43 books directly related to Mississippi 📚

All 43 Mississippi books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Salvage the Bones

By Jesmyn Ward,

Book cover of Salvage the Bones

Why this book?

When I am asked whether my next book will also be true crime, I say that my wheelhouse isn’t actually true crime but stories about pregnant teenage girls. This extends to my reading material. Salvage the Bones is a heart-stopping novel about a 15-year-old girl being raised by her widowed father in small-town Mississippi. In the calm before Hurricane Katrina, Esch and her three brothers—who alternately play basketball, raise pit bulls to dogfight and get in the way—are only just getting by. But Esch has a secret, which threatens to tip her life into chaos—there’s a baby growing inside of her. This book shines a light on the vast unfairness of the responsibility of pregnancy. I all but held my breath for the last 50 pages.


Sing, Unburied, Sing

By Jesmyn Ward,

Book cover of Sing, Unburied, Sing

Why this book?

Jojo in this novel breaks my heart. His mother neglects him, his father is in prison, and he must take care of his three-year-old sister Kayla on his own. He and the other characters in the fictional town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi are haunted by drugs, poverty, and backwoods racism. They are also haunted by ghosts. Jojo’s mother Leonie sees the phantasmic presence of brother Given, and Jojo is followed by the ghost of a boy who was cruelly murdered in Parchman prison. Apparitions wait in the tall trees. 


As I Lay Dying

By William Faulkner,

Book cover of As I Lay Dying

Why this book?

A classic, and perhaps too much so. Many scholars of Faulkner believe there are other, greater titles in his career that should stand as his seminal work. However, this is the first of his novels that I read, and so perhaps had the advantage when it came to leaving an impression. Again, the multi-faceted storytelling is most impressive, as are the not-so-subtle themes of death and religion. Bonus points for the shortest chapter in literary history: My mother is a fish.


Radicalizing the Ebony Tower: Black Colleges and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi

By Joy Ann Williamson-Lott,

Book cover of Radicalizing the Ebony Tower: Black Colleges and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi

Why this book?

Joy Williamson-Lott has a powerful voice and perspective the permeates every sentence in this book. She doesn’t waste a word. And, her research skills are superb. For anyone wanting to learn how to write beautiful history, this book is a model. She is also particularly good at showcasing the voices of African American students who were instrumental to the Black freedom struggle. You can feel their energy and frustration in her passages, and their commitment to freedom and justice comes alive.


A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi's Black Freedom Struggle

By Crystal R. Sanders,

Book cover of A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi's Black Freedom Struggle

Why this book?

Sanders offers a most compelling portrait of how working-class Black women harnessed civil rights activism to education and the War on Poverty. In 1965, the Child Development Group of Mississippi became one of the earliest Head Start programs in the nation. Sanders focuses on how activists deployed it to enhance educational opportunities for Black children and to secure economic independence from white employers for Black women. She also tracks how the state’s white supremacist political leaders and those in Washington D.C. undermined this successful program. In so doing, Sanders demonstrates the precariousness of civil rights victories, especially when activists sought economic justice that required fundamentally remaking the structure of U.S. society.  


Coming of Age in Mississippi: The Classic Autobiography of Growing Up Poor and Black in the Rural South

By Anne Moody,

Book cover of Coming of Age in Mississippi: The Classic Autobiography of Growing Up Poor and Black in the Rural South

Why this book?

Moody’s wrenching account of growing up black and desperately poor in rural 1950s Mississippi reveals the ways in which the Jim Crow system undermined the stability of black families, deprived them of decent housing and education, and trapped them in generational poverty. She reveals the grinding destitution of sharecropping life and the daily indignities whites inflicted on blacks, even small children. An inquisitive and intelligent girl, Moody was determined to go to college, a feat she achieved thanks to a basketball scholarship.

At Tougaloo College, she became deeply involved in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’s fight to bring integrated facilities and voting rights to Mississippi. This is a story of deep disillusionment and fierce resistance.


Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

By Mildred D. Taylor,

Book cover of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Why this book?

By the time Mildred Taylor received the Newbery Award for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in 1977, I had moved on to reading historical fiction for adults. In grad school I studied all of the Newbery winners to learn how to write literary fiction for young readers, and I fell in love with the whole Logan family at first read, especially the nine-year-old narrator, Cassie. Taylor had the exceptional talent of being able to climb inside a child’s mind and take the reader through her lived experience with stunning psychological depth and truth. With heartfelt humanity, Cassie’s narrative puts readers inside a loving, proud, and independent land-owning Black family defying racism in 1933 Mississippi. 


The Sound and the Fury

By William Faulkner,

Book cover of The Sound and the Fury

Why this book?

While no one would call Faulkner’s 1929 masterpiece “a surprisingly accessible read,” it remains a landmark of modernism and one of the finest examples of stream of consciousness prose. Faulkner takes readers deep into the minds of his perspective characters, showing the ways they think in real-time as they navigate a day while consumed by past traumas, unstable identities, and inherited historical burdens.


Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta

By Richard Grant,

Book cover of Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta

Why this book?

This is a fantastic dive into a tangle of interrelated subcultures in a part of America so foreign to me that I felt like I was reading about another country. Richard Grant unlocks the secret of how to talk about deep-seated patterns of social injustice in a way that I found to be, not just educational, but a riveting read. This book taught me that sometimes the best way to spread awareness is by getting off of one’s soapbox, and simply allowing the facts – funny, sad, and maddening to speak for themselves.


Them Bones

By Carolyn Haines,

Book cover of Them Bones

Why this book?

Sarah Booth Delaney, Southern belle and failed actress turned amateur sleuth is wily, droll, and full of real Southern charm. She will teach you the art of cloaking an insult in a compliment, the proper way to make an entrance and an exit, and how to save your family’s estate by kidnapping a friend’s dog and rescuing it for the reward. This kind of cleverness lends itself to sleuthing, particularly in an old town full of secrets, lies, and dead bodies - some haunting the mansion she’s trying to save. I loved the dialogue and the cunningness of Sarah in Them Bones and the rest of the series. Set in Zinnia, Mississippi, you’ll fall in love with Sarah and Jitty, the bossy antebellum ghost haunting the family plantation.


An American Insurrection: James Meredith and the Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, 1962

By William Doyle,

Book cover of An American Insurrection: James Meredith and the Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, 1962

Why this book?

While this is a non-fiction book, with the story that unfolds, you could be forgiven for believing it’s a work of fiction. That a US president, would send tens of thousands of US Army personnel into a state to quell an insurrection in the 20th Century is barely believable, but this is indeed what happened.

The remarkable book sets out the events which surrounded the heated and impassioned debate which evolved around the admission of James Meredith into the University of Mississippi, known as Ole Miss. 

The facts alone make this a compelling read, written in a journalist styling, making the read fast-paced and highly informative.


The South Strikes Back

By Hodding Carter,

Book cover of The South Strikes Back

Why this book?

While many books are written after the event or events contained in the book, this book is contemporary to the events it relates to. In this case the birth and growth of the Citizens Councils in the Deep South in the mid-1950s. 

The author and then managing editor of the Greenville Democratic Times sets out, in a clear and readily understood way, the mood of the day among the white-collar political and business classes in the months and years immediately following the Brown v Board of Education decision.

It’s a worthy read and a touchstone of the rising political temperatures of those times.  


The Golden Apples

By Eudora Welty,

Book cover of The Golden Apples

Why this book?

Welty was never employed by the WPA as a creative writer, per se. She was a publicity agent, and a very young one. She was hired on to the project in her early twenties, not long after finishing college, and she spent her tenure traveling in the south, interviewing people, and taking photos. And the seven stories in The Golden Apples, to me, read like a natural outgrowth of that experience – attentive to place and mores, and full of imagery. Its characters have lips stained by blackberries and they smell of “orphan-starch;” their eyelashes look like “flopping black butterflies.” They are closely observed and intimately rendered – the creations of an artist who, at the very dawn of her career, was encouraged to go out into the world, exploring, observing, recording.    


The Trees

By Percival L. Everett,

Book cover of The Trees

Why this book?

I hesitate to describe The Trees — in fact, I recommend you avoid reading any reviews, or even the back cover, because the book is so full of surprises that it would be a sin to spoil any of them. I’ll only say that of all the recent books dealing with the intractable shame of racial struggles, this is my favorite, hands-down. Prepare yourself to be alternately sick with laughter or sick with horror — which is exactly the experience of the protagonists, and of their real-life compatriots. Afterward, like me, you’ll want to read everything else Percival Everett has written.


A Time for Mercy: A Jake Brigance Novel

By John Grisham,

Book cover of A Time for Mercy: A Jake Brigance Novel

Why this book?

If there is an heir to Harper Lee in the realm of legal thrillers, my vote goes to John Grisham. There’s a basic sense of decency in Grisham’s books that appeals to me. In A Time for Mercy, Grisham’s enduring character Jake Brigance returns to Clanton, Mississippi in a story constructed around a polarizing small-town murder. However, precious little can be categorized along strictly black and white lines in this crime. Grisham understands that we live in a world where the grays of reality are predominant and inherently more interesting. He makes sure we understand the characters, even those we may dislike or disagree with. Grisham doesn’t take the easy way out in A Time for Mercy. The story unfolds to a surprisingly untidy yet satisfying conclusion that leaves the reader with plenty of food for thought.


Silver Rights

By Constance Curry, Marian Wright Edelman (illustrator),

Book cover of Silver Rights

Why this book?

When I was twelve, my father said to me, “Stick and stones might break your bones, but words will never hurt you. You are going to a white school.” It was with those words that I became a part of a complicated integration plan called “Freedom of Choice.” Connie Curry, one of the first white members of SNCC, the student-run civil rights activist group, writes beautifully of the Carter family as they integrate the schools of Sunflower County, Mississippi. The book emphasizes that access to education was a cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement. The Carter children learned, as I did, that words can both hurt and heal.


Absalom, Absalom!

By William Faulkner,

Book cover of Absalom, Absalom!

Why this book?

Faulkner’s greatest novel is less about slavery per se than about how thoroughly racism has warped America—its culture, its politics, its families—from the very beginning. It takes the quintessential American story—of a (white) man with a dream and determination, who pulls himself up by his bootstraps to become wealthy and powerful—and turns it upside down, little by little revealing how he has fundamentally misunderstood himself, his society, and even his own family. Thomas Sutpen’s ignorance around race is his—and, by extension, all of America’s—downfall, leading inexorably to violence and grief. It’s a dense, challenging read, full of point-of-view shifts, interlocking timelines, and frequent use of the N-word—but it is so worth it.


Go Down, Moses

By William Faulkner,

Book cover of Go Down, Moses

Why this book?

A remarkable book by the classic American writer. It is a novel, yet presents itself as a collection of stories.  Faulkner explores the white history of his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, but also extends himself to explore the Black characters that figure into the history whose true experience he can only have imagined. There are Lucas and Molly Beauchamp of "The Fire and the Hearth," the "Nigger" in "Pantaloon in Black," the part-Indian in "The Old People," Boon Hogganbeck in "The Bear,'" Molly again, and the doomed Samuel Beautchamp in ""Go Down Moses." The book is dedicated to a real person, Mammy, Caroline Barr, of whom Faulkner writes, "Who was born in slavery and who gave to my family a fidelity without stint or calcuation of recompense and to my childhood an immeasurable devotion and love." 


Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg

By Timothy B. Smith,

Book cover of Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg

Why this book?

Though Dr. Timothy B. Smith has since made quite the splash in Civil War historiography, this was his first book, covering the Battle of Champion Hill. On May 16, 1863, two armies collided between the Confederate fortress of Vicksburg and the Mississippi state capital at Jackson. The Federals were led by Ulysses S. Grant; the Rebels, John C. Pemberton. Each army numbered bout 30,000 men. While neither the largest or most famous battle of the war, Champion Hill was, nevertheless, a crucial engagement, for it decided the fate of Vicksburg. Frustrated for months by his inability to capture the fortress, Grant at last settled on a daring strategy to take it from the rear. Pemberton marched out to meet him. They met at Champion Hill.

Smith’s narrative embraces the top-down commander’s view of the battle, the soldiers’ view from the ranks, and the impact the fighting had on the local community. It is one of the finest examples of a modern battle monograph, and the first real study of the engagement. Champion Hill stands as a model of the genre, and should be read by everyone interested in the Civil War, the Western Theater, or modern military history.


The Girls in the Stilt House

By Kelly Mustian,

Book cover of The Girls in the Stilt House

Why this book?

This recent debut novel features two young women who are enmeshed in the racist and sexist culture of 1920s Mississippi. Ada, the white girl, deals with an abusive father and gets away for a time, but then has to go home, while sharecropper Matilda plans to get to the North and start a new life there. Bootleggers and human predators bring them into an uneasy alliance to gain their freedom.


A Wreath for Emmett Till

By Marilyn Nelson,

Book cover of A Wreath for Emmett Till

Why this book?

In A Wreath for Emmett Till, Marilyn Nelson reminds us of the unique beauty of a life, of the vibrancy of youth at 14 years old. Written as a “crown of sonnets,” where the last line of one sonnet becomes the first of the next, it is a book that bears witness and conveys huge themes of justice, loss, and remembrance while focussing on small moments, gestures, and images. I am in awe of Nelson’s ability to use a very formalized writing style to depict one of the most brutal murders of the twentieth century.


I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle

By Charles M. Payne,

Book cover of I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle

Why this book?

Outside cities like that famous Alabama trio, most of the civil rights movement’s actual work took place in rural counties and small towns where combatting segregation could be even more dangerous than in Birmingham. Leading that charge was SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and Mississippi was the centerpiece of SNCC’s courageous local organizing. Charles Payne powerfully and poignantly captures the beauty and the perils of that work while also painfully reporting how in subsequent decades memories of that bravery too quickly faded. Clayborne Carson’s In Struggle remains the best organizational history of SNCC, and Francoise N. Hamlin’s Crossroads at Clarksdale is like Payne’s great book a valuable chronicle of Black courage and commitment in the Mississippi Delta.


Men We Reaped: A Memoir

By Jesmyn Ward,

Book cover of Men We Reaped: A Memoir

Why this book?

Ward’s memoir examines the untimely losses of five young men in her life in the span of four years. The book is a stunning, sobering meditation on the impact of trans-generational mourning on the present moment, and the ways in which the cumulative grief of a community relates to decades-worth of institutional bigotry in the U.S. In one of the book’s many wrenching scenes, Ward, as a young woman, observes her mother cleaning the mansion of a rich white family. The wife—her mother’s employer—asks Ward about what she’s learning in school, as “the family’s parrot… kept in a four-foot-high cage in a corner squawked and spread its wings.” As the scene progresses, the image of the caged parrot gathers an almost impossible gravity and power.


Joe

By Larry Brown,

Book cover of Joe

Why this book?

Fiction as literature of the resistance? Larry Brown’s Joe is a top candidate for what I’d call The Great American Novel. There are many entries, of course: as many stories as there are communities, past, present, and even future. 

What I love about Joe is the simplicity of metaphor. A backwoods ne’er-do-well, Joe Ransom makes his living killing—literally—the great wild biodiversity hardwood powerhouse forests of the Mississippi bottomlands by injecting them with poison so that they die, and the rich forest can be converted to the homogenous, fast-growing, essentially sterile monoculture of southern yellow pine. His way of life—wild, reckless, dangerous—is disappearing as well, and as he kills the thing he loves most, he drinks himself ever-deeper into harm’s way and seeks a violence commensurate with the one he is inflicting upon the forest. Worse yet, he begins to train a young acolyte, an orphan disciple, Gary Jones. The sentences are beautiful as the saga is horrific. Where’s the revolution? In acknowledging that wild nature threatens quick commerce; and that which we do to the land, we do to ourselves. Again, simplicity.


Worse Than Slavery

By David M. Oshinsky,

Book cover of Worse Than Slavery

Why this book?

One thing prisons purposely do not do is teach you anything about the history of prisons. If you want to do that, you’ll have to do it on your own—and Oshinsky is such a great start. His 1996 book details the roots of Parchman prison in Mississippi and draws a line from slavery to convict leasing to modern-day penal farms.


For Freedom's Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer

By Chana Kai Lee,

Book cover of For Freedom's Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer

Why this book?

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) rose from obscurity as a sharecropper and plantation time-keeper to become a key player in the Mississippi movement. After joining the Student Non-Violent Committee in 1962, she helped with voter registration; arrested a year later, Hamer endured a horrible beating in a jail in Winona that left her with permanent injuries. In 1964, she helped organize Freedom Summer and co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged the seating of the state’s all-white delegation at the Democratic National Convention that fall. Seeking to empower her rural African American neighbors, and drawing on long-standing traditions of self-determination, Hamer founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative in 1969. Lee’s biography of this one incredible activist underscores the everyday racial and sexual violence—including forced sterilization—that accompanied life as a Black woman in the segregated South. It also demonstrates how they overcame it.


Ain't She Sweet?

By Susan Elizabeth Phillips,

Book cover of Ain't She Sweet?

Why this book?

Susan Elizabeth Philips puts delicious words and phrases on the page and invites readers to the feast. I particularly love Ain’t She Sweet? for its themes of redemption, forgiveness, and holding your head up high when the chips are down. SEP takes a totally unlikable, broken character (Sugar Beth) and makes her relatable, lovable, and ultimately redeemable. I was stunned at how much I hated Sugar Beth at the beginning of the book and how fervently I adored her by the end. This book is toe-curlingly romantic and an absolute joy to read. 


J.D. and the Great Barber Battle

By J. Dillard, Akeem S. Roberts (illustrator),

Book cover of J.D. and the Great Barber Battle

Why this book?

Third-grader J.D. has the entrepreneurial and problem-solving spirit I adore. Great at cutting hair, he starts a barbershop in his bedroom! But when the town barbershop loses business because J.D’s charging less than they do, they challenge him to a barber battle. The story made me laugh out loud and cheer for J.D.


Carnal Innocence

By Nora Roberts,

Book cover of Carnal Innocence

Why this book?

I read this long ago, but its sensual southern essence stays with me. Less action but definitely suspenseful, it pairs a chilly violinist needing some time to hide away with a sexy southern charmer from a wealthy family who may be her undoing…or he may be a killer. I like, and have written, these kinds of stories with heroes who are also suspects. In a romantic suspense, though, we readers *know* that the hero is *not* going to be the killer. Where’s the HEA in that??? But we can be uneasy about him, which is all part of the ride!


A Time to Kill

By John Grisham,

Book cover of A Time to Kill

Why this book?

White supremacy. Is this genre literature or a witty comment on racism? You can guess the answer. It's both. Grisham puts a lawyer at the center of this story about the murder of a Black girl and her father, who avenges her death. What follows is not just a courtroom drama but the chaos and tragedy of a small town in the American South that is far from having thrown off the shackles of the American slave trade. When I picked up A Time to Kill, I was looking for a suspenseful story, but I got so much more. For example, insight into white privilege. What more could you ask for?


The Quiet Game

By Greg Iles,

Book cover of The Quiet Game

Why this book?

The Quiet Game introduces a troubled Penn Cage, who returns with his daughter to his hometown of Natchez, Mississippi when his father lands in trouble. For Penn, family is sacrosanct. Iles uses Natchez brilliantly to support characterization, atmosphere, and plot. Events unfold quickly in a series of twists and turns that thrill the reader and severely test Penn as he struggles to unearth his father’s connection to a horrific Natchez mystery that the town is determined to keep buried. I admire how Penn battles relentlessly on behalf of his father, doggedly pursues a truth that frightens him, and protects his daughter in the face of growing condemnation and danger. He hews to his moral compass even when it would be expedient to abandon it.


Mudbound

By Hillary Jordan,

Book cover of Mudbound

Why this book?

Set in the Jim Crow South, Mudbound is an eloquently written bitter portrait of a poor young white man and a Black man returning to post-World War II Mississippi and the family relationship between the Black sharecroppers and the white landowner. Through clear, alternating character voices that leap off the page, the novel explores the depth of racist hate and discrimination in that time and place and the struggle for reconciliation.


Native Guard

By Natasha Tretheway,

Book cover of Native Guard

Why this book?

Tretheway’s poetry, particularly her sonnets, are stunning and evocative and the main reason that this volume won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2007. Some of the most powerful poems are spoken in the voice of a recently emancipated Black soldier who writes letters home for illiterate white prisoners of war. Whose stories are really being told by these poems? “They are cautious, dreading / the sight of us. Some neither read nor write, / are laid too low and have a few words to send / but those I give them” she writes, in “February 1863.”  Such a brilliant, brilliant book of poems.


The Ranger

By Ace Atkins,

Book cover of The Ranger

Why this book?

Ace Atkins is a master of the crime genre. It’s no wonder Robert B. Parker’s estate tapped him to carry on the Spenser series. He’s great at capturing places and the internal monologues of weary men. He’s also able to tell stories just seedy enough to keep readers curious, without making them cringe. The first book in Atkins’ Quinn Colson series is on par with Elmore Leonard’s Raylan Givens books. Quinn seems entirely real, the small town he returns to after a years-long absence feels lived in and believable. And the pacing is masterful. Whereas Perry drags readers along for the action, Atkins makes you feel as though you’re sitting in the backseat, riding down the winding roads of Tibbehah County in northeast Mississippi as Quinn uneasily approaches another backcountry crime scene.    


Light in August

By William Faulkner,

Book cover of Light in August

Why this book?

I have colleagues in the STEM fields, on the other hand, who brag about not having read fiction since sophomore lit. This is a mistake. Faulkner observed that the only worthy subject for the poet and novelist is “the human heart in conflict with itself.” They must portray “love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” Novels, then, can help you develop an intuitive feel for empathy and so for human behavior. Where the heart leads, after all, the mind will follow. Much of this comes, of course, from personal experience, but great novels can add depth to our inventory of experience and so produce a deeper understanding of the “heart.” Faulkner has a reputation for being difficult. Ignore it. Here’s a master storyteller at the top of his game. Just pick it up and read it. 


Double Whammy

By Gretchen Archer,

Book cover of Double Whammy

Why this book?

Casinos often bring to mind noirish characters set in stories riddled with vice and violence. The Davis Way Crime Capers are riddled with serpentine plots exploding with quirky characters in hilarious situations. Set in a Biloxi, Mississippi, casino with a smart, edgy heroine hired as a security expert, Davis Way is constantly embroiled in saving the casino, its employees, and her small-town friends and family from more disasters than a tornado in a trailer park. Archer’s distinct voice brings humor to the pages of a byzantine mystery that puts her heroine through the wringer. Likable, smart, and sassy, I thoroughly loved Davis Way from Pine Apple, Alabama. The other characters are engaging and the plot is superbly crafted. Double Whammy is the first book in the series and my favorite.


Indian Tribes of the Lower Mississippi Valley and Adjacent Coast of the Gulf of Mexico

By John Reed Swanton,

Book cover of Indian Tribes of the Lower Mississippi Valley and Adjacent Coast of the Gulf of Mexico

Why this book?

If you're interested in learning the history of Mississippian tribes, this is the bible! It contains first-person accounts of First Nation groups written by missionaries. They're the first and only such written descriptions we have. The Jesuits had their own cultural biases, to be sure, but their observations are invaluable.


Barn Burning

By William Faulkner,

Book cover of Barn Burning

Why this book?

What I find striking about this story is that Faulkner’s depiction of Abner Snopes—the barn burner—is so uncompromising. He’s an angry, disaffected man who, when he can’t find his footing in society, reacts with violence. The reader is given no reason to sympathize with him, just asked to understand that he has a code: Integrity through vengeance. If that’s hard to understand—(it is for me)—that is, I think, the point. For a story published in 1939 about Mississippi in the late 1800s, it feels dishearteningly relevant. 

The 1958 film adaptation, The Long, Hot Summer, chops this story up and tosses it in with a few other Faulkner works. It’s far less edgy, but it stars Paul Newman.


Behind the Rifle: Women Soldiers in Civil War Mississippi

By Shelby Harriel,

Book cover of Behind the Rifle: Women Soldiers in Civil War Mississippi

Why this book?

When Lauren Cook and I published They Fought Like Demons, we knew that our book, although groundbreaking, was only the tip of the iceberg in the story of women soldiers in the Civil War, and we always hoped that another scholar would pick up the torch and move the story forward.  Shelby Harriel has done just that.  Behind the Rifle is a meticulously researched and ably written account of the distaff soldiers who hailed from Mississippi, or found themselves there.  Citing previously unknown sources along with revealing newly-located photographs, Harriel’s contribution to the history of women soldiers is remarkable.


Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley

By Ephraim G. Squier, Edwin H. Davis,

Book cover of Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley

Why this book?

This is another classic, chock full of archaeological descriptions, along with prints of early mounds and artifacts. It’s prime source material, with first-person accounts of those who first discovered and excavated the mounds. Originally published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1848 it remains an important reference on the mounds, a veritable time capsule of maps, illustrations, and accounts of early explorers.


Let Justice Roll Down

By John M. Perkins,

Book cover of Let Justice Roll Down

Why this book?

John Perkins has been a mentor and friend. Born in 1930, the life of this native Mississippi man remains compelling and an inspiration! As a civil rights activist who watched his brother die before his eyes, Perkins' storytelling motivates us to respond to injustice with love and vigorous opposition, but never with hate. I often hear Dr. Perkins’ voice saying, “that man loved the hatred right out of me,” about the white doctor who brought him back to life after he was brutally beaten for his civil rights activities. A book not to be missed! 


Langston's Train Ride

By Robert Burleigh, Leonard Jenkins (illustrator),

Book cover of Langston's Train Ride

Why this book?

If you doubt poetry’s power to sweep you up and bring you to tears, you must read Burleigh’s deep dive into Langston Hughes’ inspiration for his famous poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”. You’ll take this story to heart and keep it there. I got the chills from the author’s note, which explains that Burleigh’s goal was to explore “the moment when Langston Hughes came to believe in himself as a writer” – and have that moment inspire others. In vibrant, poetic prose perfect for reading aloud, Burleigh begins with Hughes celebrating his first book.

In a flashback, Hughes, on a train, muses over his personal history. As the train crosses the Mississippi, he reaches further back into his people’s history, until he entwines those strands into one gorgeous, resonant work of art.


The Help

By Kathryn Stockett,

Book cover of The Help

Why this book?

The Help stayed with me. I could relate to the mixed emotions of loving parts of your job, but hating other parts, and shoving down that uncomfortable feeling you get when you know you’re not treated right, but could lose everything if you speak out. I can only imagine how this must feel when it’s because of racism and segregation.

It’s about how even small acts of resistance can change the world. A story about women who question the status quo, and who, at the risk of their own livelihoods, say, enough!