Richard Grant, author of "Dispatches from Pluto," signs copies of his books at Mississippi University for Women Thursday night. Grant talked about his book and his adventures in the Delta as part of Columbus Arts Council's Mississippi Writers' Series. Photo by: Birney Imes/Dispatch Staff
May 5, 2017 9:56:26 AM
Shortly after moving to Pluto, a small town in Holmes County, freelance journalist and book author Richard Grant heard this bit of wisdom from his friend the cookbook author Martha Foose, who had taken him on a long-promised trip through the Mississippi Delta.
"Sometimes I swear to God, living in the Delta is like being in love with a crazy person," Foose told Grant.
Then according to Grant, Foose stood up, lifted her glass and declared, "I love you, b****!"
The exchange ended up in Grant's book, "Dispatches from Pluto," which Simon and Schuster published in 2015. It's one of four books Grant has written and the subject of his talk Thursday in Parkinson Hall, hosted as part of the Columbus Arts Council's Mississippi Writers' Series. A crowd of around 100 sat in a classroom on Mississippi University for Women's campus, listening as Grant told his stories of blues musicians, old plantation houses and other Mississippi eccentricities he found in the 2 1/2 years he lived in the woods just outside Pluto.
Grant was born in Malaysia, grew up in London, and is now settled in Jackson, by way of Tucson, Arizona, New York City and a generally "nomadic lifestyle." Mississippi first came on his radar in his teens when, in his own words, "punk rock was exploding all over London, along with (Irish Republican Army) bombs."
Grant had recently discovered blues music, and those in the punk rock scene took a liking to Mississippi author William Faulkner when Grant and his classmates had to read "As I Lay Dying" in school.
"We had a really hard time with the Mississippi vernacular," Grant remembered.
It wasn't until years later -- after Grant had earned a degree in American history, moved to the United States and painted houses in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for a summer without a green card, taken a road trip from Pennsylvania to California and become a freelance journalist -- that Grant found himself in Oxford tracking down two college kids who he said had become $1 million in debt recording hill country blues music.
He ended up befriending several blues musicians that way, who got him through his divorce with advice like, "Just be like a tree" and "Steer clear of sportin' women."
But it wasn't until 2012 when Grant and his girlfriend -- now wife -- decided to buy a falling-apart house in Pluto in the backwoods of the Mississippi Delta. From there, Grant wrote "Dispatches from Pluto."
Grant described the book as one about "culture shock" -- a place where newspapers warned readers not to stop for police cars because bandits were posing as cops; where women in pink camouflage outfits went hunting with pink arrows for breast cancer awareness; where neighbors would bring over dining room tables and chairs if they thought Grant and his wife didn't have enough furniture; and where local businesses could be a combination of a bail bonds service, bridal boutique and beauty salon "all under one roof."
"I just cannot overstress how ignorant we were when we showed up there," Grant said.
Grant said he didn't try to "soft soap" the book -- he explores not just the lovable eccentricities of Mississippi's people, but the complexities, good and bad, of race relations and poverty in the Delta. Yet, he's surprised that Mississippians don't mind that.
"Somewhat to my surprise, Mississippi seems to love this book," he told The Dispatch after the talk. "I was trying to be as honest as I could."
He's also found himself settled here, he said. Though he admitted to not being good at predicting his own future, he has no plans to move any time soon, is thinking of writing a book about Natchez and feels, in his own words, "adopted" by Mississippi.
"I think Mississippi is the most misunderstood place in America," he said during a question-and-answer session following his talk. "...There's a hell of a lot wrong with this place. Nonetheless, it doesn't fit the stereotype that the rest of America has for it. It's just a lot more complicated I think, more than anything."
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