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Mississippi Sissy Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 6, 2007


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This lovely, engaging memoir by acclaimed entertainment writer Sessums is not so much a gay coming-out story (although its author does discover and act upon his homosexuality) as an investigation of the effects of popular culture on a young, white boy growing up in the racist South in the 1950s. Sessums, who has written for Vanity Fair, Interview and Allure, was born in 1956 and raised outside of Jackson, Miss., by loving parents (although his father wished him to be less effeminate) both of whom died before his 10th birthday. But the heart of Sessums's memoir is how Hollywood and Broadway stars were obsessions and guide posts to a different life, and how female icons (such as Dusty Springfield and Audrey Hepburn) were important role models as he became part of a gay community. At times the prose can be preeningly literary as when Sessums describes his mother and her friends as "they carefully rubbed Coppertone suntan lotion on their smooth and lovely backs, their jutting shoulder blades like the nubs of de-winged angels grubbing around down here on earth." But at other times he can be emotionally shocking and precise as when recalling how, at 16, he hears his older friend Frank Hains tell a delighted Eudora Welty about his affairs with "young African-Americans." A marked detour from the often repetitive coming-out memoir, Sessums's story offers wit and incisive observation. (Mar.)
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—Sessums, a journalist who specializes in celebrity interviews, describes and analyzes his own childhood and youth, writing candidly of both sexual orientation and race relations in the '60s and early '70s. As a toddler, he swished and posed instead of responding to his basketball coach father's expectation of masculinity. His mother was more broad-minded. However, both parents were dead by the time he was nine, and he and two younger siblings were reared by their maternal grandparents. Small-town Mississippi during the third quarter of the 20th century was less hostile to the young gay boy than outsiders might imagine. Sessums recalls his grandmother's willingness to call him Arlene, in honor of television personality Arlene Francis; his sixth-grade teacher allowed his book report to be on Jacqueline Susann's best-selling Valley of the Dolls; there was even a local gay bar, which Sessums began visiting at 16. However, life provided great and certain bad times as well: the author recalls a sexual assault by a stranger when he was not yet a teen, and another by a preacher a couple of years later. Most harrowing is the event that frames the narrative, the murder of his mentor, and 19-year-old Sessums's discovery of the bludgeoned body. Whether gay or straight, readers will relate to the author's youthful awareness that self-certainty and terrifying uncertainty seem to be inextricably bound. His observations on—and, more importantly, his experiences of—race relations engage and reveal, and remind readers of the complexity of social status.—Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (March 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312341016
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312341015
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #635,266 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A correspondent typed to me a couple of weeks ago, "Hello in Mississippi!" and then remarked how much fun the word was to type. It is also a fun word to say, especially if (unlike many of the natives) you pronounce all four syllables. For an arresting title of his new memoir, Kevin Sessums has paired it with another evocative word to make the tongue-twister, _Mississippi Sissy_ (St. Martin's Press), emphasizing the two themes in the book. Sessums grew up in Mississippi in the 1960s, and remembers and relates much of the local color of a distinctive place and time. He also grew up from an early age knowing he was different; before he knew what homosexuals were, he knew he was girlish and liked wearing girls' clothes. There were inevitable conflicts in the conservative atmosphere of his little town of Forest, made worse by his own personal tragedies and losses. There is little trace of self-pity here, though. Sessums has a flair for colorful reporting, and uses thoughtful prose to tell his own story of self-understanding, while gently refraining from condemnation of even the darker characters in the book. He admits that the dialogue he reports has to be his own invention, as best as his memory allows. "I was not carrying around a recording device when growing up in Mississippi. But what I did have, even then, was my writer's ear. I listened. That's what most sissies do when we are children: We sit apart and listen."

He could listen to his parents in his earliest years only. His father was everything a good old macho boy could be, a basketball coach who was a loving bully to his family. "You girl," Kevin would goad the father into saying. "You goddamn girl.
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Bluestalking Reader VINE VOICE on March 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Kevin Sessums's memoir Mississippi Sissy was one of an armload of review books the Holtzbrinck group sent me recently. In that pile of general and genre fiction, this one leapt out at me immediately. Not only was it the only work of nonfiction in the box, but it's not everyday you see a title with Mississippi in the title, much less one with as engaging a word as "sissy" to go with it. It gets the attention, it really does.

Just a catchy title isn't enough, of course, if the book itself doesn't engage. In this case the style engaged me immediately, and the authentic Mississippi voice was one I could identify with, coming from that state myself.

Sessum's book tells the story of growing up gay in 1960s Mississippi. It may take a moment for the immensity of that to hit home, but considering this is KKK territory you may rest assured this was one rough ride. Mississippi isn't exactly a state noted for being liberal, nor especially tolerant of anyone the slightest bit "different." It was a rough ride made worse by Sessum's uber-macho father, whose disappointment with his son played a major role in his growing up. Imagine being everything your father despises, yet wanting so badly to be a good son and make him proud. The difficulty of his childhood is painful and poignant, and Sessum reacts by shutting down his emotions, in an attempt not to embarrass his father further.

In contrast, his mother thought his cross-dressing cute and funny, at least until her husband began reacting more violently. If Sessum's father hadn't been killed in a car accident the violence and anger would surely have escalated.

Closely following his father's death his mother also died from cancer, leaving the boy orphaned from a young age.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By J. Pritchett on March 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Never before have a read a book that touched me like this one did. Mississippi is such a dichotomy of good and evil, love and hate, beauty and ugliness... Those of us who live and love here co-exist with these extremes daily and Kevin Sessums has captured that mixture so poetically. I couldnt put this book down except for the one evening I broke down in tears over it.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By H. F. Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When bestselling writers of memoirs get sued for libel or busted on a famous celebrity talk show, it is so refreshing to read an honest memoir for a change. Mr. Sessums tells the reader that he uses everyone's real names and sent the manuscript to those persons still alive he writes about to check their memory with his. (So we know the name of the fundamentalist preacher who molested Sessums as a child.)

Growing up in Forest, Mississippi, Sessums realized at an early age that he was different. "The first freak I ever recognized. . . was my own reflection in a Mississippi mirror." He loved Arlene Francis and insisted on being called "Arlene." Sessums lost both his parents by the time he was eight, a trauma that no child should have to suffer; and he and his brother and sister became sort of local celebrities because of their loss.

Any honest person writing about the deep South must discuss both race(ism) and religion as in fundamentalism. Sessums does not shy away from either subject. There is a particularly poignant section where Sessums is talking to Matty, the black employee of his grandparents with whom he lived after the deaths of his parents. Although he loved Matty dearly, he used the "N" word in describing Sidney Poitier's winning an Oscar for his role in LILIES OF THE FIELD. He also works for a day picking cotton for his uncle but realizes that while he can quit any time he wants to, that Matty and her co-workers must do the backbreaking work day in and day out in order to survive.

The good news for Sessums is that he was nurtured by his reading in this restrictive environment. His mother, in the days before her death from cancer, encouraged him to read. "Always read. Never stop reading." He read Katherine Anne Porter, Anne Sexton, Toni Morrison, E. M.
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