Monday, February 5, 2007

Anthony Walton: Mississippi

One of the reasons we celebrate Black History Month is that we need to acknowledge our history (the good with the bad) so that we can live with it, and learn from it, and understand more about who we are, have been, and who we can become. It's simple to say "the past is past" but each and every one of us are shaped by our collective past. Where would pop music be today without the Mississippi bluesmen of the past? What would your life be like if your great-grandfather stayed in Virginia instead of heading West? What would it feel like to live in a country where lynchings never happened? Or where they never stopped? Our country's history, and its history of African-Americans especially, has shaped the day to day lives of of every American, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

In Mississippi , author Anthony Walton, a middle class African-American who grew up in the comfort of the Chicago suburbs, travels to Mississippi to learn more about his family's past, and to learn more about the past of the American South. What comes of the trip is a beautiful memoir that covers the often vicious history of the state from explorers/settlers, to the Civil War, to present day Mississipi. Walton encounters his own family history with a very honest balance of delicacy, disappointment, love, outrage, and grace.

Since I have been lucky enough to work on various projects with Anthony Walton (who lives here in Maine!), you don't have to trust my (potentially biased) opinion. Here is what the New York Times had to say:

"...if Mississippi has been powerfully inscribed in literature and memory before, nobody has written about it quite the way Mr. Walton does in "Mississippi: An American Journey." This is in large part because of Mr. Walton's skills as a writer and storyteller, which are considerable. But indispensable also is the particular historical moment that he represents. Mr. Walton looks at Mississippi in the way American Jews or Italians or Irish might look back at the old country in Europe, as a place of primal roots that one is glad to be away from and yet toward which one is strangely drawn in the quest for self-understanding."
You can read the full New York Times article here.

Interview with Anthony Walton about his BBC project "Southern Road," also about the American South.

Anthony Walton on Random House

Anthony Walton's recent book, Brothers in Arms (written with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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