A note scribbled on a piece of yellow legal pad paper by beloved Southern writer Willie Morris is now in the archives at the University of Mississippi.
Morris, the Yazoo City boy who achieved international fame for his editorship of Harper’s Magazine and non-fiction books, including “North Toward Home” and “My Dog Skip”, was a football fanatic who loved to sip fine spirits and talk sports. The historic piece of Morris memorabilia was given to former Mississippi Tourism Director George Williams and his wife, Tish, an Ole Miss Journalism graduate from Bay St. Louis.
Morris wrote the one paragraph passage about Mississippi sports figure Marcus Dupree as Morris and Williams visited in a local bar. Williams visited with Willie several times and on one occasion the two settled for an evening at the Hoka.
“I came to Oxford to visit with Willie over drinks and dinner, mostly drinks,” wrote Williams who this week gave to Ole Miss the brief, hand-written note about Marcus Dupree, the highly recruited African-American running back from Philadelphia, Miss.
“After two, three, maybe even four scotches and with Pete (Willie’s beloved dog) nestled between us at the base of our bar stools, Willie proceeded to tell me that he had been commissioned to write a 1,000 word article for Esquire Magazine on the ‘The Life Of Marcus Dupree’,” Williams said. “Not wanting to wait for the issue to come out to read it, I handed him paper and pen and asked him to write one paragraph to summarize the article.”
The note, mounted and framed, is entitled “The Courting of Marcus Dupree by Willie Morris” and reads:
Marcus embraces for me everything our beloved Mississippi was, is, and will be, for he is not merely a symbol, he is of the old testament when he runs the ball…and, as with Mississippi, he is god-given, and magic.
Dupree played football at Philadelphia High School and ultimately went on to play at the University of Oklahoma where he was named Football News Freshman of the year. He left Oklahoma in the middle of his sophomore season and briefly attended the University of Southern Mississippi leaving the campus in 1984 to join the United States Football League. He never played a single game at USM. Dupree played two seasons with the New Orleans Breakers. He later played for the Los Angeles Rams before he was waived prior to the 1992 season.
“I have kept this document with my personal papers and luckily I took the lock box with me when we evacuated for Katrina, lest it would have been destroyed,” explained Williams. “I thought this piece of Willie Morris memorabilia rightfully should be at his beloved Ole Miss.”
“This new gift to the Department of Archives and Special Collections gives great insight into Willie Morris’ views on Marcus Dupree — that his gift was magic. Mr. Williams’ donation is much appreciated and I know it will be used by many researchers coming in to gain a better understanding of Willie and his legacy,” University of Mississippi archivist Jennifer Ford said.
Williams and his wife, Tish, were in Oxford for a campus visit for their twin daughters, Georgia and Tricia. Seniors in high school, both girls plan on enrolling in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media in the fall of 2015.
Willie Morris became Writer-In-Residence at Ole Miss in 1980 and was a member of the Journalism faculty.
“He was in Journalism, largely because the English faculty did not want him,” said Dr. Ed Meek, retired Assistant Vice Chancellor for Public Relations and Marketing and was assigned by the University’s Chancellor to provide assistance to Morris.
As a faculty member, Morris was noted for the special attention given to gifted writing students taking his creative writing class. He encouraged Donna Tartt, 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning author, and John Grisham, one of the most published American writers of fiction. Morris wrote a cover jacket piece for Grisham’s “A Time To Kill”.