December 16, 2018  

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Southern Miss Graduate Seminar Explored Literary History All Over Mississippi

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Several Southern Miss English graduate students learned about Mississippi culture when they visited cities throughout the state. Here they are at the world-famous octagonal and unfinished antebellum home, Longwood, located in Natchez. (Submitted photo)

William Faulkner said, “To understand the world, first you must understand a place like Mississippi.” Taking a cue from one of the Magnolia State’s favorite sons, an English professor at The University of Southern Mississippi took students from her graduate seminar class on a literary field trip last fall.

Seeking to visit the places immortalized by famed Southern writers like Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams and Shelby Foote, Dr. Kate Cochran and the students from her Topics in American Literature class explored the cities of Jackson, Oxford, Clarksdale, Greenville, Natchez, Hazlehurst and Gulfport.

They toured Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, in Oxford and paid tribute to the author of The Sound and the Fury by visiting his grave, as well as those of his parents and his nurse Caroline “Mammy Callie” Barr. They also visited the Smith-Robertson Center in Jackson and the Natchez Museum of African Art and Heritage.

No tour of Mississippi is complete without a visit to the great river after which the state is named. After taking a few pictures along the levee, Cochran and her students enjoyed the legendary cuisine of Doe’s Eat Place in the Delta town of Greenville. They also toured Jefferson Davis’ home, Beauvoir, in Gulfport.

The class learned that Mississippi’s cultural heritage is not limited to literature; Mississippi is also the birthplace of American music and Cochran created a Spotify playlist called, “Literary Mississippi Road Trip” for the occasion. The playlist is public for anyone to follow and enjoy by visiting spotify.com.

As a native Mississippian, Cochran wanted to teach Southern Literature in an innovative way and saw an opportunity to share the most culturally important parts of the state in a unique way — outside the classroom.

“Southern Literature is a popular topic among graduate students, because each of them feels that there is something special about Mississippi, whether he or she is from here or not,” Cochran said. “I wanted these students to gain experience in the wide variety that is Mississippi.”

Joe Holt, a doctoral student in Creative Writing from Aberdeen, S.D., said this trip gave him a more significant understanding of Mississippi’s history.

“This trip took our group to places we had heard about but had never seen. Many of us graduate students in English come from outside Mississippi, and there's so much to learn and see that we might not have known how to explore on our own,” Holt said.

“This literary tourism field trip empowered us.”

Micah Jade-Coleman, a doctoral student in Literature from Hershey, Penn., was excited to learn more about her culture and home state.

“I feel I am more connected with the literature that I study now that I went on this trip,” Coleman said. “Also, since I moved from Mississippi at an early age, I never got the chance to experience the culture. This trip provided me with the opportunity to get to know the culture of my birth state and learn a bit about my family's culture as well.”

Cochran says she plans to take the trip again with a new group of graduate students in the fall of 2017.

“To be able to extend our literary offerings at home and abroad really helps us show students how important travel is to a liberal arts education,” Cochran said. She explained that the literary Mississippi trip complements the English Department’s consistent involvement with British Studies, a wintercession Caribbean literature course in Jamaica, and the Chateau program in Strasbourg. 

“We want students to learn and do things first-hand. We don’t want them to just read about it in books,” Cochran added.

To view a slide show of the trip, visit: http://artsandlettersnow.usm.edu/literary-tourism.html