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The Courting of Marcus Dupree Paperback – October 1, 1992
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Winner of a Christopher Award in 1984 for “affirming the highest value of the human spirit,” the classic account of a young black athlete who became a metaphor for the complex culture of Mississippi
About the Author
Willie Morris (1934-1999) was the award-winning author of many books, including North Toward Home, My Dog Skip, and After All, It's Only a Game.
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Top customer reviews
Morris returned in 1980 to a radically changed and changing place, and although the locale for 80% of the book is Philadelphia, a Central Mississippi "hill" town, rather than the edge-of-the-Delta Yazoo City of his boyhood, Morris, as usual, evocatively captures the scenes, images, and activity of this town and the state as a whole, in his account of a high school senior All-State running-back and the nationwide recruiting for his talents. Actually, I remember firsthand the media sensation surrounding Marcus Dupree from Philadelphia High School in the fall of 1981, partly because I was a sophomore in high school in another Mississippi town about 150 miles away. In his descriptions of the high school and town itself, the students, the often uneasy yet usually unaffected black-white relationships by that time, and the fervor of high school athletics itself, especially fall football was all, to me, right-on-target and accurate. Morris' eye for detail in the area of social interaction; the picking up of the subtle look or gesture, or offhand comment, reported as indeed, non-fiction, rather than creating fictional characters, is one of his strong suits.
The other of Morris' strengths displayed in this book, is of course his use of a main subject, the 1981 football season for Philadelphia High School, to provide a backdrop for the greater story of how race relations had changed in that town since 1964, the infamous summer of the Schwerner/Goodman/Chaney killings etc.. Morris neither moralizes nor whitewashes, in either talking about the past or the present.
Morris lived in the small motel a few blocks from the center of town in getting his information, and basically reports the events Sports Illustrated feature story-style during the progression of the season, ultimately leading up to the climactic February post-season signing day and where Dupree would end up playing college football. Morris befriends not only Dupree, but also Dupree's family, his coach, a few of the recruiters, and gives a different angle on the situation from all sides. Marcus Dupree, although being from a lower-income black family, is supremely talented and is treated as a star by the entire community, with young people and adults alike asking him for his autograph. Of course all of this creates a ridiculous pressure for the 17 year old senior, and you can probably figure out the questions Morris raises and the problems which arise. But the strength of this narrative is, once again, the ability of Morris to create portraits of people and events which are captivating and entertaining.
The only problem with the book, (and these are my own pet problems with all of his works), is Morris' tendency to ramble off into one of his left-leaning political speeches, as if ghostwritten for the Democratic National Convention keynote speaker. But that is forgiven and forgotten quickly as he relates the poignant passage about the dying of his dog Pete at a rented hunting lodge, and his unforgettable recount of a boyhood trip with his father to an Ole Miss football game in Memphis at the Liberty Bowl in the rain in 1941,just a few weeks before Pearl Harbor.
Marcus Dupree (no giving anything away; this happened after the book was published) played briefly for the USFL and doesn't, to my knowledge, play professional football anymore. The names of the coaches of the colleges which attempted to recruit him have all since changed, in some cases, for the third or fourth time in the last 17 years. Philadelphia, Mississippi, and even the nation has changed even since then. Even so, 1981 doesn't seem all that long ago. "The Courting of Marcus Dupree" is an excellent story about football, social relations, history, and childhood memories; it is also vintage Morris, about himself, his state and his time.
Most recent customer reviews
Marcus Dupree serves as the figure the story is built around but the real underlying message is deep within the symbolism of his...Read more