 entries, 1,451 pages, and features more than 700 scholars who wrote entries on every county, every governor, and numerous musicians, writers, artists, and activists—will be in print and for sale this May. This is the first encyclopedic treatment of the state since 1907.
The best-known setting for William Faulkner’s work is of course the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, set in the hills of North Mississippi, but Faulkner also spent time in the Mississippi Delta, both in person and on paper. In various ways, Delta natives and those with close ties to the alluvial region—such as Ben Wasson, William Alexander Percy, and Phil Stone—significantly affected Faulkner’s life and career. As a result, the Mississippi Delta’s impression on Faulkner influenced much of his fiction in the 1930s and ’40s. The Delta crops up in novels such as The Wild Palms, Go Down, Moses, and Absalom, Absalom! and in stories such as “The Bear,” “Red Leaves,” “A Justice,” and “A Courtship.” Unfurled, these novels and stories present a Faulknerian history of the Delta, and in “The Delta and Yoknapatawpha: The Layering of Geography and Myth in the Works of William Faulkner,” Phillip Gordon bridges the narrow divide between these two Mississippi regions that were so significant to the work of Mississippi’s most celebrated author.
Beginning in the late 1980s, southern hip-hop and rap effectively trumped contemporary R&B as the foremost popular urban music trend. A regional response to the then-burgeoning East and West Coast hip-hop scenes, purveyors of southern rap simultaneously surfaced in cities ranging from Atlanta and Miami to New Orleans, Memphis, and Houston. Although many older music fans downplay the significance and artistic credibility of the genre, southern rap—created by an MC, or rapper, and a DJ, or producer—has emerged as a primary motivator in the youth market, influencing fashion, language, the mass media, and other facets of commercial and popular culture. Similarly, southern rap artists have become avatars of pop culture in their own right, receiving consistent radio airplay, crossing over to film and television roles, and emerging as popular personalities in the marketing and advertising fields.
As a response to violence and the issues it raises, and how people have opposed it, the Center will be running a series of entries from the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture volume on Violence, published in 2011. So far this week we’ve featured entries on Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Jessie Daniel Ames. Today, an article by Karlos K. Hill of Texas Tech University on Antilynching Activism.