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Faulkner's Footsetps

Oxford, Miss., is for lovers of food, football, history, and literature.
BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY

William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Oxford, Miss., where Faulkner lived and penned many of his masterpieces, personifies this statement. The past is alive in Oxford; like the Spanish moss hanging from its abundant, ancient trees, it drips into every facet of life there.

statue

Above: A statue of James Meredith, the first black student enrolled in the University of Mississippi, near the Lyceum. University of Mississippi photo

Below: You could spend hours exploring the shelves of Square Books. Jennifer Kornegay photo

book store

Oxford played a significant role in the Civil Rights struggle and boasts a rich literary legacy. Its streets are lined with lovely old homes, including several on the National Register of Historic Places.

Yet the city is not defined by its history alone. Its reputation as a refuge for writers is still being built upon today; a thriving food scene that includes some of the region’s best and brightest chefs is continually expanding; and it is home to the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss).

The Right Fight

In 1962, James Meredith enrolled in the University of Mississippi, becoming the first black student to do so and sparking outrage from some in the state. With a Supreme Court decision and federal marshals on his side, he arrived on campus and approached the Lyceum, the oldest building on campus that housed the admissions office. Protests erupted, and in the midst of the clash, shots rang out. When the mob was finally subdued, hundreds were injured and arrested, two people were dead, and Meredith was officially a student.

It was a tragic but pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement, and while many of the emotional scars have healed, physical ones remain. At the Lyceum, bullet marks are still visible on the far right and center columns. The monument honoring Meredith and all who fought for equality stands near the Lyceum.

While you’re on campus, visit the J.D. Williams Library to see the university’s Blues Archive, one of the largest collections of blues recordings, publications, and memorabilia in the world.

The Tales They Tell

It may be small, but Oxford has inspired a large list of writers and other artists. Start an exploration of the community’s creative side with a visit to Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home. Now owned by the University of Mississippi, the house and surrounding property have been preserved as a shrine to the author, with personal belongings, letters, manuscripts, and more on display. It is closed Mondays.

Thanks to a detailed brochure that Executive Director Bill Griffith hands out in the foyer, self-guided tours are easy and enlightening. But Griffith is always available to answer questions. Many visitors want to know about the most famous item.

“We get about 25,000 visitors a year here, and everybody wants to see his typewriter,” he said. “There’s really so much to see, though. My favorite spots are outside. It’s so peaceful out there.”

The primitive Greek Revival-style house was built in the 1840s, and Faulkner lived there from 1930 until his death in 1962.

When strolling around its quiet gardens, it’s not hard to imagine the writer walking in the woods, dreaming up stories, and finding spots to add to his fictional Yoknapatawpha County that’s based on Oxford and the surrounding areas.

And maybe he still does. A few years ago, a newspaper photographer caught what looks like the shadow of a man near a bench in the yard. “Is it Faulkner, still roaming around here?” Griffith said. “Who knows?”

In recent years, writers like John Grisham and Willie Morris have made Oxford their home. You can find their works among the collection at Square Books, an independent bookstore that opened in 1979. The store hosts book signings by famed Southern authors and is a treasure trove of Oxford’s artistic heritage. Check out Off-Square and Square Books Junior, too.

Other shops in the Square include Neilson’s, the South’s oldest operating department store. Stop in Indigo’s or Frock Fashions for the latest ladies’ looks. Gift store Amelia is chock-full of handmade items. Find Mississippi-made pottery and more at Mississippi Madness.

Food, football and fun

Along with bookworms, foodies flock to Oxford for traditional dishes with a twist. James Beard award-winning Chef John Currence cemented the city’s place in the nation’s culinary spotlight with his fresh takes on Southern favorites at his eateries City Grocery, Bouré, Snackbar, Lamar Lounge, and Big Bad Breakfast.

Must-taste spots also include Ajax Diner, serving soul food, and Phillips Grocery, which is well known for its greasy-good burgers. A new contender, the Oxford Canteen, is tucked in an alley off the Square. Gather at Growler’s for a Mississippi-made beer.

There are several charming bed-and-breakfast options, including The 5 Twelve Bed and Breakfast, housed in a welcoming 1905 home located between the Square and campus. The Inn at Ole Miss, the city’s only full-service hotel, is another great choice.

The city’s history, shopping, and cuisine offer plenty of reasons to visit, but for college football fans and Ole Miss faithful, Oxford is special for another reason. On fall game day Saturdays, the campus is packed with people decked out in cardinal and navy, with the largest concentration eating, drinking, and cheering in “The Grove.”

Among hundreds of tents packed pole-to-pole on the 10 manicured acres of trees, paths, and green spaces, Ole Miss fans raise the tailgating bar to extraordinary heights. It’s not unusual to see crystal chandeliers, silver serving pieces, and four-course meals alongside heaping helpings of Southern hospitality during the pre-game parties.

All year round, visitors can tour the city aboard a red, double-decker bus. And in April, the Double Decker Festival draws thousands for a celebration of food, music, and arts. This year’s festival is April 24–25.

Create your own story during a weekend in Oxford. It’s sure to be a page-turner.

Jennifer Kornegay is a contributor from Montgomery, Ala.

January/February 2015 Issue

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BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact Visit Oxford at
(662) 232-2477 or www.visitoxfordms.com.


To visit Oxford, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Mississippi through the Free Travel Information Card found online.


 


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