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Willie Morris Slept Here: Author's Old Home Is Up for Sale in Oxford


Liz Barrett Foster and husband Benjy Foster celebrated their last Christmas in their historic home, once inhabited by Willie Morris, in December.

When Oxford journalist Liz Barrett Foster first laid eyes on the pretty, white bungalow-style house at 103 Victory Hill Lane in early 2009, she knew she’d found her dream home. What she didn’t know was that it had a storied past involving one of Mississippi’s most famous and beloved authors.
Now that she and her husband, Benjy Foster, have decided to relocate to Sardis, they’ve put the house back on the market, and fans of the late, great Willie Morris might want to take note.
“Whenever I dreamed about owning my own home, I always said that I wanted a home with lots of windows, hardwood floors and tons of character,” said Foster, the founder of the Eating Oxford blog and editor at large for Oxford-based PMQ Pizza Magazine.
The house in the Community Green neighborhood fit the bill. “I got such a good feeling when I walked through it,” she recalled. “All of the windows let in so much light, the rooms were the perfect size, and the layout felt so cozy and right. I knew in an instant that it was the house for me.”
Foster knew that the three-bedroom, 1,514-square-foot house, along with other houses in the neighborhood, had been relocated from what was once called Faculty Row on the Ole Miss campus. But when she purchased it, she had no idea it had been home for many years to the illustrious Morris, a UM writer-in-residence and author of books like “My Dog Skip,” “Good Old Boy,” “North Toward Home,” “My Cat Spit McGee” and “The Courting of Marcus Dupree.”
Interested in buying the house? Click here for details or visit it in person during an open house on Sunday, Feb. 11.
And as Morris’ home, it was a hotspot for some legendary late-night literary revelry. Morris often invited his famous writer pals to visit him in Oxford and introduced them to his students and fellow professors. As the youngest-ever editor of Harper’s Magazine in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Morris had cultivated a stable of writers that formed a Who’s Who in late 20th century American letters, from Walker Percy, George Plimpton and John Updike to Philip Roth, William Styron and Norman Mailer.
“Willie loved to bring people like Plimpton and Styron to Mississippi and show it off,” Ole Miss journalism professor Curtis Wilkie, one of Morris’ good friends, has said. “He was proud of this place.”
The cocktails and conversation usually started at the Warehouse (where Morris also taught a lot of his writing classes) and often ended up at Morris’ house on Faculty Row—and you didn’t have to be famous to be invited. “He was very friendly to everyone,” Wilkie said. “There was nothing at all condescending about him. Even though he was a Rhodes Scholar, he never felt like he was intellectually better than anyone else. He enjoyed the company of all sorts of people.”
Foster eventually learned about her house’s connection with Morris—who died of a heart attack in 1999—from a neighbor and was instantly intrigued. “I contacted Willie’s son, David Rae Morris, to verify that I was indeed in the right house, and David graciously came to Oxford to take a tour in 2014. It was so much fun to walk David through the house and listen to him talk about his dad. He even brought me a couple of photos he took of his dad at the dining room table and in front of the fireplace back in the ’80s.”
David Rae Morris visited the Fosters’ home on Victory Hill Lane and confirmed that it had, indeed, once been his dad’s house.

After nine happy years in the house, Foster and her husband have moved to Sardis to pursue new business opportunities. “I really love the Oxford house, and if I could pick it up and move it, I would—it’s been done once before,” she said. “However, we found another historic home in Sardis that we’ve been working on since May of last year to make our own. We are excited about starting a new chapter of our lives. That small-town charm that I felt when I first moved to Oxford 11 years ago is still alive and well in Sardis. We’re looking forward to collaborating with friends and business owners—namely the van Oostendorps at TriBecca Allie Café—in Sardis to highlight all that the quaint town has to offer.”
Foster said she has already received an offer on the Victory Hill Lane house, and others have shown interest. And you never know—the next owner may get an unexpected visitor now and then.
“I think Willie may have stopped by to say hello once or twice,” Foster said. “My bedroom door shut unexpectedly when I finished a particularly emotional chapter of ‘Spit McGee,’ and I remember thinking, ‘Was that Willie?’”


Rick Hynum is editor-in-chief of HottyToddy.com.
 

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