Guest Post: 5 Literary Locations in Memphis

Posted by Holly Whitfield | August 29th 2012 1867 0

Editor's note: I'm excited to share this guest post by Courtney Miller Santo with you guys today. She's a novelist and creative writing teacher at the University of Memphis, which makes her the perfect person to bring you this list of five literary locations around Memphis.

1. Elmwood Cemetery

Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, Tenn.

In "The American Plague", Molly Caldwell Crosby’s riveting account of the yellow fever epidemic that nearly destroyed Memphis, the cemetery becomes a focal point. In describing the trees, she writes, “There are elms at Elmwood, though they were planted after the fact to complement the name. Their massive gnarled trunks rise high above the earth and their roots spread deep beneath the ground, branching out amid the bones.”

2. Cotton Row

Cotton Row, Memphis, Tenn.

In John Grisham’s compelling second novel, "The Firm", Mitchell Y. McDeere, takes a job at a mysterious law firm located in the fictitious Bendini Building on Front Street in Memphis. Grisham evokes the history of the building by noting, “through its halls and doors and across its desks, millions of bales of cotton had been purchased from the Mississippi and Arkansas deltas and sold around the world.”

3. Snowden Avenue near Rhodes College

Before Tennessee Williams was America’s best playwright, he was Thomas Lanier Williams, a sickly boy convalescing at his grandparents home across from Rhodes College (then called Southerwestern). He spent all summer in the college’s library writing what he called "the sailor play" and would later be called "Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay!" It was his first produced play and was staged in Midtown.

4. Graceland

 Memphis features prominently in Priscilla Presley’s autobiography, "Elvis and Me", as does the house she shared with Elvis. She dishes on life in the upstairs part of the house (which the tour doesn’t cover) including this bit about their pied–à–terre: “we saw no one, nor even the light of day. The windows were insulated with tin foil and heavy blackout drapes to prevent any hint of sunlight form entering. Time was ours, to do with as we pleased, for as long as we pleased.”

5. Old Forest in Overton Park

Old Forest, Memphis, Tenn.

Peter Taylor has a way of capturing and skewering southerness in a way that no other writer has. One of his finest short stories takes place in Overton Park, where a girl goes missing after a minor accident. You can almost take this story and trace the exact path of the car and the girl. It feels less like fiction and more like a true crime.

Courtney Miller SantoCourtney Miller  Santo teaches creative writing at the University of Memphis. Redbook Magazine selected her debut novel, "The Roots of the Olive Tree", to kick off its first-ever book club this October. For more information about Courtney or her book, visit www.courtneysanto.com Photo by Jenny Lederer.


Author: Holly Whitfield

I write about what’s going on with Memphis music, food, arts, events, sports, people, and culture. Memphians love Elvis and barbeque with a passion that must be seen to be believed, but there is so much more to this place.

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  1. Frenchie says:

    *Snowden.

  2. eli says:

    Might want to add Beale Street to the list, scene of various hijinx in Faulker's The Reivers. Granted, Faulker's no Grisham.  Nor a Presley, for that matter.

  3. eli says:

    That would be Faulkner, of course.  Gotta get this keyboard checked out.

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