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Mississippi Sissy


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About the Author

Kevin Sessums was a Contributing Editor at Vanity Fair magazine for fourteen years and at Allure magazine for four. He was also Executive Editor for Andy Warhol's Interview magazine. His work has appeared in Elle, Travel + Leisure, Playboy, Out, and Show People magazines. He was nominated for a Quill Award for his recording of the audiobook of Mississippi Sissy. He lives in New York City.


As an eight-year-old boy coping with the horrific loss of his parents and a nagging sense of being "different" from his peers in the Mississippi town of Forest, Sessums assumes the persona of What's My Line panelist Arlene Francis. "Call me Arlene!" he insists, and his grandparents--despite their rather reactionary stances in the realms of politics, religion and sexuality--manage to lovingly comply. In performing his electrifying coming-of-age memoir, Sessums adroitly introduces the cast of characters who shaped his journey. The vocal renderings of such memorable figures as the family's loving and devoted--as well as self-confident and determined--maid Matty May, who repeatedly recites "Poitier" as a mantra in the days and weeks following Sidney Poitier's 1963 Oscar win, resonate with remarkable clarity. Listeners accustomed to contemporary autobiographical titles should be forewarned that they are entering unapologetic gothic territory akin to that of Eudora Welty (a friend and mentor to Sessums) or even Flannery O'Connor. Raw human emotions of love and hate play starring roles, refusing to remain mere stage props. Simultaneous release with the St. Martin's hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 6). (Mar.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Adult/High School-Sessums, a journalist who specializes in celebrity interviews, describes and analyzes his own childhood and youth, writing candidly of both sexual orientation and race relations in the '60s and early '70s. As a toddler, he swished and posed instead of responding to his basketball coach father's expectation of masculinity. His mother was more broad-minded. However, both parents were dead by the time he was nine, and he and two younger siblings were reared by their maternal grandparents. Small-town Mississippi during the third quarter of the 20th century was less hostile to the young gay boy than outsiders might imagine. Sessums recalls his grandmother's willingness to call him Arlene, in honor of television personality Arlene Francis; his sixth-grade teacher allowed his book report to be on Jacqueline Susann's best-selling Valley of the Dolls; there was even a local gay bar, which Sessums began visiting at 16. However, life provided great and certain bad times as well: the author recalls a sexual assault by a stranger when he was not yet a teen, and another by a preacher a couple of years later. Most harrowing is the event that frames the narrative, the murder of his mentor, and 19-year-old Sessums's discovery of the bludgeoned body. Whether gay or straight, readers will relate to the author's youthful awareness that self-certainty and terrifying uncertainty seem to be inextricably bound. His observations on-and, more importantly, his experiences of-race relations engage and reveal, and remind readers of the complexity of social status.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Sessums, a contributing editor at Allure magazine, understood instinctively that he was somehow different, somehow not the child his father wanted. One of his earliest memories is of requesting that his mother, grandmother, and aunts make him a skirt from the fabrics his mother was using to make herself maternity clothes. Sessums's father, a regional sports figure, wasn't thrilled by having "a sissy" for a son but did nonetheless love his child in a stern and a distant way. By the age of eight, Sessums had lost both of his parents. In many ways, his grandparents indulged his love of pop culture; they also understood that he was both homosexual and liberal long before either word became acceptable in polite society in Forest, MS. As a young man Sessums had the good fortune of being taken under the wing of Frank Hains and Eudora Welty-both of whom encouraged his love of the arts and literature. Finding himself accepted by a larger world, Sessums was able to turn his grief into writing and find the inner strength to build a life for himself outside of the region. Recommended for libraries with large collections of gay literature and Southern memoir.-Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

"A charming but bracingly unsentimental work . . . Utterly compelling." --People "What a writer! What honesty! Kevin Sessums seamlessly weaves his heart-breaking, funny, outrageous, can't-put-it-down story." --Ellen DeGeneres"Mississippi Sissy is a book I've been waiting for most of my life, though I didn't fully understand that fact until I read [it]...Kevin Sessums is some sort of cockeyed national treasure." --Michael Cunningham"Mississippi Sissy manages to be both hilarious and heartbreaking, often in the same moment. Kevin Sessums not only has a great story to tell, he is a great storyteller." --Carole Radziwill"Sessums re-creates a colorful cast of characters. . . . [His] unique sensibility shines through . . . in his wonderful ear for language, and his eye for Southern foibles." --Elle"Heroic and heartfelt . . . [Sessums] describes situations with clarity and humility. . . . With no small amount of wit and grace, he captures life then as he saw and heard it." --Christina Eng, San Francisco Chronicle"With a patiently observant and chillingly sensual voice, Sessums has written an important memoir." --Matt Saldana, Jackson Free Press

"Mississippi Sissy is an unforgettable memoir. I think it will strike a strong chord with many, many readers. It's a far different book than ""Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,"" but it cast the same kind of spell over me while I was reading it." --Mark Childress

"Kevin Sessums is a brilliant writer. He is also a courageous one. Mississippi Sissy is beautifully told - hilarious yet harrowing, tragic yet inspiring. This book will deeply touch anyone who has ever felt different, which means every single one of us." --E. Lynn Harris

"The depth of the writing equals the depth of his wounds and yet there is an optimism, a surviving instinct, an honesty and an incredible dignity throughout. This book is very powerful!" --Diane Von Furstenberg

"I could not put Kevin Sessums memoir down. A young, white, gay boy, who grew up in a whirl and survived the injustices of class and prejudice, Sessums lyrically, narrates his escape from this tyranny of southern hate. This is the story of an angel with asbestos skin. Were this fiction, it would be on a par with John Kennedy Toole's The Confederacy of Dunces." --Andre Leon Talley, Editor at Large, Vogue

"Wow! What a book! I was both shocked and moved by it. It is said that an unexamined life is not worth living. Kevin Sessums examines his with wisdom and humor and a true writer's sense of grace. This book will create more than the proverbial buzz. It will cause a sensation." --David Geffen

"I was so moved by Kevin Sessums's funny, sad evocation of his childhood and teenage years in Mississippi Sissy. His youthful instinct for finding the theatrical, musical, and literary locals who opened his eyes to the outside world that he yearned to know about is wonderfully touching." --Dominick Dunne

"Mississippi Sissy manages to be both hilarious and heartbreaking, often in the same moment. It is a poignant story of innocence and sexuality; tragedy and courage. But it is ultimately a tale of perseverance of the human spirit. Kevin Sessums not only has a great story to tell, he is a great storyteller." --Carole Radziwill

"Gutsy, moving, richly-textured and immensely funny revelation, and a precisely remembered evocation of the southern political and cultural landscape in the 60s and 70s." --Patti Carr Black"

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