OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI – Located about an hour from Memphis, Tennessee, just off Interstate 55, Oxford, Mississippi, attracts visitors with a welcoming dose of Southern hospitality and amenities largely found in bigger cities. One of the most surprising characteristics of this small town is the strong literary heritage held within. From famous authors to award-winning bookstores, the hometown of the University of Mississippi is brimming with literary footprints.
William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak
Start your literary tour of Oxford with a visit to Rowan Oak, the estate of William Faulkner. A Nobel Prize-winning author, Faulkner wrote vividly about a fictional Yoknapatawpha County, a place with strong resemblance to Lafayette County where Oxford, Mississippi, is located. Telling tales of colorful Southern characters, he boldly shared the roots and culture of rural America. From poetry to short stories to novels and even screenwriting, Faulkner continues to be a celebrated American literary phenomenon.
Rowan Oak was built in the late 1840s by Robert Sheegog. Faulkner and his family resided there from 1930 until his 1962 death and wrote several masterpieces such as “As I Lay Dying,” “Absalom, Absalom!,” “Light in August” and “A Fable” while there. It was Faulkner who named the house after the legend of the Rowan tree which was believed (by the Celtic people) to retain magic powers of protection. Today, the University of Mississippi owns and maintains Rowan Oak for memorial and educational purposes. Bailey Woods National Recreation Trail is a scenic walk connecting Rowan Oak to the University Museum at the University of Mississippi.
This year The University of Mississippi announces the 46th Annual Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference from July 21-25, 2019. Sponsored by the Department of English and the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the event is coordinated by the Office of Outreach and Continuing Education. The conference is a series of lectures and panels with some social events mixed in (a picnic at Rowan Oak, of course), but this year is even more special. On Tuesday, July 23, at 5:30 p.m., the state’s second literary trail marker will be unveiled at Rowan Oak. How fitting.
Other Oxford Literary must-see places
Oxford has a wealth of writing talent in addition to William Faulkner. In fact, the home of Stark Young, a 20th century poet, novelist, translator, essayist and theatre critic, is adjacent to the University Museum. Young has ties to Faulkner in that he arranged his first job outside Oxford in a New York City bookstore.
Housed on the second floor of the University of Mississippi Library you’ll find Archives and Special Collections displaying material related to Faulkner and other writers from the state including collections of Larry Brown’s (lived in Oxford most of his life) work, Barry Hannah (lived in Oxford from 1982 until his 2010 death) and Willie Morris (lived on campus from 1980 to 1990).
Arkansas-born John Grisham was raised in Mississippi and obtained degrees from both Mississippi State University (accounting) and Ole Miss (law). In 1990 after dabbling in writing, Grisham moved his family to Oxford. He closed his practice and finished his political career to focus on writing. Wise move as it turned out for the best-selling novelist and screenwriter.
What could be better than picking up Faulkner or Grisham’s work while in town? Check out Square Books–three bookstores a hundred feet apart on the square in Oxford–and enjoy a best-seller with coffee from the second-floor, in-house coffee bar. Don’t forget to take the little ones by Square Books, Jr. for great children’s book selections as well.
Accommodations for the literary-minded traveler
While Oxford offers a myriad of lodging types, the Graduate Oxford is a must for literary-minded travelers. With a prime location on the Square, enjoy a beautiful stay at a fancy hotel with a modern take on the area’s literary history, collegiate hints and chic décor. The lobby bar is filled with books…find one you like and nestle yourself into a nook or cranny that’s as cozy as they come.
Also, think of Chancellor’s House when you want a grandiose, elegant getaway reflecting on rich amenities found in yesteryear’s treasured memories. Enjoy the formal Tea Room and Cofield Reading room, complete with Faulkner portraits as you take a step back in time.
And, when your literary side needs balance, check out other attractions in the area such as antique shops, boutique stores, bike trails, culinary delights, festivals/annual events and more. Find more information on Oxford gems by checking out VisitOxfordMS.com.