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Paperback Mississippi Sissy Book

ISBN: 0312341024

ISBN13: 9780312341022

Mississippi Sissy

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Book Overview

"Mississippi Sissy" is the stunning memoir from Kevin Sessums, a celebrity journalist who grew up scaring other children, hiding terrible secrets, pretending to be Arlene Frances and running wild in... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A Memoir from a Child's Stance with the Vocabulary of a Poet

MISSISSIPPI SISSY by Kevin Sessums has been a successful best seller since the journalist entered the realm of novelist in 2007. The reason for the extended readership of this coming of age story of a gay male in the 1970s South may puzzle some, but read a few chapters and the reason is clear: this is hilarious, sensitive, perceptive, colloquial writing at its best with the added attribute that Sessums' writing style is as eloquent as those writers he admired as a child - EM Forster, Flannery 'Connor, Katherine Anne Porter, WH Auden, Toni Morrison, and Eudora Welty. Sessums writes with candor about the racism he witnessed in the 1960s and 1970s, but his viewpoint is equally distributed between the gnarly vindictive vantage of his father and other white adults and the gentle love he worshiped in his closeness to his African American caretakers and colleagues. Orphaned at age 8 with his father's death in an automobile accident and his mother's subsequent death from cancer, Sessums was allowed more leeway with his propensity to dress and act like a 'sissy' and eventually came into his own sexuality both by exposure to a Pedophilic evangelist and his own exploration of gay bars and satisfying encounters with surprising partners (his first real love was a champion athlete who just happened to be African American!). And while every page of this beautifully rendered memoir is full of elegant prose describing such issues as Southerner response to civil rights, the murder of JFK and MLK, Jr., participation in the lives of famous writers by way of his close friend Frank Hains, a journalist who molded Sessums in many ways, the author shares many of the idols of television ('What's My Line?' cast) and movies (Audrey Hepburn, etc) and other icons of the times of his maturing, giving the reader a memory book that goes far beyond simply a true personal memoir. Love, death, abuse, disease, racism, and dreams for a life of understanding blend on nearly every page. This is a book that is likely to become a classic and deserves all the weeks it spent on the national Best Seller Lists. It is just 'swell'! Grady Harp, August 08

Growing Up Gay in Mississippi in the 1960's

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. Forester, Flannery O'Conner, W. H. Auden, Iris Murdoch and, of course, Eudora Welty. As a teenager Sessums was accepted into a literary circle in Jackson where Frank Hains, who wrote an arts column for the local newspaper, became his mentor. He spent many happy hours listening to Hains, Eudora Welty and others talking about literature, etc. Finally there seemed to be a feeling shared by everyone including his grandparents that he would go East as quickly as possible, as he did. What is so quite wonderful about this really good memoir is that Mr. Sessums writes with so much compassion and love about those people, particularly his relatives, who were so different from him but yet so much a part of who he is. MISSISSIPPI SISSY will make all the critics' best books of the year lists.


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.

A Courageous and Moving Memoir

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. With his mother Kevin had enjoyed a much closer relationship. She gave him the feeling of being loved and wanted, and there was also a certain playful camaraderie between them. They shared secrets, as well as private jokes. Her death left Kevin adrift, disconnected from his immediate family. Mississippi Sissy is a courageous, warm, and often poignant memoir of what it is to be different from the mainstream in an unforgiving environment. It's also a testament to Kevin Sessum's spirit that he was able to weather it all and go on to become a writer known for his celebrity interviews. He's an interviewer celebrities seem to trust implicitly, and there's a quality to his writing in his memoir that may give the reader a good idea why that is. He has a genuineness, as well as an unforced honesty, that lends an especially compelling quality to his writing. I'd recommend Mississippi Sissy without hesitation as a truly well-written memoir.

Growing Up as an Outsider

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." Among the few times Kevin made his father happy was when he got into trouble for playing doctor with a tomboy neighbor: "My father scowled at me before breaking out in exaggerated laughter, 'Way to go, Kevinator! Maybe there's hope for you yet!" Kevin was much closer to his mother, who encouraged his cross dressing as something "right cute" when he was little. His aunt Vena Mae objected during a dress-making session, when Kevin was not yet four, "He's not right _nothin'_." The father reacts with violence when he finds out about the dress, and probably the family violence would have escalated if he had not died in a car crash when Kevin was seven. Kevin's mother was only to live one year thereafter, succumbing to cancer. It was she who shared a playful camaraderie with the boy, not only encouraging dressing up but sharing private jokes with him, and a love of words and of language and literature. Along with a peculiar upbringing, Sessums grew up in a peculiar place and time, and his descriptions of how he came to understand racial matters are poignant. He remembers only two teachers who shed tears over Kennedy's assassination, and one of them tried to change things for her students. "Some of your parents will tell you bad things about the civil rights movement," she in
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