on speaking authentic y’all, and an invitation to joyce carol oates

When I relocated to Jackson some 16 months ago, I was excited to learn about the Deep South. I still am. There’s just so darn much to take in here. The people, culture, traditions, food, basic courtesies.

One thing I didn’t necessarily bargain for is that some Southerners don’t trust or like me because of where I’m from. Which is not here. And because of how I sound. My squarish Midwestern accent, well, it’s off-putting to some. I don’t speak authentic y’all. (Obviously not my t-shirt below.)


When this does happen, I sense the feelings of distrust. On a couple occasions, the disdain is palpable. And when you start to think about it, as someone not from here, I totally understand. Some Northerners say the most insensitive things about the South, Southerners, and Mississippi in particular.

Case in point: Joyce Carol Oates. She is a celebrated American author (I loved reading her novels as a Gustavus undergraduate). I am sure she is quite smart. But HTB (heavens to Betsy), she is wholly uneducated about Mississippians. She made an ugly wisecrack about Mississippi literacy rates on Twitter last October, and I was terribly disappointed.


I wasn’t alone. Mississippians rallied on Twitter to let her know that, in fact, there are plenty of Mississippians who do read. I thought of ways I might respond. I did a couple times and let her know how saddened I was with her comment.

Then I thought, well, she should really experience the South and Mississippi, so I invited her to visit Jackson. And let her know that she is welcome here, which she is, at least by me. The people are lovely (they really are). Jackson happens to be home for many celebrated Southern writers, including Eudora Welty. Joyce has yet to respond but my invitation stands. Open.