Guest Post: 5 Literary Locations in Memphis
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
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
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.
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
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 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.