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autumn/winter 2018

Letters to the South

Jarvis DeBerry

Dear American South,

“Really? You don’t sound like you’re from Mississippi.” The people surprised that I don’t sound like their idea of a Mississippian are not all that different from those who label me “articulate.” How surprising it is to them that somebody black, rural, Southern and male speaks with such such attention to enunciation and grammar. I probably ought to just wave off those remarks as ignorance and ignore them. But I can’t really. Because a long time ago, I made a deliberate decision to sound like I’m not from Mississippi. And when people remind me that my effort succeeded, they’re also reminding me that I regret my choice.


Mississippi, how is it that I am so eager to claim you and just as determined not to sound like I’m yours?  How is that I was so eager to run away from you, to stay away from you and still be upset at myself for eradicating all trace of you from my voice?     


“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,” Robert Frost writes, “They have to take you in.” Is it also the place where the people sound like you sound? Where, then, is home for the person who foolishly worked to sound like he’s from nowhere?  

--- Jarvis

JARVIS DEBERRY, deputy opinions editor for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, was born and raised in Holly Springs, Mississippi. He sometimes gets the don’t sound Southern blues.

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