When Oregonian Brandi Herrera left Jackson in 2008 after a short time here, she never realized her love of Jackson and literary Mississippi would bring her back five years later. Herrera, a freelance writer and poet, is on a mission, capturing the stories of our celebrated writers by way of Wright, Welty and Williams.
The project, Herrera says, is a natural fit. “I’ve kept in contact with people I met here through social media, even a letter writing group,” she explains. Her connections extend to the Mississippi Development Authority, Tourism Division, who reached out saying, “We like your writing, the way you present yourself online and the kinds of ways you tell a story.”
Herrera tells us she jumped at the chance to be the first writer in a series of projects that tell the Mississippi story of literature, music, food and other topics. She believes she is the ideal candidate being “someone from a different region who journeys here, looking at the state through an inherently different lens.”
Tracking the history of a handful of the state’s writers, Herrera says she is trying to absorb the places they lived and wrote from. “A lot of that is so important to Southern writers, specifically Mississippi writers,” she says. “I’m capturing the essence of place.”
Studying William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Richard Wright will take her all over the state. She’ll also feature Oxford’s Beth Ann Fennelly and Gulfport’s Natasha Trethewey, the current U.S. poet laureate. Herrera has even spent time with local musician, Laurel Isbister Irby, who played her songs inspired by the writings of Margaret Walker Alexander.
In Jackson, Eudora Welty is particularly notable. Herrera will tour Welty’s former home tomorrow. Yesterday, she visited the Mississippi Department of Archives. “I’ve found some amazing things,” she tells us, “specifically, some of Welty’s handwritten drafts of poems later published in The New Yorker.”
Herrera took time to return to her old stomping grounds on this trip. She notices that Fondren has progressed. “It’s changed a lot,” she observes. “It was vibrant when I was here before, but this is like ten fold. Like, ‘Boom!’ It’s blossoming and I’m happy to see that.”
Jackson as a whole is a place that’s never let go of Herrera. She only lived here for a brief stint — from 2007 to 2008 — and freelanced for a local publication. But her soft spot for this city has remained.
“Jackson has a magnetic pull for me,” she says. “I think so highly of the time I spent here.”
That is, in part, due to her feeling that, she says, she became part of a community, something you can easily do here. “There’s something about this place that feels like you can contribute and see the effects of your contribution, make a mark, be active and help to incite positive change. I haven’t felt that in a lot of places.”
“I love Portland; it’s my home and I will probably never leave there,” she says. “But Jackson holds a special place in my heart and I always feel nostalgic when I’m back here. The minute I drove in Sunday night, I felt like, ‘I’m home.’ It feels like another home to me. That’s a good feeling.”