William Faulkner. Eudora Welty. Jesmyn Ward. Richard Wright. What do these giants of the literary world have in common? They all hail from Mississippi.
Mississippi writers have long been a part of the state’s rich cultural heritage, and now their works will be celebrated in the new Mississippi Writer’s Trail. The Writer’s Trail is modeled on the pre-existing Mississippi Freedom Trail and Mississippi Blues Trail and is funded by the Mississippi Arts Commission and the Mississippi Humanity’s Council. Among the individuals working to make this literary trail a reality is Mississippi State’s own Dr. Donald Shaffer. Dr. Shaffer, an associate professor of English and African American Studies who currently serves as interim director of African American studies, works alongside two other individuals to decide which writers will be awarded markers. Two of the markers (Welty and Ward) have already been designated and were unveiled in August during the Mississippi Book Festival. As part of his work, Dr. Shaffer gets to work alongside some of MSU’s undergraduate English majors, an experience he says is especially rewarding because they bring fresh ideas and excitement to the project. Maeve Rigney, a freshman, is one of those students working alongside Dr. Shaffer. "I feel really honored to be involved in this project!" says Rigney, "There is obviously a lot of great writing talent in Mississippi, and the Writer's Trail will make the relics of our great authors come alive."
Like the Freedom Trail and Blues Trail, the markers for the Writer’s Trail will be scattered throughout the state, which could prove especially beneficial for smaller towns when it comes to boosting tourism. When asked how he thought that the Writer’s Trail would benefit the state, Dr. Shaffer said he believes it could be beneficial because Mississippi is in desperate need of counter-narratives. While it may be a state with a painful past, and sometimes a painful present, it is also the state that has produced a Poet Laureate, a Nobel Prize winner, a National Book Award Recipient, and a Pulitzer recipient. While it may be a state that has dealt with its fair share of pain and struggle, this trail can help us to remember that out of pain and struggle comes beauty.