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Friday, November 27, 2020

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Talking Mississippi, family


Ted Estess likened himself to John Updike — not because they are great writers, but because they both wore ties during their book readings at the Honors College.

“What kind of self-respecting writer wears a tie?” Estess asked.

An audience of about 70 attended the reading for his new book, “The Cream Pitcher: Mississippi Stories,” in the Honors Commons Wednesday evening.

Estess had a soft, lilting Southern accent as he read the story “Cream, Clabber and Whey” from his book.

“There was never one day in my life where I said, ‘I’m going to write stories,’” Estess said before the reading. “Like many good things in my life, it just happened. I guess I take credit for them, but in some sense they were an accident.”

The stories that fill his book are about his family, which starts with his grandfather George Washington Estess, and their life in a farmhouse in Southern Mississippi.

Estess said that he discovered the family stories when he traveled home during breaks from Syracuse University as a “recess from academics.”

Even if Estess did not say this, it would have been revealed as his reading intertwined both the present day with lives of his eight aunts and uncles during the early 20th century.

“No one can read a Mississippi story with the cadence and comic timing of Ted Estess,” Honors College Dean Bill Monroe said.

“His stories are evidence that it is not enough just to live, you also need to tell about it.”

As his story ambled along, Estess read in such a way that shrunk the room to just him and the listener.

It wasn’t until certain moments, like when a cousin wondered if it was appropriate to wear white shoes before Easter, that the audience reappeared with laughter.

“I thought it was absolutely one of the most interesting things I heard in a long time,” said Camden Kirkland, a chemical engineering freshman. “It’s a nice insight into the life of a professor, to get to know a lot more about him.”

Nam-ny Le, an electrical engineering freshman, agreed with Kirkland.

“It gives you insight into not just his life, but about the power of storytelling. Just hearing his stories about his life and the power of it, you can take so much from that,” Le said.


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