Mississippi Sissy is the stunning memoir from Kevin Sessums, a celebrity journalist who grew up scaring other children, hiding terrible secrets, pretending to be Arlene Frances and running wild in the South.
As he grew up in Forest, Mississippi, befriended by the family maid, Mattie May, he became a young man who turned the word "sissy" on its head, just as his mother taught him. In Jackson, he is befriended by Eudora Welty and journalist Frank Hains, but when Hains is brutally murdered in his antebellum mansion, Kevin's long road north towards celebrity begins. In his memoir, Kevin Sessums brings to life the pungent American south of the 1960s and the world of the strange little boy who grew there.
"Kevin Sessums is some sort of cockeyed national treasure.” —Michael Cunningham
This lovely, engaging memoir by acclaimed entertainment writer Sessums is not so much a gay coming-out story (although its author does discover and act upon his homosexuality) as an investigation of the effects of popular culture on a young, white boy growing up in the racist South in the 1950s. Sessums, who has written for Vanity Fair, Interview and Allure, was born in 1956 and raised outside of Jackson, Miss., by loving parents (although his father wished him to be less effeminate) both of whom died before his 10th birthday. But the heart of Sessums's memoir is how Hollywood and Broadway stars were obsessions and guide posts to a different life, and how female icons (such as Dusty Springfield and Audrey Hepburn) were important role models as he became part of a gay community. At times the prose can be preeningly literary as when Sessums describes his mother and her friends as "they carefully rubbed Coppertone suntan lotion on their smooth and lovely backs, their jutting shoulder blades like the nubs of de-winged angels grubbing around down here on earth." But at other times he can be emotionally shocking and precise as when recalling how, at 16, he hears his older friend Frank Hains tell a delighted Eudora Welty about his affairs with "young African-Americans." A marked detour from the often repetitive coming-out memoir, Sessums's story offers wit and incisive observation.