Heart of the Delta

Discovering the back pages of John Pritchard's world.



Nail Road is a two-lane road that begins south of Horn Lake with subdivisions on either side. Like much of ex-urban Memphis, the sprawl here has forced development that often cuts abruptly into the rural countryside. But as the sidewalks end, and the suburban lots give way to single houses on large shaded lawns, Nail becomes a true country road. Soon, all there is to see are stretches of woods, intermittent with signature green canopies of kudzu.

I traveled down Nail Road one morning last summer with John Pritchard, an English professor I had met in college. Over coffee that morning in midtown Memphis we began talking about the Mississippi Delta, where he grew up.

“Have you ever seen what it looks like in relation to the rest of the topography around here?” John asked me. I told him I’d been through there on I-55.

“55? There’s no Delta on 55,” he told me.

“Then maybe I haven’t been down there that way,” I said.

“Then you need to get into the car, and I need to show it to you immediately.”

 

John Pritchard

John is someone I’m always glad to see.

He’ll greet you with a smile and listen when you tell him how you are. Despite being in his seventies, he keeps a short ponytail and close-trimmed beard and you can find him in seersucker suits in the summer, and woolen knickers and stockings in the winter. He is genteel, raised in a society of manners, and speaks with an accent like fellow Deltan Shelby Foote — something that only adds to his charm. When you visit with him you feel as though you are being adopted into the world he comes from.

But he is far from the provincial stereotype of the small-town world.

John has lived in Memphis for more than 30 years, working as an English professor for most of that time. But the last eight years have changed things a little. Since the mid-2000s, John has won acclaim for two novels set in the Delta, which follow in the Southern literary legacy of Mark Twain, Flannery O’Connor, and John Kennedy Toole, but fall in a place of their own.

The first of these, Junior Ray, was named one of Barnes and Noble’s “Sensational Debuts” in 2005, and the sequel, Yazoo Blues, was given a starred review by Publisher’s Weekly after its release in 2008. Pritchard himself was nominated for the 2009 fiction award by the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters.

I asked John why he wanted to write about the Delta.

“Well, it’s where I’m from,” he says. “It’s what made me.”

John grew up in a house on the town square in pre-casino Tunica. His father was a successful architect, and his extended family is composed of landowners, lawyers, and bankers. He attended Ole Miss, earning a degree in English, but after graduating he moved away from the Delta, never actually to live there again.

“I don’t know exactly how to describe it,” John tells me about his youth. “I wouldn’t say I was rebellious, I just realized that I could not fit the mold. I realized that I could not do what pretty much it looked like I was supposed to do: which was go to Ole Miss, get a law degree, come back here to Tunica, and practice law. I thought: I would rather be dead.”

Throughout his life John has been a news clerk for The New York Times, a sailor, a professor, a sheriff’s deputy, a songwriter, and now a novelist. His life has taken him from New York to California to Cuba during the Castro revolution, and even awarded him with two gold records for songs he wrote in Nashville.

Over the past three decades, Memphis has been Pritchard’s home. He’s taught English at Southwest Tennessee Community College since 1992. Not that he’s ever settled down completely; as we left the coffee shop that morning, I saw a bumper sticker on the back of his car that read in less-than-perfect Koine Greek:
FUK QE KORPORATIONS.
(Read phonetically, it says: “F**k the Corporations.)

 

 

 

Highways

Roads are important for John.

“A lot of times I’ll say this in bio-pieces: I was born in Memphis because the road was paved,” he says. “Highway 61 was put through and paved by 1937, so by January of ’38 the road was paved from Tunica to Memphis.”

“I was born in Baptist Hospital,” John says, “but I’m not a Memphian.”

John was still a child when World War II ended, and in the following years, new highways were transforming the country. Roads were how John’s small and quiet corner of the world connected with everything outside at a time when the world was changing, and bringing the Delta with it. Cities like Detroit and St. Louis boomed as millions of Americans took roads like Highway 51 to find new lives in the city.

“Highway 51 was built for the people coming up from Senatobia and Hernando,” John says. “And by the way, Highway 51 is Bellevue and Elvis Presley Boulevard, which is built right on top of Old Hernando Road.” Always mindful of the past, John is quick to point out that while these roads were paved in the 1930s, they were made much earlier.

“When DeSoto came in here,” he says, “he didn’t cut his way through the jungle — he walked on big, wide paths. All your major highways are laid on the old Indian trails, and those trails were made by buffalo. But those buffalo carved out these game trails” — like the Chickasaw trail that ran from Memphis to Birmingham — “and they became the major roads of the country.”

Memphis was by now far behind, and I realized that the place we were going was larger than I had imagined. What I knew of the Delta had come in pieces from the Yardbirds, or Elvis, Faulkner, or the Coen Brothers. But what I was about to see that day in the over-heated, deep green, and broad fields of that flat bottom-land was unexpected.

Time has a different value in the Delta. The paths down roads, through forests and fields, over bayous and rivers, somehow connect the past to the present in an uncanny way. A wrong turn seems as likely to bring a modern traveler to a Confederate cavalry camp as a house with a pick-up in the driveway; a Choctaw village as easily as a band of freedmen heading for Union lines. But I didn’t know this at eleven o’clock that morning as we followed Nail Road away from Horn Lake.

 

The Loess Hills

"We’re in the Loess Hills,” John says.   

“L-O-E-S-S.” Horn Lake was behind us, and outside the car, Nail Road was beginning to rise and fall with shoulders of orange, sandy clay that separate the road from drainage ditches and the woodlands beyond.

“Actually, these hills are the same as the bluffs up there in Memphis,” he says. “The same geographical phenomenon that blew in from New Mexico, I don’t know, a million years ago.”

“Were these some of your old haunts?” I ask.

“Nope. I didn’t go up in here at all. I knew about it, but this is not in the Delta.”

John pauses and looks at me. “You have to say: ‘Are we in the Delta, yet?’”

“Are we in the Delta, yet?” I ask.

“Nope.”

John becomes preoccupied the further we drive down Nail Road. His attention drags as we come to the top of each hill as though he’s looking for something.

“Are we there yet?” I ask, again.

“Nope — but we’re close.”

Soon we come to the top of one long, high climb. Nail Road suddenly plummets and the horizon leaps miles away in the distance to the west. Through a proscenium of tree trunks and the shade of full boughs, a sun-filled tableau of farmland opens in a wide valley beneath us. And meeting this flatland, just below the horizon, is the Mississippi River.

“There’s the Delta,” John says. He lets go of the steering wheel as we begin to descend, and lifts his hands into the air like a carnival-goer on a roller coaster.

“Here we go.”

And we speed between rust-colored ravines, descending from the hills, and enter the Mississippi Delta.

 

Walls, Mississippi

"See how flat you are now?” John says.

 “You’re on a river bottom.” The mass of the Loess Hills recedes into the distance out of the rear window of John’s car. They stretch away from us to the south, becoming recognizable as a line of hills as they shrink — a distinct blue-green monument that would lay on the eastern horizon all day.

We drive west across this plain toward the small hamlet of Walls. We pass gas stations and churches, and shaded neighborhood streets. John pauses at a railroad crossing on the edge of town.
“This is the Illinois-Central Railroad right here,” John says. “There were 11 trains or more, probably 15 trains a day that went up and down this thing back then. People could get on it, zoom to Memphis, shop, and come back.”

Beyond the rail bed we find an immense sea of farmland spreading before us. And beyond all of this another ridge rises above the landscape. John points out the passenger window.

“That’s the levee running out over there,” John says. Here in the fields the Mississippi River levee rises above everything else — as imposing on the landscape as the line of the Loess Hills behind us. It runs along the north, west, and south of us — dominating the horizon. I wonder if there is any connection between this and the town’s name, Walls.

We follow a small county road through large fields of corn, cotton, and soy. Around one bend sits a small country church with an enormous tree in its graveyard.

“This is a monument to Memphis Minnie,” John says, pointing to the Mississippi Blues Trail marker that stands on the roadside. But as we pass, I can’t help but see beyond the churchyard, to the man-made ridge in the distance that holds back the greatest river in the world. One of Memphis Minnie’s songs, made popular by a certain English quartet, begins to play in my mind:

If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’to break,
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’to break,
And when the levee breaks, got no place to stay.

 

 

 

The Levee

Around noon John and I come to a stop and step out of the car. The sky is large and pale blue. Shadows from the clusters of clouds above us pass quickly. The air carries the aromas of soil, and the faint, raw smells of farming and livestock. And it carries all of this up the grassy slope to the top of the Mississippi River levee where John and I now stand.

Looking east, with my back to the river, the fabled flatland of the Mississippi Delta cotton country stretches to the horizon. The deep green of the fields covers the plain, except where the earth and soil are visible on their edges. Tan hard-packed turn rows run among these, lined with fences and farm equipment. Copses of trees stand like dark green massifs, and in the distance on the horizon, blue in the haze, is the outline of the Loess Hills.

“The river’s right over here,” John says, pointing west, away from the farmland. Here, the slope of the levee descends into a thick forest that blocks the river from view. He refers to this as the bateau side, French for “boat,” or the wet side in English.

“Now, here’s the woods on the other side of the levee,” John says. “They’re wild. It’s where they hunt the deer and the turkey. This is where the 13-foot alligators were cruising around when that water was right up …” and he finishes this by pointing to the edge of the gravel road we are standing on. He was referring to the high river stages of 2011 that flooded several places around Memphis.

“You know, this last flood,” he says, “the dad-gum water was twenty feet higher than the top of their houses on the other side of the levee. George was sleeping with a dadgum rubber raft. He had an inflatable raft and a life-jacket: He was ready to go.”

We had driven past his friend George’s place only a few minutes earlier, and the levee had seemed such a natural part of the countryside I had forgotten why it was there. Even driving along the top, the view is so pastoral that the image of water breaking through it into the valley below — the way it did in 1927 — seems unimaginable. But the image came to mind of the swollen banks of the Mississippi slowly climbing into downtown Memphis in the spring of 2011 — and the miles of inland sea it created in Arkansas.

Here, though, out in the heat and humidity, the wildness of the landscape is nearer. This is a place where I could imagine the water rising, the alligators swimming through the flooded woods, climbing the bateau slope to where we now stand.

The levee is the great wall the landowners built to keep out the invading force of the dispossessed Mississippi River. That river is the key to all of the riches of the land, and the great enemy of the planters. The river watches and waits like an exiled king, taking advantage of any weakness to reclaim his lost land.

“If it had busted at his house,” John says, “it would have been like Niagara and it would have been all over — whop!”

“I love high water,” he adds, “'cept when it’s in your house.”

 

 

The People Who Came Before

"Okay,” John says, pulling the car off the highway and onto the hard-packed easement of a small field. “We’re going to park right there and I’m going to look instantly and see if I can find you a piece of an Indian pot. Let’s leave the motor running.”

I get out of the car to see John bending over, staring at the ground. Nearby are rows of waist-high, leafy green stalks. John tells me it’s a corn field, but that the crops are rotated. “Sometimes it’s cotton — sometimes it’s beans,” he says, examining the ground. Behind us, the hot engine’s fan begins to whir loudly over the sound of its mechanical hum.

“They’ve all busted them up so much these days,” he says. “The equipment the planters use is so heavy.”

I follow him, looking over the ground he is inspecting, not knowing what to look for. All I can see are dirt clods, pebbles, and a shotgun shell.

“Oh,” John cries, and then approaches me with something in his open palm. “Here you go: piece of an Indian pot.” He holds up what looks like a chunk of dirt. He then wipes it off on his shorts, and lifts it up again. I can see a salmon color on the object’s surface beneath the bright tan of the dirt still clinging to it in the sun. The edges are sharp and layered in grains and the reverse side is slate grey.
“It’s probably Woodland pottery,” John says. “It’s probably about twelve hundred years old.”

I am stunned. We had found an artifact of a lost civilization almost as easily as we might have found an empty beer bottle.

“Wait, what am I saying? It’s probably about twenty-three hundred years old,” he says. “Some of them have a little color in them — like this,” and John lifts up his hands to reveal a dozen little bits of broken pottery, covered in dust.

“I’m trying to find you a rim piece,” he says, walking in among the crops.

“Well, thirty years ago, forty years ago, you’d get big pieces,” he says, “but I can’t find a rim piece. It wouldn’t be untoward to find a nice projectile point for you, but we really shouldn’t be here. I used to ask the permission of the Johnson boys, but here’s hoping they don’t come by here.” I think of the shotgun shell I had found a moment earlier.
“That’s a piece,” John finally says. “That’s a rim.” He lifts a small shard into view.

“It’s pretty teensy,” he says, “but you see what I mean; it’s the lip of the rim.” And I can see what he means.

The piece he holds up is barely larger than the tip of my thumb, but I can see the intentionality and purpose behind it. It is small and worn, but the curve of the lip is just visible enough to betray the humanity that had crafted it. I am being introduced to the people who had once lived here — one more in a long line of visitors.

Back in the car John drops the pieces he found into my cupped hands. “Wash them off when you get home,” he tells me. “I’m sorry we couldn’t have gotten a nice big rim piece,” he says, “but a rim piece we got.”

 

 

 

The Writing Life

John once explained the great conflict of the writer’s life to me.

“You want to be out living life,” he said, “not sitting at home writing about it.” So, after years of teaching and songwriting, John finally sat down to write the book he always wanted to.

“I kind of knew it when I was about 14,” John explains. “I wanted to be a writer.” He was impressed by the popular novels of other young writers, Phil Stone and Françoise Sagan among them. “I thought, gosh, if they could write these things at 17, and they’re not very long — I could do that, I could write a little book — and it would be a book.

“I tried writing some things when I was at Ole Miss,” John says. “I tried writing when I was in New Orleans. I tried writing when I was in New York. One time I was at home — I forget what period that was, I think it was before I went into the army — and wrote a novella. I wrote five pages a day for about a month or so.

“It was just ghastly, ghastly, ghastly. It had a character named Abel Shepherd, you know? And the characters were all so tortured and lonely — Oh, what does it all mean? — that kind of stuff.

“But when I wrote back in those days I hadn’t made all the horrible mistakes — I hadn’t done all the things; I had no chain of regrets. I had maybe three or four regrets, but I didn’t have an entire footlocker full of them, to look back on with shame every time I open my retrospective eyes.

“You know, I didn’t know anything. I wrote what I thought writing should sound like — what a novel should sound like. And it just wasn’t going to be.”


“But now I’ve got my book,” he says, “and it shows you that sticking at it can pay off in the end.”

 

 

Junior Ray Loveblood

Mississippi state tourist officials won’t be handing this book out anytime soon,” Publisher’s Weekly said of one of John’s books, “though they might be surprised by its effectiveness if they did.”

The world of the Delta in John’s novels is the world of Junior Ray Loveblood. Junior Ray is a bigoted, vulgar misanthrope and retired sheriff’s deputy who narrates each of the novels as an oral history.

He is a character whose repugnance is not easily matched, and the stories are continuously embellished and punctuated by his hatred or dislike of virtually everyone and everything — not to mention his profanity. Memphis author John Fergus Ryan once said that Junior Ray’s speech “has taken profanity and made a new language of it.” What the reader will find on the first page of the first book is Junior Ray saying, “Some people say there ain’t that much to me, but that’s a gotdamn lie. There’s just as much to me as it is to any other sumbitch I know.” From here on, Junior Ray takes command.

In the town of St. Leo, in Mhoon County, John creates a place full of Chaucer’s worldly satire and Flannery O’Conner’s rustic grace. In the first novel, the reader follows Junior Ray on a manhunt for an escaped lunatic. In Yazoo Blues, he recounts his theories about a forlorn 1863 Union expedition through the Delta rivers, and the travails of a lovelorn friend infatuated with a Memphis stripper.

John’s satirical vision of the Delta is of a world both beautiful and strange, and what Junior Ray offers the reader is a perspective that goes beyond an outsider’s view. The opposite of John Kennedy Toole’s Ignatius J. Reilly, Junior Ray is a clever man, but not intelligent; he is a man of action, but so consumed with frustration and so short-sighted that he has turned the small town of St. Leo against him, and continuously trips over himself when he is not outright blocked.

John knows the Delta, and Junior Ray Loveblood is every bit as rough around the edges as the Delta is. As Virgil leads Dante through the afterlife, so John uses Junior Ray to guide his readers through the backroads, the juke joints, and the small towns of Mhoon County. And along the way he offers his unsolicited opinions on everything from God and sex, to the white landowners, the black community, a clever alternative to nuclear weapons, and everything else.

But John succeeds in making Junior Ray almost likable. He’s himself, and makes no pretentions otherwise. The things he says may not be pretty, but there’s always a grain of truth in them — even if he doesn’t see it himself.

“I find a helluva lot of peace in bein’ a sunavabitch,” Junior Ray says. “A sunavabitch don’t have to worry about nothin’, and I guess that’s why I never really have.”

 

 

 

Clarksdale

By five-thirty the sun sits low and bright in the west, and I stand squinting at the corner of State Street and Desoto Avenue in Clarksdale. Behind me, John fills the tank under the weather-stained metal awning of a worn but sturdy gas station.

Clarksdale is a town of 18,000 and feels just slightly European, if for no other reason than the compression of its houses and buildings into a small area. But here all similarities stop, and the elements of the small-town South become familiar — pick-up trucks, ancient storefronts featuring decades-old advertising, and the imposing green of foliage challenging every step of progress.

But progress is slow in Clarksdale today. The mansions lining the streets on the north end of town are a testimony to the wealth that once resided here. However, the streets that crisscross in downtown Clarksdale show empty and unkempt buildings and betray the realities of a world in change.

Earlier in the day, as we left Walls, John had taken me on the backroads of the farm country on our way to Tunica. As far as the eye could see, these fields exhibited the product of months of human labor. But the only sign of any other person here is a lone machine driving over the fields in the distance.

“If we were driving out on this road on a typical day when you were growing up,” I ask John, “how many people would we see?”

“Out in the fields? Hundreds: there were mules and men out there all over the place.” This was how it had been in the Delta since it was first settled by whites. African slaves were brought from Virginia and the Carolinas to work these plantations, and even after the Civil War and Reconstruction, African Americans occupied the same place in the Delta social structure that they always had.

“The black population was the labor force,” John explains. Even in the 1950s, an average Delta county would have been roughly 20,000 people and less than 10 percent would have been non-black.

And most of these people’s lives would revolve around the work they did for the white landowners.

“By the end of the ’60s, mules were going out the door,” John says. “There’s no more hand labor — there’s none. I mean, you don’t have people out there working the bean fields and the cotton fields, you have that big tractor back there.”

“It’s a phenomenon, and people look at it and understand that the old ways are gone and the new ways have come in.” John compares this phenomenon to the changes that have come over other regional industries, like steelmaking in the Northeast, and salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest. The people who operate the heavy farm equipment, like the one I can see out the car window, “have a hard time,” John says, “because they don’t work all year.”

“The mechanical cotton-picker eventually took their place,” he says. “These things today take the place of about two thousand dadgum people — maybe more than that. Plus it’s much more efficient. I don’t even know how to make the comparison: These things do everything but make a T-shirt.” This is the reality of post-war Delta agriculture, and therefore its people.

Junior Ray is about change,” John says, “from men and mules to mechanization. It’s not explicit, but it’s in there.

“The message is that the Delta’s changing.”

Despite these changes, however, Clarksdale still tries to make the most of its greatest natural resource — the blues. It is still the legendary site of the “crossroads,” where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil, and is known throughout the world as the official home of the blues. A mecca for musicians, the little town boasts the Ground Zero Blues Club, several blues museums, and the annual Juke Joint Festival every April.

With this has come an upsurge in tourism, and amid the blight of closed buildings are touches of recovery. New apartments and lofts have opened downtown, and John was particularly excited to see a new café, the Yazoo Pass. But destination tourism, as much pride as it might stir in the hearts of the locals, is a small consolation in a region the Economist recently referred to as “the poorest region of America’s poorest state.”

As we leave Clarksdale and turn north onto Highway 61, we’re greeted again by the Delta’s ubiquitous ocean of modern American agriculture, and by the bounty it produces. Fields owned by white planters and worked by African Americans — first as slaves, then as marginalized citizens — are now owned by corporations and run by machines. Mechanization is just another step in a long process that, despite the recent growth, has ignored the Delta’s largest community.

“White folks hear the blues,” Ma Rainey once said, “but they don’t know how it got there.”

 

 

Back Home

We drive Highway 61 back to Memphis, following the same path taken by Robert Johnson, Memphis Minnie, Tennessee Williams, Richard Wright, and countless others who left their home in the Mississippi to find their fortune in Memphis.

John talks as he drives. He tells me about his adventures in college in the late 1950s, and how after his freshman year, he hitchhiked to Key West. He also took a DC-3 to Cuba to witness the Castro revolution and, as he put it, impress an ex-girlfriend. The next year he went to New Orleans, and, in defiance of his parents’ wishes, found work on a Scandinavian freighter, which was then caught up in a civil war in Venezuela.

Outside, in the direction of the river, the sun slips lower and lower towards the horizon. The sky, a deep blue in the east, becomes salmon, then copper, as it stretches to the oncoming dusk. The sunset casts all the objects around us in that flat country — a single giant oak, a telephone pole, an abandoned barn — into a burnished gold, august against the coming night.

The ancients believed that twilight was sacred. The boundaries between heaven and earth were loosened, and time itself ceased to operate on a single line.

Highway 61 runs pencil-straight north to Memphis. We pass signs for the casinos, and billboards for Graceland. In the distance dark beneath the sky above are the Loess Hills, which grow larger as we head north. To our left, the levee also creeps closer as we approach the city, until it curves to the east in the distance in front of us, the hills curve to the west, and the two meet, Highway 61 rising between them on its course into the Fourth Chickasaw Bluff and the lights of the city beyond.

“This is the beginning,” John says. “This is where the Delta begins.”

That night I ride my bike home through Cooper-Young, the neighborhood my father rode his bike through as a boy. The evening is still warm and humid, and the air is cool passing over me, over my face and through my shirt. I listen to the sound of voices and music coming from the bars and patios. As I turn west down Young, I catch the porch light of the Captain Harris House where I spent my nights one summer. I pass Peabody Elementary School where I played with my niece and nephew on the playground. To the south comes the blare of a train in the yard on Southern.

In the distance ahead of me, beyond all the houses and neighborhoods of Memphis, beyond my memories and the generations of my family before I was born, beyond all of this is the River, the Father of Waters. And as I lie in bed, my room feels like little more than a small box, my dreams ranging, over the bluff, and down the Mississippi, across the levee and through the fields and bayous, rivers, and woods of the Delta. So close to Memphis, yet so far away. And in the background of these flights over the star-strewn skyline, comes a voice singing:

I’m going down to Rosedale,
     gonna take my rider by my side.
I’m going down to Rosedale,
     gonna take my rider by my side.
We can still barrelhouse baby,
     cause it’s on the riverside. 

 

Michael Flanagan has been previously published in The Memphis Flyer and Memphis Business Quarterly. A graduate of the University of Memphis, he is the great-grandson of Clyde W. Parke (builder of the Memphis Pink Palace Museum’s miniature circus) and a fan of Ballet Memphis. He resides in Midtown and most days can be found locally riding MATA.

 

 

 

A “Writer” — Not an “Author”

John Pritchard was born at Baptist Hospital in January 1938, but spent most of his childhood in Tunica, Mississippi.

“Delta people lived fast, they loved parties, they loved whiskey and they loved dancing,” he says. “And they did a lot of it. And those planters paid their bills once a year up in Memphis, at the end of December.”

He graduated from Sewanee Military Academy in 1956 before attending the University of Mississippi, where he would graduate in 1960. He spent that summer as a copy-boy for The New York Times, whose editor had rented a room from Pritchard’s parents while working for the Tunica Times in the 1920s. An adventurous youth, he drove, hitchhiked, sailed, or flew to Florida, Mexico, Cuba, and Venezuela, before entering the army at his father’s behest.

“God, it was horrible . . . but I hung on,” he says. “I graduated last in my class as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army — last in my class. Then I was supposed to go to Ranger school. I was there for two days before I knew that was not for me.”

Pritchard returned to The New York Times in 1963, after two years in the Army, and after New York, would come south to earn his master’s degree from Memphis State University in 1968.

He spent much of the late 1960s in middle Tennessee, teaching at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville. In 1970, he moved to Nashville, working as a part-time professor, and serving as a deputy with the Metro Nashville and Davidson County Sheriff’s Department. It was here that he earned his two gold records, co-writing The Captain and Tenille’s “Can’t Stop Dancing,” with Ray Stevens, which won a BMI award in 1977 for “outstanding achievement.”

He returned to Memphis in 1981 where he would work in advertising and return to teaching. Over the next 32 years he has taught at the University of Memphis, Memphis College of Art, and then-Shelby State Community College — a place that he remembers with particular fondness.

“I hate the word author,” Pritchard says. “You know, people say, ‘He’s an author.’ I’m not an author: I’m a writer. Back when I was teaching, they’d say, ‘He’s an educator,’ and I’d say, ‘I’m not an educator, I’m a teacher.’

New South Books, which published Junior Ray and Yazoo Blues, will release the next Junior Ray novel, Sailing to Alluvium, in the fall of 2013. — Michael Flanagan

 

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