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Monday, May 20, 2013

New novel chronicles the great 1927 Mississippi River flood

New York City-based author Bill Cheng's new novel Southern Cross the Dog takes place in Mississippi in 1927, just as the Mississippi River burst the levee down near Scott, Mississippi -- a Mississippi Blues Trail marker is there, and it also acknowledges Big Bill Broonzy, who said he was from Scott (though he was actually from Arkansas). 

Tonight (Mon. May 20) Cheng will be signing at Lemuria Books in Jackson, and on Tuesday at Square Books in Oxford. The book has already garnered a lot of critical attention even though Cheng has -- until today -- never set foot in Mississippi. Inn a recent article in the New York Times, Square Books owner Richard Howorth -- an authority on Southern literature -- said, “I was highly suspicious of this book when I first started it [but] I was won over.” 

The term "Southern Cross the Dog" is a reference to Moorhead, Mississippi, where the Southern  and the Yazoo and Mississippi Delta (aka "Yellow Dog") railway lines crossed. In his 1941 autobiography "Father of the Blues," W.C. Handy recalled that his first encounter with the blues was at the railway station in Tutwiler--about 40 miles north of Moorhead--where he heard a man playing a slide guitar and singing about this crossing.
“A lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plunking a guitar beside me while I slept. His clothes were rags; his feet peeped out of his shoes. His face had on it some of the sadness of the ages. As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of a guitar in a manner popularized by Hawaiian guitarists who used steel bars. The effect was unforgettable. His song, too, struck me instantly. ‘Goin’ where the Southern cross’ the Dog.’ The singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I ever heard.” 
Below is an image of the unveiling of the W.C. Handy Mississippi Blues Trail marker in Tutwiler, which was attended by Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. From left: Jerome Little (Tallahatchie County Board of Supervisors), Tutwiler Mayor Genether Miller-Spurlock, Jim O'Neal of the Blues Trail, Robert Plant, former mayor Robert Grayson, and Mississippi State Senator David Jordan -- photo by Melanie Young.

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