I'm going home to Mississippi next week. I haven't lived there since 1984, but they still consider me one of their own, because they're giving me this year's Mississippi Author Award. (Actually, it's the Mississippi Library Association who's doing the award-giving, but they're Mississippians, so please forgive the semantic softness.) I've known about this for a month or two, but I'm still flattered, touched, and, frankly, flabbergasted. They're flying me in for an awards banquet and everything. Usually, I haul myself to personal appearances in my well-worn Toyota, so this feels rather like getting the royal treatment. I'm grateful.
I've lived in Florida since April 1987. How long is that? More than 24 years? It hardly seems possible. By contrast, I lived in Mississippi for nineteen-and-a-half years, moved away for the last two years of my undergrad degree, then returned for a little more than a year for graduate school. Let's be generous and call it twenty-one years. Since I ain't sixty, I guess it's safe to say that I've now lived in Florida for longer than I've lived anywhere else. Why don't I see myself as a Floridian?
Maybe it's the accent that I'll apparently never lose. (I sound like I've got a mouthful of magnolias.) More likely it's the six generations of my family that lived in the Magnolia State before I came along. We were there before Misssissippi became a state. We were there before it even became a territory. We were there before the steamboat that would eventually take cotton north and bring money south was even invented. We were there for the near-obliteration of the native peoples and for the Civil War and for Reconstruction and for the civil rights movement. I'm not saying we participated in those things, for good or ill. I have no idea. I just know that we were there. Since I'm pretty sure some of us were native peoples, I have a good idea that all of us weren't too keen on the Trail of Tears, but otherwise, I just don't know. As is true of most human history, I'd guess my people's feelings and actions were...complicated.
My own feelings about that history are complicated enough that it took me three books before I got up the nerve to write a book about the place. I was afraid I'd never be able to go home again.
Instead, that book, Effigies, got a full-page feature article in Mississippi Magazine, and the magazine has covered every book I've written since. I should have known that my undeniably racially themed book would receive a far warmer welcome there than an outsider might have expected. My series character, Faye Longchamp, is multiracial, so there is some degree of racial theme to all of my books, but they've been warmly welcomed in my home state from the first. I have not heard the first discouraging word from the folks in Mississippi, not in the eight years since Artifacts first came out. I would say that this renewed my faith in humankind, but I've never really doubted humankind, nor the good people at home.
And now they've given me this wonderful award, and I'm so deeply touched. It's one thing to get a nice review from somebody in New York City, but it's quite another thing to know that the people who live down the street from the house where you spent your childhood appreciate what you do. There will be an award banquet next week and I'll get to rub elbows with some of the nicest people in the world--librarians and Mississippians.
I can't wait.