Sunday, November 11, 2018

ALL LOVE,




Border Press Books, Sewanee, TN, announces the publication of All Love, by Diane Marquart Moore, a volume of poems about relatives and relationships, death and dying, illness and recovery, and includes a special section about a three-week sojourn in Mexico. Also featured are prose poems and excerpts from “Everyday Journal IV” about ordinary and extraordinary daily happenings, as well as observations about present-day social issues.

Reviewers celebrate Moore’s new book:

“Mindful of Diane Moore’s ‘other life’ as a Deacon in the Episcopal Church, ‘It is truly right and just’ to celebrate these poems that beat with such a steady pulse our hearts, and by extension, our spirits flourish. Deeply faith-based in her own way but accessible to all of ‘other’ or indeed those of no faiths at all, her words ‘extend to infinity’ (see title poem, which, as all good poems strive to do, means much with fewest means employed), help us negotiate ‘the boundary between twilight and dark,’ and are a sturdy ‘cane’ to rely on as we wend our way through the challenging landscape of this tome.” 
- Stuart Friebert, author of Decanting: Selected and New Poems, founder and director of the Oberlin Creative Writing Program and co-founder of Field Magazine, the Field Translation Series, and the Oberlin College Press.-

“In the epigraph for her poem ‘Music,’ modern mystic Diane Moore cites a line from Rumi. ‘Music’ is a lyric poem celebrating love in the sound of a wren’s singing, the sun’s laughter, and a loved one’s voice. Narrative poems convey Moore’s gift for agape: an Amish woman selling corn and flowers recognizes the poet as ‘a good little lady,’ a child necklace dealer in Mexico, ‘Christ’s vendor,’ displays ‘Jesus on a black string’ with a peephole revealing Christo Rey 'who takes away…all the sins in the world,’ as well as ‘my pesos at the rate of 20 a day’… In ‘A field of Battered Weed,’ Moore reveals the reality of long-lasting love through a thistle, ‘an ancient symbol of both pain and pleasure.’ 
-Kathleen Hamman, editor, Plateau Books, Sewanee, Tennessee.-

Diane Marquart Moore is a retired archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana, poet, writer, and journalist who lives part of the year in New Iberia, Louisiana, and part of the year in Sewanee, Tennessee. She publishes “A Words Worth” blog at revmoore.blogspot monthly.

The beautiful cover photograph is Karen Bourque’s glass adaptation of a lotus appearing in Why Water Plants Don’t Drown as illustrated by Susan Entsminger and authored by Victoria I. Sullivan. Cover design of All Love, by Martin Romero.

All Love, as well as 49 other titles by Moore, are available through Border Press Books, P.O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN and amazon.com.




Monday, November 5, 2018

IN THE TIME OF SHIMMER AND LIGHT



In this time of anxiety and darkness in our broken world, we can count on Paul Schexnayder, New Iberia, Louisiana artist, to gift us with his playful illustrations that always lift our spirits. In The Time of Shimmer and Light, the second book in a three-part series just released by University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, will delight both young and adult readers. The story takes us to the happy island home of Sir Galatoire Gator, Tin Toy Hare and Queen Ida Peacock where the three critters vie for a dazzling doodad the Queen has found bobbing up and down on the water near their island home.

Schexnayder’s vivid acrylic paintings mesmerize readers, glowing with imaginative figures that “bumble, mumble, and grumble” until the Queen shows her critter friends the object she has discovered and placed in a brilliant red boat to dispel the disharmony developing amongst the friends. I won’t reveal the object or the end of the imaginative fable Schexnayder has created, but readers won’t be disappointed to find more serendipity in the work he offers.



A visit to Schexnayder’s gallery is an occasion of “joy and wonder, shimmer and light,” and visitors usually come away with an art object in hand. Lately, a visit reveals paintings of moss-covered kings who people one wall. The paintings depict mystical-looking beings who are a departure from his “Girth Series,” those kings with tiny heads and billowing robes that he initiated in 2016. “It takes awhile for patrons to get used to a new series,” Schexnayder explains. However, I've found favorable reviews of the new work on facebook and know that his followers will soon add them to their Schexnayder home galleries.

Schexnayder, who always discovers treasures to paint, has made memorable a simple red rowboat that provokes thoughts of optimism, and the word “joy” is frequently reflected in his books, as well as in his art. The mysterious factor in his paintings is that he’s color blind; however, his purples, reds, yellows, and blues leap from the walls and pages of his work after their birth in the colors of his imagination.

This notable New Iberia artist has created illustrations for at least three of my own books, and I often re-use them in blogs. The whimsy that Schexnayder conveys is infectious and his mission, a simple one — to recreate the Fruits of the Spirit, specially the one at the top of St. Paul’s List — JOY. His creations also emerge as acts of love, another outpouring of the Spirit.

Paul Schexnayder has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Louisiana State University, has worked as an art teacher, serves as a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and owns an art gallery in New Iberia that he generously shares with regional artists and writers. Recently, he painted a mural depicting his “Girth Series” for the City of New Iberia. The mural emphasizes the idea that New Iberia is not only the “Queen City of the Teche”, as it is often called, it’s also the King City of Bayou Country.


Bravo, Paul, thank you for spreading joy and wonder, shimmer and light! 


Sunday, November 4, 2018

FESTIVAL OF WORDS


Friday evening, we traveled to St. Landry Parish to hear readings by three writers featured in the 11th Annual Festival of Words and were entertained for two hours by Jack Bedell, Louisiana Poet Laureate; Cornelius Eady, a musical theatre poet; and novelist Ladee Hubbard. The trio held creative writing workshops and drive-by poetry readings on Friday and Saturday, November 2nd and 3rd, but I was only present for the Friday reading at Chicory’s Coffee and Cafe in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. We usually migrate from Sewanee, Tennessee to home in New Iberia, Louisiana just in time to attend the Festival, and I’m always amazed at the literary stars that Patrice Melnick, Director of the Festival, attracts.

The Festival of Words is supported by a galaxy of arts organizations: the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourist in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council as administered by the Acadiana Center for the Arts, and partners with the Acadiana Writing Project, Grand Coteau Cultural Arts Foundation, the Thensted Center, Nunu’s Arts and Culture Collective, Lyrically Inclined, Chicory’s, Giles Automart, St. Landry Parish Tourism and Arts and Writing supporters from throughout the U.S.

The three presenters enjoyed equal time as writers from diverse backgrounds, but “A Words Worth” can only accommodate showcasing one from the trio, and I decided to create press for the Louisiana Poet Laureate, Jack Bedell. He’s an engaging poet who teaches English at Southeastern Louisiana University where he edits Louisiana Literature and is director of the Louisiana Literature Press.

I was impressed by Bedell’s humility and what he calls his “simple lines” (from his inscription in No Brother, This Storm, the book I bought during break time at Chicory’s). An unassuming person, he was dressed casually, wore a baseball cap while he read, and delivered poems that reflected a devotion to family, capturing the audience with lyrics of grace and simplicity.

I particularly liked his voice in “First Kiss,” taken from No Brother, This Storm in which he displays his devotion to fatherhood through his daughter’s interest in baby frogs:

First Kiss

…She wants

to turn over every pot, pull back
the cover on the barbecue pit,
check each slat in the storm shutters.
She knows no crack is too small
for these frogs. They can flatten themselves
and get under anything. They fold their bones
and wait for her, each one a prince.

The eloquence in the last two lines evokes the image of an admiring father observing his daughter at play — a nurturing father portrayed in a powerful psalm. A childhood memory of learning “The Children’s Hour” by Longfellow in the third grade flashed through my mind and formed a cameo of the loving father surrounded by his adoring daughters.

I was drawn to all of Bedell’s poems about his daughter, and having written about a turtle yesterday, I revisited the following poem he presented at the Festival reading. These tender, soft-voiced lines resonated with me. 


Dead Turtle 

My daughter leaves the body
as it lies, will not disturb
the turtle’s last stretch
to position it with more grace.

She covers it with azalea petals
to cool its skin, outlines
its body in concentric circles
of branches, swatches
torn from magazines…

In some other place, she will find
song to hold all of this, enlaced. 


Bedell will present his work at the upcoming Louisiana Book Festival next weekend in Baton Rouge, and those who will participate and hear him for the first time can look forward to a time blessed with a wise and delightful reading from our state’s most hopeful poetic voice. 


Saturday, November 3, 2018

TURTLE SOUP

Art work by Paul Schexnayder

Yesterday, while riding along Hwy. 182 en route to New Iberia from Broussard, Louisiana, we whizzed past a ditch filled with water where a police car was parked. The police officer seemed to be arguing with a man holding a rope to which a turtle was tied. I only caught a glimpse of the turtle but could see the spiked shell and thick scaled tail of a huge alligator turtle. If I had satisfied my curiosity, I’d have asked the driver to stop, but thought I might get embroiled in some kind of endangered species argument. I’ve read that alligator turtles aren’t labeled as “endangered” in Louisiana right now, but they are over harvested for their meat. For all I know, the man holding the rope could have just caught his supper and was being chastised for fishing in a highway ditch. 

I’ve been interested in these primitive-looking turtles since I read that they were plentiful on Last Island during the 19th century and that their weight was reported to top 200-400 pounds. They also lived to be 50-100 years old. Several years ago, when I was writing The Kajun Kween, a young adult book, the alligator turtle became a challenge for Petite Marie Melancon, the heroine of a comic strip who caught one in a hoop net, and New Iberia’s famous local illustrator, Paul Schexnayder, painted a picture of her holding the critter by its tail.

Alligator turtles hardly ever come on land, except when the females want to lay their eggs, and November is the wrong season for egg laying, so I’m wondering why the turtle I saw ventured into a roadside ditch, unless the world was “too much with [her]” and she was near the 100-year old mark. After all, some hardy alligator turtles live to be several hundred years old, especially in southwest Louisiana.

According to Petite Marie, who read extensively before going on an adventure to catch an alligator turtle, in the 1800’s, a man named James Cathcart was sent to Last Island, Louisiana to survey timber suitable for making U.S. vessels, and he found fishermen catching 300-lb. turtles at the rate of five alligator turtles a day. They were selling them for $7 apiece and kept them in pens until buyers showed up. Petite Marie figured she’d be lucky if she caught a 50 pounder. However, she managed to net a huge one, and her fishing companions severed its head, placed it in a bucket of water, stuck a twig in its mouth, and the head clamped down on the twig. Petite tells us that the movement of the head was only a reflex but it must have been a frightening sight.

Of course, this is only a replay of a fictional account, but as we zoomed past the snapping turtle on a rope, I admit to being spooked enough not to turn my head for a backward glance. My mother often made turtle soup for her family of five children, but I think the turtle was probably a soft shell turtle my intrepid father had caught in the Bogue Chitto River and beheaded before he brought it home sans head for my mother to cook.




Thursday, November 1, 2018

ALL SAINTS

Dorothy Greenlaw Marquart


Today is All Saints Day, and, in honor of those who’ve inspired our faith we recognize both ancient and recent family saints. I could probably drum up a list of women who have led me, intentionally and otherwise, into religious inquiry and active church work, but the most notable ones were two who were included in my second book entitled Their Adventurous Will: Profiles of Memorable Louisiana Women. Those profiles deserve a revisit today.

The first woman was, of course, my mother, Dorothy Greenlaw Marquart, and in Their Adventurous Will, I wrote: “One of her greatest legacies to me was a love of the Anglican Church to which she was deeply devoted after her conversion as a teenager. She single-handedly attempted to establish a mission church in my hometown of Franklinton, Louisiana with its predominantly Baptist population. The Episcopal church was never built, although a sign advertising the mission stood for a long time on a vacant lot which she had coerced an old family Franklintonite to donate. She didn’t convert enough Baptists, Methodists, or Roman Catholics to build the church and congregation but she did accomplish some consciousness raising about Anglicanism. While she was working on the project, the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana introduced her to someone as that ‘woman with the red hot poker who gets people moving.’

“When I went home for her funeral, some of her friends and family members said to me: ‘She was too good.’ She probably wouldn’t have liked that remark; she didn’t think of her life as role playing or as some kind of martyr’s legend. She simply believed in St. John the Divine’s words: ‘Absolute self giving is the only path from the human to the divine.’ Friends and family also told me: ‘She was proud of you.’ I know she was. I am proud of her. She gave me the ability to perceive ‘tongues in trees,’ the sight to see ‘books in the running brooks, sermons in stone and good in everything.’ She also gave me a love of nature, music, humor, and imagination…”

Dora Runnels Greenlaw


“My great-grandmother, Dora Runnels Greenlaw, who died the night I was born and executed a literary and religious transfer to me (according to family members), was also a visionary who felt her life purpose to be that of a missionary and who spread the Gospel from a horse-drawn buggy of the kind used to transport country doctors to their house calls. Like the American poetess, Emily Dickinson, Dora Runnels was semi-reclusive, spending days writing verse in a back room of the old Greenlaw home in Franklinton and mysteriously appearing in the afternoons to venture forth on her missionary calls. The record of her talents can be found in a few pamphlets of verse which her son Edward published on a small printing press he owned and in a booklet which I discovered in the Louisiana Room of the Louisiana State Library entitled Memoirs of the Baptist Women’s Missionary Union of Washington Parish Association, published in the early 1900’s. 

“Like many of the subjects in Their Adventurous Will, Dora met with considerable opposition when she attempted to make her contribution to society…One day in 1908 she set out in her buggy drawn by faithful Nell. A female companion accompanied her and ‘kindly piloted her over the six miles from Franklinton to Spring Hill, over mud holes and through the beautiful pine forests.’… En route, the zealous women passed a Baptist minister who was traveling to Franklinton. The minister had been informed about the two women’s mission, and Dora expected a show of cordiality as he passed. She slowed her horse but the stone-faced pastor merely tipped his hat as the two buggies passed one another. Dora was hurt, puzzled, but suppressed her feelings and drove on toward Spring Hill. Finally, she turned to her companion, who knew the pastor well, and asked for an explanation of the minister’s behavior. ‘He does not believe in the organization of women. None of our pastors nor laymen do. They are sincere in their belief that women must keep silent and leave the work to men.’ At that time, Dora did not express her disapproval of the pastor’s attitude, but she later wrote in Memoirs of the Baptist Missionary Union: ‘The opposition of pastors was the mountain to be removed. The enormity of it strengthened my purposes.’ Following this incident she accelerated her missionary efforts and spearheaded the formation of missions in sixteen communities, serving as the superintendent of the Women’s Missionary Union in Washington Parish from 1908-1920. Her summation of the missionary effort was: ‘God had prepared the way and bidden his people to Go Forward.’”


In Their Adventurous Will, I attempted to portray “saints,” Louisiana women who took great leaps of faith and, in all cases, made something so that had been envisioned as impossible, moving their ideas from conception to being with extraordinary fervor and faith. The epigram in this book was taken from Sonnet 67 by Edna St. Vincent Millay and is deserving of space here: 

Upon this marble bust that is not I
Lay the round, formal wreath that is not fame;
But in the forum of my silenced cry
Root ye the living tree whose sap is flame,
I, that was proud and valiant, am no more;
Save as a dream that wanders wide and late,
Save as a wind that rattles the stout door,
Troubling the ashes in the sheltered grate.
The stone will perish; I shall be twice dust.
Only my standard on a taken hill
Can cheat the mildew and the red brown rust
And make immortal my adventurous will.
Even now the silk is tugging at the staff:
Take up the song;
forget the epitaph.


Monday, October 29, 2018

FROZEN RED DIRT

Red clay hills near Brandon, Mississippi

A friend of mine recently told me that I have a migratory spirit, and I have to agree with him. ‘Seems like when I’m in Sewanee, Tennessee, I make at least six visits to sites in surrounding states during my six-month sojourn. When I’m in Louisiana, I search for places to explore in Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. I know the old adage, “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” but the idea of becoming a mossback has no appeal for me either. Last week, I stopped in Meridian, Mississippi to visit the MAX Arts Center there and had an envee to stay awhile but continued on to Louisiana. Since that visit to the magnolia state, I’ve been yearning to return to the birth site of my maternal great-grandmother in Brandon, Mississippi.

This morning I was reading an old edition of Off the Beaten Path published by the Reader’s Digest, and I discovered a notation about Flora, Mississippi, site of a Mississippi petrified forest. A photograph of what I call “frozen red dirt” had been placed beside the article, and I developed pangs to explore the only petrified forest east of the Rockies created from remains of primeval forests — driftwood buried in and preserved by silt and sand. I looked at the picture “long and long” before putting it on a list that I’d made to satisfy my migratory spirit. The photo showed deeply-eroded cliffs studded with petrified logs. According to the article in Off the Beaten Path, the red sands that identify them to me as “frozen red dirt” were river deposits in which the petrified process had begun —the vivid red dirt fascinated me.

Brown Cotton and Red Dirt by Karen Bourque

In 2017 I asked my friend Karen Bourque, glass artist in Church Point, Louisiana, to create a glass piece that I could photograph for a book of poetry I’d written entitled Sifting Red Dirt, and she gifted me with her version of Mississippi hills around Brandon, Mississippi where my maternal great-grandmother was born. The book contained a collection of poems about my forebears (the red dirt side that balances out my Cajun side).

After seeing the photo of the petrified forest in Flora (near Jackson, Mississippi), I went out on the glass porch where I keep some of Karen’s art and stood before the glass piece she entitled “Brown Cotton and Red Dirt.”

“We have to make a trip to a petrified forest in Mississippi,” I told my traveling companion, Dr. Victoria Sullivan. “The spirits of my Mississippi ancestors must be hovering in that area. The petrified formations are 36 million years old.”

“Your ancestors’ spirits hover everywhere,” she said. “They’re ubiquitous. Where are we going now?”

“Flora, Mississippi. It’s near Jackson.”

“Population under 2000, I’m sure.”

“How did you guess? I know you like cities, but the most interesting places are those less frequented.”

“Your ancestors were country hicks on both sides. They must have been afraid of tall buildings,” she said.

“It’s important to visit places that carry the spirit of your cultural identity,” I retorted.

Dr. Sullivan sighed and went to the computer. As publisher of most of my poetry writings, she keeps a file of photos that appear on the covers of my books, so I knew why she had sought out her computer. 

Pandora C. Runnels Greenlaw

“It’s under Sifting Red Dirt,” I instructed, and before I could continue, she brought up the photo that had been the model for Karen’s glass piece. “Just think about how arresting that frozen red dirt will be on another cover.” I began to recite the first few verses of “Pandora’s Legacy” (That was great-grandmother’s name, but she shortened it to Dora. As far as my family knows, she was pure-dee redneck, but whence the name “Pandora”??)

PANDORA’S LEGACY

Great Grandmother Dora Runnels
planted her feet in red dirt,
her happiness, not of this earth;
in barren places among soughing pines
she rode a path to martyrdom,
her boots making snail tracks in dust,
the traveling feet of a missionary,
a pilgrim marching toward Calvary.

The night I was born
she disappeared into earth
leaving me faded photographs,
the promise of another light beckoning.
She was an old woman gone mute,
puffs of red dust sifting into a grave,
the past slipping between her fingers
passing on her love, a bidding to me.

Dora Runnels knew her way
through red clay hills,
remote light guiding her,
narrow rails through empty towns.
Her life, now a silent movie reel
out of focus, slowly unwinds
each time I pass red mounds
and fallen needles…”


There are five more verses to this elegy, and as I re-read it, I pencil in “Flora” on my wander list, knowing that I may not be lingering in New Iberia beyond November before taking a trip. As I quoted in the epigram of Sifting Red Dirt: “As though memory/were a large orchestra/without a repertoire/till it began.” Erratic Facts, Kay Ryan



Saturday, October 20, 2018

BETWEEN QUESTION AND ANSWER



A copy of Pinyon Publishing’s latest publication, Between Question and Answer, Selected Poems of Ute von Funcke (translated from the German by Stuart Friebert) was in my mailbox upon my return to New Iberia, Louisiana two days ago. I placed it on my bedside table, knowing that a review of this book of poetry would require quiet reading time as it reflects the author’s deep interest in philosophy, psychology, and mythical writing. I don’t think that I can offer a more profound review than the one Christiane Wyrwa achieves in the Introduction to this volume, but I feel the power of the poetry demands many readers’ voices acknowledging Ute von Funcke’s artistry and Friebert’s expert translations.

Between Question and Answer includes selections from four of Ute von Funcke’s books of poetry, as well as new, unpublished poems. A poet who writes with the knowledge that poetry and politics are compatible, she is not shy about expressing man’s inhumanity to man in her work; however, she also voices hope for correcting the injustices that exist in societies worldwide. Between Question and Answer is divided into four sections of vibrant poetry and transposed into American English by Friebert who is described by reviewer Wyrwa as a translator who disproves Robert Frost’s pronouncement that “poetry is what gets lost in translation.”

In the first section of Between Question and Answer, the poem “Disturbing, Disrupting Incident,” impressed me with the emotional depth in the sensory, household chore of drying clothes in the outdoors. “On the clothes-line between/apple tree and summer house/fluttering forms of man and woman/many-colored almanac of the everyday/in the sun’s energy in overdrive/pants and shirts flying dolphins/memories washed by the sea/revived by drying…I like the smell/of fresh laundry/its tidings in the basket/and your blue shirt.” The poem evokes memories in readers who grew up during the era of outdoor clothes drying through such simple tableaus as the end phrase, “your blue shirt,” a “yesterday” evocation of my own childhood.

Ute von Funcke introduces the second section, “Into the Dark,” with a succinct poem entitled “Nightbook,” taking the reader into a world of terror and violence that prevailed during World War II Berlin: “Night wrote pages/day doesn’t want to read/kiss the early bird and ride/the yellow horse of daybreak/then read day/in the pages of night.” She writes of a childhood during post World War II, a time when her family sustained strict moral values and possessed a strong sense of justice — factors that influenced her postwar experiences in a country that had been under the “black flag of terror.”

In the second section I was also moved by two “homeless” poems; one about “the old man in the dense/hedgerows of the subway-jungle” and another brief one entitled “Isolated Incident": "In the act of night/the last fellow traveler/at the last terminal/I see him run in a straight line/an old fox without a burrow/behind the pillars/no air stirs/his no man’s land.” The metaphorical power in this poem presents a true picture of lost street people anywhere in the world and also elucidates Ute von Funcke’s feelings for marginalized persons.

Literary characters appear in “Other Worlds,” the third section of Between Question and Answer and expand the reader’s knowledge of ancient times; e.g. “Ulysses Returns,” is based on the Greek legend about Ulysses returning home to his wife Penelope after ten years fighting for the city of Troy: “The bed/in the olive tree/her tears on your hand, Ulysses/a bough touches/withering skin/Penelope’s breath/rests heavy on you/fog over/the late field/in the depths/of night/your doubts/lurking hyenas.” I love the stark and simple imagery in this moving poem, particularly the last verse: “your doubts/lurking hyenas.”

The fourth section, “Forget, Darling,” contains love poems, one of which suggests “Omens” that predict separation and departure of two beloveds: “She knows feathers/will grow/out of her old skin/invisible at first/the delicate plumage/wordless omens/he will see them/touch their quills/read them before her flight.” 

Rich phrasing dominates the work of this German poet, and Friebert faithfully translates the striking work of Ute von Funcke in accessible renditions of American English. Ute von Funcke lives in Munich, Germany and has taught languages, ethics, and acting at secondary schools. She has also trained adults in theatre, body work, Quigong and dance, written plays for children and has produced four volumes of poetry in German: Songs from the Furnace, Night Book, Woman Taking Flight, and In the Fissures of Time.

Stuart Friebert is the founder of the Creative Writing Program at Oberlin College, Ohio, co-founded Field Magazine, the Field Translation Series, and Oberlin Press. He won the 2015 Ohioana Poetry Award and has published 15 books of poems, as well as 15 volumes of translations, anthologies, and prose.


Another mover and shaker for Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403. Kudoes Gary and Susan! 




Friday, October 19, 2018

TO THE “MAX”

Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience (MAX)

We stopped for an overnight in Meridian, Mississippi, Land of Red Dirt and a city near the place of my Grandfather Greenlaw’s birth in Brandon Mississippi. We were en route from Sewanee, Tennessee to New Iberia, Louisiana, and yesterday we had a mission: to see the world class MAX (Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience) newly opened in April this year. At a cost of $45 million, this center showcases the talents, past and present, of Mississippi artists in the fields of music, dance, visual arts, literature and storytelling, theatre, pottery, and other work in arts and entertainment. The MAX features innovative and interactive exhibits of notables like Willie Morris, Charley Pride, Oprah Winfrey, William Faulkner, Walter Anderson, Eudora Welty, Muddy Waters, Marty Stuart, Craig Claiborne, and many other artists and craftsmen, chefs, writers, and musicians, as well as consummate storytellers born and raised in this rich southern culture. 

As we drove into the parking lot at the MAX, I noticed an old hotel up the street that appeared to be in the stages of reconstruction and wondered if it was the Hotel Meridian where my grandfather had stayed while doing business in the automobile industry during the early 1900’s. At the desk, I asked a docent about the location of the old Hotel Meridian. “You’re standing on it,” she said. “It was demolished and this museum was built on the site.”

Manny and Melanie Mitchell of Meridian had donated the Meridian Hotel to the MAX project, and a board of directors approved the purchase of the Montana building next door to be included in the 58,000 square ft. exhibit space. The Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Experience contains a broadcast studio, art studio, multi-purpose area, gift shop, and an outdoor performance area and courtyard. 

The 20-yr. MAX project, from conception to completion, began with the Mississippi legislature providing seed money for an ambitious arts museum and gained momentum with major donations from the Phil Hardin Foundation and the Riley Foundation. In 2011, LPK Architects of Meridian, Canizaro Cawthon Davis of Jackson, Mississippi, and the internationally-recognized museum planning and design firm of Gallagher & Associates of Washington, D.C. formed the team that would create the remarkable museum. Other specialists who could add content from their communities in Mississippi became involved. 



The MAX is an inspiring project that has already begun to attract young people from elementary and secondary schools where they may be seen swaying to a juke joint band in an exhibit, or standing transfixed before the screen showing Horn Island and a simulated rowboat in which the artist Walter Anderson (my favorite) rowed out to the island to discover the subjects for his wildlife paintings. In 2019, the Jim Henson Exhibition entitled “Imagination Unlimited” will explore native Mississippian Henson’s work for film and television, including The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and other shows that have delighted young people.

The exhibit of Shearwater Pottery, established by Walter Anderson’s brother, Peter, in business since the 1920’s, features pottery crafted from two clay bodies: a white-bodied clay obtained from Tennessee, and a buff-bodied clay made from local Mississippi and Alabama sources. The pottery is decorated or glazed from one of Shearwater’s distinct glazes. I’ve visited this store, as well as the Walter Anderson Museum numerous times, and my birthday and Christmas gifts have included prints from the Anderson museum.















Meridian, Mississippi may not have been on a tourist’s radar prior to the construction of the MAX, but it’s worth a stopover of two or three hours browsing in this inspiring museum. Tommy Delaney, Board Chair of the MAX, has written that he feels the MAX will become the catalyst for economic growth for Meridian and Lauderdale County, Mississippi, and Meridian is now poised for serious consideration by businesses looking for quality locations.