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Wish You Were Here: Oxford, Mississippi: New Music, new hangouts, and writers, writers everywhere - Elle Magazine, October 1994
Frat boys and girls with bows in their hair. When you ask Donna Tartt, author of The Secret History, about her days at the University of Mississippi in the early '80s, those are the first two images that pop into her head. "It was pretty grim," she says. "There were about five people around who were into music that wasn't Hall and Oates."
A decade later, Ole Miss hasn't changed that much. Football is huge, and the Greeks run amok during "Red-Blue Week," in the spring. Amid these traditional trappings, however, leafy downtown Oxford has become the South's coolest young literary scene. The hub of all this activity is, appropriately enough, a bookstore. Square Books
is a bookshop and cafe that overlooks Oxford's small town square. Tartt, who lives in nearby Grenada, calls Square Books "the first place I go when I'm in town." The area's other writers -- John Grisham, Larry Brown and Barry Hannah -- can often be found there. And you might find Marc Smirnoff, a lanky and laconic former employee who also edits The Oxford American
, a rambunctious southern-fried magazine that's got the region's literati buzzing.
Bookishness is nothing new in Oxford. But Smirnoff's Oxford American, in only its third year, has infused the town with a younger, funkier literary sensibility. His idiosyncratic journal attracts work from the South's best writers, as well as from further-flung talents such as John Updike -- who published a poem called "The Beautiful Bowel Movement". Larry Brown contributed an essay about his days as a volunteer fireman. Tartt submitted one on cheerleading.
If Oxford is quickly becoming a happening place, it hasn't lost a shred of its laid-back charm and old-fashioned southern hospitality. "Do you want to know what the most comforting thing about Oxford is?" Donna Tartt asks. "When you walk into town, it's like walking onto the set of a television show -- everybody's your friend. You just run into loved ones everywhere."
Square Books, Donna Tartt, The Oxford American Magazine, University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi, Ole Miss, John Grisham, Larry Brown, Barry Hannah.
Donna Tartt - What I'm Reading - Entertainment Weekly, October 1, 1993
Right now I'm reading The Dalkey Archives by Flann O'Brien
(aka Sir Myles na Gopaleen). He's an Irish writer who's very learned and bitter and satirical. James Joyce and St. Augustine appear as characters. It's wild -- there's a man who's afraid he'll turn into a bicycle. I'm also reading Look at the Harlequins by Vladimir Nabokov
and Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
, which is very violent and beautiful. For my difficult book (because if you don't have one, you become intellectually lazy), I'm reading Spengler's Decline of the West
. I'm also reading a book about people who handle snakes, Serpent-Handling Believers by Thomas Burton
, as research for the book I'm writing.