Generally Speaking: The Max

By MARILYN TINNIN COLUMNIST,

The MaeMae Book Tour continues, and this past week I had the most fun in Charles’ hometown of Meridian.

Two of my closest Delta Gamma sorority sisters invited me to give a program at a combined meeting of their garden club and antique club.

Only in the South would people still introduce each other as a “sorority sister” after fifty years. I have to say, however, that when we get together, we still think we are eighteen. There is nothing quite like such friendships.

And there is nothing quite like a Southern hometown welcome. It is the epitome of my chapter on “life-giving.”

Frances Long and Dotty Graham assured me that all of their club members were about our age, and grandparenting was high on everyone’s priority list. They gave me free rein to speak from the heart, ignore political correctness, and sell my books afterward. Can I just say, I have almost never in my life had as much fun as I did last Thursday?

After a gourmet lunch at Dotty’s gorgeous home, Frances had arranged for me to have a signing at the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Museum Store. I barely know how to describe the place.

Mississippi is so often stereotyped as a backwoods, largely uneducated, racist, obese group of “deplorables” who have no concept of art and culture.

This museum, aptly named Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience, dispels that myth in a New York minute.

This is more than just a state of the art museum. The collective talents of many visionaries brought this beautiful and inspiring place into being, and it is a vivid example of what can happen when diversity and common purpose unite.

The museum project began in 2001 when the Mississippi Legislature gave its blessing to the pursuit of a “major destination with a cultural impact that could extend far beyond Mississippi.”

Those who were instrumental in pushing for its development were well aware that Mississippi is home to a host of legendary creative artists in every category.

These visionaries asked, “What if we told all their stories together in one place? What if we could showcase the overwhelming impact of Mississippi’s creative legacy to locals and visitors alike? What if we help ignite creativity in the artists of the future?”

Planning, fundraising, meticulous research — this was a task of epic proportions and it was clearly created by an army of experts who understand the unique soul of Mississippi. Mark Tullos, President of the MAX, gave Charles and me the short version of the tour. We could easily have spent four hours there because of all the interactive and immersive exhibits.

Up close and personal, a visitor learns the stories of icons like Elvis Presley, Oprah Winfrey, James Earl Jones, Sela Ward, Willie Morris, Morgan Freeman, Walter Anderson, William Faulkner, Leontyne Price, Eudora Welty, Jimmie Rodgers, B.B. King, Marty Stuart, Mac McAnally, Tennessee Williams, Cat Cora…the list is much longer than these few who all have Mississippi connections and influence in just about every creative category there is.

I can just imagine visitors coming into the part of the museum that celebrates our writers. In a  cozy setting, you can listen to the voice of Eudora Welty, watch her words appear on the page of a simulated typewriter and find yourself planning a trip to Jackson as soon as possible to explore the Welty house. Almost all of the stories in the exhibit leave you determined to delve more deeply into the life and work of a Mississippi legend.

Making someone yearn for more was quite intentional. As a section on the website says, “ By shining the spotlight on Mississippi’s statewide contributions in arts and entertainment, the MAX will guide visitors to other towns and museums throughout the state, from Tupelo’s Elvis to Indianola’s B.B. King, to Pascagoula’s Jimmy Buffet, to Eudora Welty, to Ocean Spring’s Walter Anderson, and many more.”

Charles and I talked about the MAX for at least an hour on the way home. It is refreshingly inclusive and absent any political message. It touches something good inside your heart. I cannot imagine any Mississippian not feeling a deep sense of “belonging” and pride.

This is indeed art that inspires and a destination field trip for every parent and child in our state!

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