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Willie Morris


Willie Morris

Willie Morris was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1934. He graduated from the University of Texas and pursued graduate studies in history at Oxford University. During the Korean War, Morris played "Taps" for military funerals in his hometown of Yazoo City, Mississippi. He worked on Taps from the late 1960s until his death in 1999.

Morris held editorial roles at the Daily Texan and the Texas Observer, and was the youngest editor in chief of Harper's, the nation's oldest magazine. From 1967 to 1971, while at Harper's, he worked with writers such as William Styron, Gay Talese, David Halberstam, and Norman Mailer. Morris wrote for many publications, including Vanity FairGeorgeEsquire, theOxford American, and Southern Living.

Morris won numerous awards, including the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship for North Toward Home (1967), the Christopher Medal, the Richard Wright Medal for Literary Excellence, and the Governor's Award for Literature. His works include My Cat Spit McGee (1999), The Ghosts of Medgar Evers: A Tale of Race, Murder, and Hollywood (1998), Prayer for the Opening of the Little League Season (1995), Terrains of the Heart and Other Essays on Home (1981),The Last of the Southern Girls (1973), and Yazoo: Integration in a Deep Southern Town (1971). Morris's novelMy Dog Skip (1995) was adapted for the screen and made into a popular film.

Morris directed much literary energy and great passion towards Mississippi and its environs. He sought to change both the way Northerners perceive Southerners and to change the way Southerners themselves dealt with the legacy of slavery. Morris used writing to express his dueling sense of alienation from and affection for his native state, and in doing so gave voice to a generation of displaced Southerners.

Morris returned to Mississippi in 1980 and served as writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. In 1999 he died of a heart attack at the age of sixty-four. He is survived by his wife, JoAnne Prichard Morris, and his son, David Rae Morris. Compatriots from the literary world and Yazoo City united to pay tribute to their lost friend as he lay in state in the rotunda of Mississippi's Old Capitol. William Styron remarked that Willie's "country-boy openheartedness and candor masked an encyclopedic knowledge and an elegantly furnished mind." David Halberstam proclaimed, "No one ever did it better, no one made it more fun, and no one did it with greater sweetness."

"Mississippi is America writ large," Willie Morris used to say. Through his writing and editing, he helped to redefine what it means to be Southern, and in a larger sense what it means to be American.

Willie Morris

Books by Willie Morris