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Dr. Sybil Estess, Talks Her Childhood with New Memoir "Mississippi Milkwater".

Before Dr. Sybil Estess was a poet and memoirist, she was a little girl growing up in 1940s Mississippi, in a town called Hattiesburg. The book begins with her grandmother, living 70 miles away. She describes her grandmother and her generation in Jasper County’s living situation as ‘primitive,’ and compares the lives they lived to peasants of the Middle Ages. In her memoir, Dr. Estess describes, in gripping detail, the harsh reality of life in that place during that time. The main character, Sam, did not live there permanently, but her visits were scary. She stayed there alone with her grandmother, Lola, twice before her death, both when she is six and seven years old. Her grandmother dies when she is eight years old.

When Dr. Estess was a bit older, in a smaller town they had moved to from Hattiesburg, but a county seat with a courthouse, she witnessed something truly horrible happen, an event that would shape her future by urging her to leave Mississippi. Mack Charles Parker was a young black man accused of raping a white woman. As Dr. Estess explores in her memoir, Mr. Parker was lynched before he could ever stand trial. Dr. Estess saw how the entire town, law enforcement, and the rest turned a blind eye to the incident, and to this day refuse to acknowledge the horrible truth of what happened.

Have you always been a writer/poet? What is the first poem you remember writing?

I wrote in a journal when I was a pre-teen and teen. The writings were mainly prayers to God. I would tell him/her about all my daily life, including any issues with my parents, friends, boyfriends. etc. Once, in mid-teens, I learned that my mother had read some of these and laughed at them. I threw them away and quit writing.

In college, at Baylor University, our sophomore literature teacher had been teaching the romantic poets, and especially sonnets, by Wordsworth, Keats, Shelly. She assigned us to write a poem in one of the two sonnet forms. I wrote about my love and admiration for a male student (whom I happened to marry about 7 years later). But the poem was filled with antiquated language such as "thee" and "thou." When I got the paperback, the teacher had graded me with an ‘A +,’ but written a message for me to come to her office. I did, and there she explained to me that although I had followed the form perfectly, she had no idea what the subject of the poem was. I thought at the time, "Well, Good. I didn't want you to know." She encouraged me that if I were to write in the future, I must write in contemporary language that could be understood. I remembered that, and thought, "Yes, that is something I would like to try." But I never did, in college.

Then I taught school and got a master's degree. I still did not try writing any poetry. But when I was age 30, married, and moved to a northern state, I entered a Ph.D. program at Syracuse University. I thought, "Now is my time for this old desire." So