William Faulkner. Eudora Welty. Tennessee Williams — Mississippians all. The rich, complicated, and sometimes troubled history of the state has provided fodder for some monumental pieces in the American literary canon. With discriminatory religious refusals now part of the landscape, a new generation of Mississippi writers are making their mark.
On Monday, 95 Mississippi writers co-signed a letter in response to HB 1523, a bill signed into law last week which could allow a range of individuals, corporations, healthcare providers, and nonprofit organizations—including those that receive taxpayer funding to perform social services—to refuse to provide goods and services to same sex couples, single mothers, divorcees, and anyone who has had sex outside of marriage and their families.
"It is deeply disturbing to so many of us to see the rhetoric of hate, thinly veiled, once more poison our political discourse," the statement said. "But Governor Phil Bryant and the Mississippi legislators who voted for this bill are not the sole voices of our state. There have always been people here battling injustice. That's the version of Mississippi we believe in, and that's the Mississippi we won't stop fighting for."
Signers include novelists John Grisham, Donna Tartt, Kiese Laymon, and Katy Simpson Smith, who wrote the letter.
“There’s this sense that Mississippi has gone down this path before,” Smith told The Washington Post. “I write a lot about race in my fiction, and to see the same kind of rhetoric start to be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians is like seeing this history repeating itself. It seemed so obvious to me and other writers that we had these demons that we’d confronted, and now they’re rearing their heads again.”
Smith's contention that the state's actions here in 2016 do, at least in part, echo the shameful racial discrimination of the 20th century may prove Faulkner prescient in his assertion that "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Indeed. By going out of its way to repeat mistakes, the Mississippi state government ensures that the scars of a difficult past cannot heal.