Coming of Rage in Mississippi

The Last Resort: Taking the Mississippi Cure (University Press of Mississippi, 2011), by Norma Watkins, M.A. ’69, is no genteel coming-of-age story. In this debut memoir, truth burns as hot as the fire that takes down her family’s anachronistic hotel, where the vaunted curative waters, she recounts, “looked exactly like pee.” Starting the year her father leaves for World War II, Watkins travels deep into the hate-charred heart of a culture she’s both born of and alien to. We see Mississippi from the 1940s to the 1960s through the prism of her privilege as a white girl whose father joins the Citizens Council (“that high-brow KKK”) and through the prison of her life as a free-thinking woman at a time “when every girl’s destiny was marriage” and race divisions were razor-sharp. Riding a “tidal wave” of Southern racism, her narrative is rich with reckoning.

Write of Passage

For Glen Retief, M.F.A. ’99, growing up in South Africa meant struggling to find his identity in a nation desperately fighting to exorcise its own demons. He captures this battle lyrically in The Jack Bank (St. Martin’s Press, 2011). Peppered with local legends and dialects, the memoir documents Retief’s life from elementary school until his eventual immigration to the United States as an adult. It captures in acute detail his turmoil in coming to grips with his homosexuality and the upheaval caused by the slow destruction of the apartheid system. In his gripping work, Retief, an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Susquehanna University, explores the moral repercussions of man-made cruelty and the possibility of recovering from a troubled past.