For a good time, call Sherry Lucas.
The Yazoo City native and now Fondrenite is the torch bearer of positivity for the state’s largest newspaper, The Clarion-Ledger.
As a features writer there since 1983, Lucas’s number one job is to tell stories — the ones that have, as she calls them, “a hopeful turn.”
“(I love) stories that are based in community engagement and community improvement,” she says, sitting outside the newspaper’s downtown office. “Saving people’s buildings that have a solid community tie or working toward something that’s optimistic; good tasting, a good time — that’s what my stuff is about.”
A University of Mississippi journalism graduate, the 54 year-old has never been anything but a writer. Starting in her high school days, Lucas worked for the Triangle Cultural Center in her hometown, writing “copy blurbs” for brochures. She also served as editor of her school’s literary art magazine.
But, reading through her family’s morning copy of The Clarion-Ledger, perusing the articles in the Southern Style section, Lucas’s aspiration was to work for the paper. “In Jackson, I’d be close to home, and that was enough for me,” she remembers. “Some go wide and some go deep — and I went deep.”
Lucas’ career began writing for the Rankin County Focus, part of the Jackson Daily News, the “scrappy, underdog” afternoon paper, later absorbed by The Clarion-Ledger. Throughout the years, she would continue writing about the topics she feels passionate about — entertainment, the arts and food. They’re the stories that come to her from the circles she travels in. “Sharing the conversation, letting my readers in on what I found cool or what intrigues me and, hopefully, writing in a way that engages them… I hope they enjoy the process of learning as much as they enjoy finding out about the topic. It’s kind of an enjoyable ride.”
Deadlines call for Lucas’s writings to be done in advance. Sometimes, she’ll do four “covers” a week, that is, the main feature of the paper’s Life section, and a magazine story for The Clarion-Ledger’s sister publication, Magnolia Magazine. She’s coordinating artwork and photographers, chasing photos from other sources and researching and penning her regular “Weekend to Weekend” entertainment guide. Lucas says knowing the community and the creatives that are a part of it comes in handy. It’s a 40 hour week and she’s “busy every one of them.”
Sometimes the story is lighthearted and plain fun. Take the time Mick Jagger was in town, producing the Tate Taylor directed James Brown biopic “Get on Up.” Lucas chased the rumors of the sightings of the Rolling Stone frontman, pulling “a little from a lot” to quickly turn a fun story around. “Sometimes, you get a great quote that’s so irresistible,” she says of one spotter’s account of Jagger, a funny quote he instantly regretted.Â “You’re not going to use that, are you?” he asked. With a laugh, Lucas responded, “Oh, are you kidding me? That’s the best thing you said!”
And sometimes, the assignment takes an unexpected lean. She recounts a story on the late Marshall Bouldin and his son, Jason, both portrait artists, a story that came about around Father’s Day while listening to a song’s repetitive refrain. “It was something about ‘what your dad did’ and I started thinking, ‘people that followed in their father’s footsteps,’” she explains. “That would make a nice story.”
Lucas calls Marshall Bouldin an incredible artist. “But his son is, too. I wanted to talk to MarshallÂ about the process and how he felt about his son doing the same profession. I interviewed them together and Jason told me after that his father was sharing things he had never told him. I was asking questions, prompting responses that got to the heart of things, things they don’t tell each other – or don’t hear in a formalized format. And I realized, people will share if you ask. It’s an excuse to ask.” Lucas finds, in telling stories of people, she often helps them remember – reveal even – things they may have never said before.
The piece also gave Lucas pause, a reflection on her own life. “I had never had those conversations with the people closest to me,” she says. “From your own parents, you get drips and dribbles of emotion and meaning and how you play a role in their lives. And unless you ask that direct question, you may not have them crystallize it for you. It’s cool to hear it meant something to them. I was happy to share that story.”
It’s a perfect reflection on Lucas’s own life, rooted in a strong influence from her later mother. “I find myself wanting to be more like her the more the years pass,” she muses. “It’s why I have a deep love of harvesting. I’m putting in a fruit orchard at my boyfriend’s place right now.”
Lucas tells of her mom’s many interests —Â from knitting to carpentry to small engine repair and planting. “She put in an entire hillside of dwarf fruit trees. I have deep, personal connections to those trees, planted at meaningful points in my life, and I find myself recreating that every time I’m canning pears and getting new recipes. It’s a connection to my own personal past.” She calls it “preserving it forward.”
While her career runs somewhat parallel to her personal life, the two indeed are separate. In her free time, Lucas loves to cook, enjoys movies, music (“Mississippi music,” she mentions) and historic preservation. She lives in Broadmeadow – the Top of Fondren – and is active with neighborhood events.
It’s that same neighborhood that she calls “fertile ground,” a great “creative hub,” a source for many of her stories throughout her 30-plus year career. “There are cool people with good ideas,” she says, adding, “that’s also true of Midtown and Belhaven, the hubs where those (creative) types congregate.”
Writing for The Clarion-Ledger was Lucas’s entry into the community all those years ago. It’s why, she says, people know her and how they know her. But what they know about her is that she always manages to find something special, the needle in the hay stack, the pearl in the oyster. “I hope to find the good in people,” she says, “and share it.”