Willie Morris 1934-1999
Photo of Willie Morris by Mark
- Good Old Boy: A Delta Boyhood (made into a movie)
- The Last of the Southern Girls
- My Dog Skip ( made into a movie)
- After All, It's Only a Game
- Always Stand in Against the Curve, and Other Sports Stories
- The Courting of Marcus Dupree
- Good Old Boy and the Witch of Yazoo
- New York Days
- North Toward Home
- Prayer for the Opening of the Little League Season
- Yazoo: Integration in a Deep Southern Town
- James Jones: A Friendship
- Faulkner's Mississippi
- Terrains of the Heart and Other Essays on Home
- The Ghosts of Medgar Evers: A Tale of Race, Murder, Mississippi, and Hollywood (also a movie)
- My Cat Spit McGee
- My Mississippi
- Foreword to Wyatt Waters, Another Coat of Paint: An Artist's View of Jackson, Mississippi
- Taps (published posthumously by Joanne Prichard,
Willie Morris: A Biography
By Ben Beavers (SHS)
One of Mississippi's best-known contemporary authors is Willie
Morris. Morris, the son of Henry Rae and Marion Weaks Morris,
was born in 1934 in Jackson, Mississippi. He moved to
Yazoo City, Mississippi, when he was six years
old. At Yazoo City High School, he was editor of the school
newspaper and played football, basketball, and baseball. Willie
Morris was voted most versatile, wittiest, and most likely to
succeed by his high school classmates. He graduated class valedictorian.
Ben Beavers (above right) at
After graduation from high school , Morris headed
for Austin, Texas. At the University of Texas, he spent many
long hours writing for the Daily Texan. In 1956,
Morris earned his bachelor's degree and won a Rhodes scholarship.
He spent the next three years of his life reading modern history
at New College, Oxford University in England.
1960 Willie Morris was hired as editor of the Texas Observer,
a weekly political newspaper published in Austin. However, he
resigned from this position in 1962 because he disliked the
fast pace of the work and the lack of a support staff. After
a short time in graduate school at Stanford University, he moved
to New York City where he landed a job as editor of Harper's
Magazine. In March 1971, Morris resigned from Harper's
because of a dispute with the owner. After his resignation,
Morris started his career as an independent writer.
Morris's writings deal with his personal experiences in the the South. His best known pieces of literature include North Toward Home, Yazoo, Good Old Boy, My Dog Skip,and The Last of the Southern Girls. Three of his books have been made into movies: My Dog Skip, The Ghosts of Medgar Evers, and Good Old Boy.
Willie Morris writes of the people, the traditions, and the problems of
the American South through his own experiences. Willie Morris
died in September of 1999. His works have inspired writers and
set a precedent for generations of authors to follow.
of Good Old Boy
by Ben Beavers (SHS)
Good Old Boy,
by Willie Morris, is a memoir for Morris's son David explaining to him
what it was like to have grown up in the deep South in the 1940's. It
is filled with the pranks and adventures of Willie and his childhood
friends. This book effectively mixes fantasy and reality of his boyhood
in the Mississippi Delta country.
As he begins
his book, Morris sets the scene for his childhood stories by giving the
reader a glimpse of the book's setting : Yazoo City, Mississippi.
Located in a bend of the Yazoo River, the town has its share of stories
of days gone by. From the well-known legend of Casey Jones to the story
of the witch who burned down Yazoo City, Morris draws one into the
legends that helped shape the imaginations of a group of childhood
friends. Willie's first recollection of a "good old boy" was a day in
the first grade when his mother forgot to pick him up from school.
Bubba Barrier offered to make the long walk across town with Willie.
Facing their fears together, they made the journey hand in hand and
were best friends through many adventures." My friends were good old
boys, and good old boys never let you down"( Morris 33). Names of
friends like Billy, Spit, Muttonhead, and Henjie spill across the pages
drawing the reader from one story to another. Willie even admits to
admiring one "good old boy" who was a girl--Rivers Applewhite. Good Old Boy is
filled with the stories of these friends and the adventures that were a
part of their everyday lives. Morris tells of one occasion when Spit
Gee and Billy Rhodes broke into Old Man Blane's house. According to
Willie, this man was the meanest man in the whole county. Spit and
Billy left a dead dog, a dead possum, and a dead buzzard in his
On another occasion Willie and
friends had a case of bourbon sent to the Tuesday meeting of the
Baptist ladies who believed that liquor came from the Devil himself.
The "good old boys" watched from the bushes while Harry, the delivery
boy, was attacked by the ladies. The friends, the pranks, the
adventures-all are a part of the vivid images Morris recreates of his
One character that played a
dramatic role in Willie's life was his dog Skip that was, according to
Willie the best dog he ever owned. No other dog could compare with this
one. Morris would carry on conversations with him, take him hunting,
play football with him, and even let him drive a car. Morris' stories
of Skip portray the bond between a man and his dog that is never
Good Old Boy was written
in response to the questions Morris's son asked about his boyhood days
in the Delta. As a small child I can remember asking my father what it
was like when he was growing up. I always was curious about what he was
doing when he was my age and what he and his friends did. My dad's
stories about his friends and their adventures are some of my
favorites. Perhaps Morris's recollections of his boyhood days in his
book, Good Old Boy, are also favorites of his son David.
Willie Morris's last book was just published. Morris died this
fall (1999) of a heart attack. My Cat Spit McGee
is published posthumously, and the movie My Dog Skip,
based on his book of the same name, will be released in
A Review of My Dog Skip
by Trey Templeton (SHS)
My Dog Skip is
Willie Morris's most recent book. It tells of the escapades of Willie
and his fox terrier growing up in a small town in the south in the
1940's. Skip (Morris's dog) and Willie, the main characters , are
faithful companions during Morris's childhood. Morris taught Skip to do
many things. "I cut the laces on a football and taught Old Skip to
carry it in his mouth," Morris says. "I instructed him how to move on a
quarterback's signals, to take a snap from center on the first bounce,
and follow me down the field." (My Dog Skip 9,10).
day, Henjie, Pee Wee, and Muttonhead (Morris's friends) dared Skip and
Willie to camp out in a tent in the local cemetery with an $8.50 bet.
The two accepted the dare and pitched their tent in the scariest part
of the cemetery. In the middle of the night Skip woke up in a frenzy.
He could hear voices in the cemetery. The two checked out the voices
and, sure enough, three drunk "rednecks" in a pickup truck were digging
up a grave. Suddenly, Skip began to bark and the three grave robbers
found the cemetery campers. The three grave robbers proceeded to get
Morris drunk. Morris explains, "Somehow my back was propped against a
tombstone, and Skip was sound asleep with his head in my lap. I glanced
around. The pickup was gone, there were empty beer bottles all over the
place." (My Dog Skip, 67). At the conclusion of their adventure, Morris and Skip also collect their $8.50.
Willie Morris signs books for Pearl High students at his home.
Photo by Brian Albert Broom of the Clarion-Ledger.
Skip would perform amazing feats for the local townspeople (with the
help of Morris). "Cruising through the fringes of town, I would spot a
group of old men standing around up the road. I would get Skip to prop
himself against the steering wheel, his black head peering out of the
windshield, while I crouched down under the dashboard." Morris
continues, "Slowing the car to 10 or 15, mph., I would guide the
steering wheel with my right hand while Skip, with his paws, kept it
steady. All the men would shout, 'Look at that ol' dog drivin' a
car!.'" (My Dog Skip, 11).
Willie's high school years came to an end, his relationship with Skip
began to change. Skip continued to do everything with Willie, but Skip
was growing old and wasn't able to play like he had in his younger
days. Willie went on to college in Texas and won a scholarship to
England. When Willie left for England, that was the last time he saw
Skip. A month after Willie said good-bye to Skip, Willie received a
phone call from his Daddy announcing that Skip was dead. Morris says
that Skip was like a brother to him. Morris also exclaims, "The dog of
your boyhood teaches you a great deal about friendship, and love, and
death." (My Dog Skip, 118). Another quote from this book
that really touched me was at the end when Morris somberly says, "They
buried him under our elm tree, they said -- yet this was not totally
true. For he really lay buried in my heart." (My Dog Skip, 118).
I personally enjoyed this book and highly recommend it for pleasure
reading. It was filled with laughter and adventure as well as
A Review of After All It's
Only A Game
by Greg Gaillourakis (SHS)
After all, It's Only a Game
by Willie Morris is a book compiled of short stories about his
experiences with sports. Morris as an athletic youth had a passion for
sports. He took great pride in sports, and it came to be a great focal
point in his life. The first story in this book is called Blood Blister.
During high school basketball days, Willie sat on the bench and saw
little playing time. He got in the game once in a while at the end. His
coach, Asphalt Thomas, was a stern man and demanded the best from his
players. He pushed the team to new heights and made them better
physically and emotionally. During the season, one of the starting
players got hurt. Asphalt immediately put Willie in his place. Morris
then began playing every night. As he played, Willie began to form a
blood blister on the bottom of his foot. Every night he would complain
of the pain he endured, but Asphalt just told him to be a man and play
with the pain. As the season rolled on, Fisk's Landing, which was
Willie's team, got to the state playoffs. Fisk's Landing did very well
during the tournament and ended up in the championship game. In the
final game, Fisk's Landing had to play a very powerful team from
Lutherville. Lutherville had the best player in the state, and Willie
had to go against him. There he was, blood blister and all, defending
the premier player in the state. Willie gave a valiant effort,
withstanding the pain of his foot, but fell short of his goal. His team
lost, but he learned a lesson. He now looks down at his foot and sees
the scar that the blister made. It brings back memories of the good old
days of high school basketball.
The next story is called The Phantom of Yazoo.
In this story, Willie finds an old short-wave radio which broadcasts
baseball games from across the nation. His town has its own station and
announcer and also broadcasts games. The only difference is that the
local broadcaster does the play-by-play hours after the game has begun.
Willie receives all the action on his short-wave radio as it is
happening. He knows what is going to happen before the local announcer
says it. Willie goes to the local diner and predicts the next play.
People are amazed because they have no idea what is going on. He starts
betting with his new found talent and makes some money. One day his dad
comes home from work and listens to the radio. When Willie comes into
the room and predicts the next play, his father is astonished and
insists that Willie tell him how he knew that. Willie tells him that he
has a short-wave radio and that he picks up the game earlier than the
local announcer. His dad laughs and just keeps on listening.<,/
The next story is Me and Ollie. This story is
very short. It takes place in the 1950's in an open field where Willie
and some of his friends have set up a baseball diamond. There are some
black children watching them play. Willie invites some of them to come
and join them. One of the boy's names is Ollie. He is the best one of
the bunch-- the fastest and hardest hitter. He and Willie begin to
respect each other even though they are of different races. Thus they
become friends and play a lot of baseball together.
Another story is called North Toward Starkville. It is about how Willie and his family came to Starkville
to watch the game between Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Willie grew
up hearing the legend of a man named Shortie Mac, who played for
Mississippi State. He also had heard of a phenomenon named Charlie
Conner of Ole Miss. When these two incredible players met in Starkville
on the gridiron, Willie wanted to be there. His parents made the
journey to Starkville to watch the game of the year. Morris was a State
fan except when State played Ole Miss. As he and his family made their
way to Scott Field, he could here the roar of the crowd. Ole Miss ended
up winning the game, but Willie saw what he had come to see-- Shorty
and Charlie battling it out. He had lived to see this day when two of
the best were on the same field.
The next story is called Cheerleaders versus Baton Twirlers.
This story is short and debates the question: which is better,
cheerleaders or baton twirlers? Willie was at a football game when he
recognized some of the visitor's cheerleaders. He went over to talk to
them. They told him that they had been to a cheerleading camp and that
there had been every sort of cheerleader there you could possibly
imagine. They went on to describe how baton twirlers thought that they
were better than cheerleaders. Willie just stood there listening and
laughing at what the girls had to say. He didn't have a preference for
either; he just stood there laughing.
The final story is called The Fumble.
The school superintendent had set up a game with Central High of
Jackson to play Yazoo High in five years. Willie Morris would be a
senior when this unthinkable occurrence would happen. The years and
football seasons passed, and it was now time to play the invincible
team from Jackson. They had beaten everyone. There was no way out.
Yazoo's captains, Bubba Poindexter and Hershell Meade, walked across
the field. They had won the coin toss and decided to receive. The ball
soared through the air. Bubba Poindexter caught it at his own five yard
line. He started running up the field. He must have been possessed
because he ran the ball all the way for a touchdown. The stands were
quiet. No one could believe it. Jackson Central was trailing for the
first time of the season. They couldn't do anything with the ball
though. At the end of the first half, it was 7-0. The ball wouldn't
cross either goal line during the third quarter. In the fourth, Yazoo's
starting half back got hurt. The coach yelled "Morris! Get in there!"
He jumped off of the bench and ran to the huddle. There was a play
designed especially for him. He ran it with brilliance. He had gained a
crucial thirty-two yards. All of a sudden Yazoo scored again. It was
now 14-0. Jackson, however, wasn't great for nothing. They stormed back
and got on the scoreboard. They were coming back. They scored again and
tied the game at fourteen with under six minutes to play. Yazoo kept
their composure. They worked the ball up the field. They were inside
the twenty yard line with under a minute to play. Willie came into the
huddle and received his instructions. the ball was snapped and pitched
over to Morris. He ran up the sideline. All of a sudden from out of
nowhere, he was hit. the ball sprang out of his hands and landed on the
ground. His glory flashed before his eyes. There the ball was, yards
from the goal line, and Jackson and Yazoo players all over it. The
referee blew his whistle and the game was over. From that day on,
Willie was known as "butterfingers."
I enjoyed all of these stories. I like the way Willie Morris writes
because it is easy to understand and interesting to read. It
is also easy to identify with him.. His stories are mainly about
his memories as a child. I'm sure that when I get older, I will
reflect back on my youthful days as does Morris. He brings out
nostalgic memories that many people have probably forgotten.
The story that I liked the most was The Fumble. As I
read it, I got more interested as the story progressed. I have
seen many things happen under pressure, so I can relate to this
story. All of the stories were well written and bring back memories. ---
A Review of Terrains of
The Heart and Other Essays on Home
by Lauren Hodge (SHS)
In Terrains of the Heart and Other Essays on Home,
Willie Morris compiles a collection of his essays based around the
theme of home. "This chord of homecoming seemed to be one of the
very threads of my existence as a Southern-American of the Twentieth
century, " Morris says in the foreword (Terrains of the Heart, ix). Terrains of the Heart is filled with Morris' childhood and adulthood experiences in the South.
humorous side of Willie Morris shines through in some of his stories
about the tricks he and his friends has played on unsuspecting
souls. One day Gloria Jones, widow of Morris' good friend
novelist James Jones, comes to talk to Morris' class. On the day
of the Ole Miss-Alabama basketball game, Gloria is told that Morris has
been appointed the Ole Miss basketball coach. Actually, Willie
Morris has been invited by Warner Alford to sit on the bench with the
players and coaches. That afternoon while Morris is in class,
Gloria receives several phone calls, supposedly from players and others
in the athletic department, asking for the diagrams of plays and the
intrepid zone defenses. That night Morris wears an Ole Miss windbreaker
and carries a clipboard. Several mock conferences with the Ole
Miss substitutes are held. Morris goes into the locker room at
half-time to give the team a pep-talk. People planted in the
audience tell Gloria that he is doing "a swell job for a rookie."
A few days later when Gloria is back in New York she meets the novelist
Winston Groom. When he asks how Morris is doing she replies,
"Frankly, I'm a little worried. They're keeping him too damned
busy. He's not only teaching literature classes; they've also got
him coaching the Ole Miss basketball team."
In addition to humor, Willie Morris also portrays a sensitive and serious side of life. In his essay on Christmas,
Morris writes longingly about glittering lights, decorations, and
caroling. He remembers looking up at the evening star and
thinking that it was the same star that guided the shepherds to the new
child. To this day when he hears "O Little Town of
Bethlehem," he thinks of Yazoo. Life in the South is
centered around family, and Morris reflects on the huge Christmas
dinners with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
He especially remembers the endless hours of family discussions about
departed relatives and Christmases long past. Now the only one
remaining and living far from home, Morris looks back each year to
these fond memories.
Willie Morris writes Terrains of the Heart and Other Essays on Home
from the first person perspective. Morris writes on the themes of
home and homecomings, particularly as they relate to the South.
He gives his readers a clear picture of what it is like to grow up in
Mississippi. Included in his descriptions are the people who
influenced his life.
Because I have lived in
Mississippi all my life, I enjoyed reading Willie Morris' account of
the South of years ago. I especially enjoyed the essays which
illustrated his sense of humor. Most of the essays are short,
easy to read, and hold the attention of the reader. In
conclusion, this is an excellent book for anyone interested in learning
about the South and its customs.
Photo above shows Willie's notes for My Mississippi
with cat paw holes in it. Photo
by N. Jacobs
RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE
Metzger, Linda. Contemporary Authors. Volume 13. Gale Research Company: 1984, 378-379.
Colby, Vineta. World Authors. 1975-1980. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1985. .535-537.
Morris, Willie. Good Old Boy. Harper and Row Publishers, Inc.,1971.
Morris, Willie. My Dog Skip. Random House, Inc. 1995.
Morris, Willie. Terrains of the Heart and Other Essays on Home. Yoknapatawpha Press, 1981.
JoAnne Prichard Morris Visits Starkville
On April 18, 2002, JoAnne Prichard Morris, wife
of the late Willie Morris, spoke in Starkville, Mississippi,
at Mississippi State University about the writing techniques
of her husband and his book My Mississippi,
which is a collaboration of Willie Morris and his photojournalist
Rae Morris. She also
told some personal anecdotes of their life together. The
photos below were taken that night.
JoAnne Prichard Morris and MSU professor Nancy
JoAnne Prichard Morris
Above photos by Nancy Jacobs
Photo below of Willie Morris and Mississippi
writer Eudora Welty (courtesy of David