Willie Morris, a captivating storyteller who used his childhood adventures to spin stories of rural life in the Mississippi Delta, died Monday after suffering a heart attack. He was 64.
Morris, with more than a dozen books to his credit, had a wide-ranging and colorful professional life as a journalist, editor and novelist. Among his better known books are North Toward Home and Terrains of the Heart and Other Essays on Home.
At age 33, the Jackson native had become the youngest editor-in chief of Harper's Magazine, the nation's oldest magazine.
Â"He brought that magazine kicking and screaming into the present. With his love of words and very considerable charm he'd taken an archaic magazine and made it an exciting magazine that was on the cutting edge. It was a stunning success,Â" said writer David Halberstam, recruited by Morris at Harper's. Â"There was a moment he sort of owned New York.Â"
Morris, born Nov. 29, 1934, was brought up in Yazoo City, a small town that would become the focal point for many of his stories. He also developed what he called a Â"good ole boy" love for the South and its people.
Morris and his only child, son David, a freelance photojournalist living in New Orleans, were collaborating on a new book.
Morris, who died about 6:20 p.m. Monday at St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson, is also survived by his second wife, JoAnne Prichard, whom he married in 1990. Prichard was an editor at the University Press of Mississippi, who was responsible for Homecomings, Morris' award-winning essay collection.
His latest published book was The Ghosts of Medgar Evers, a 1998 work about the history of the production of the 1996 Rob Reiner film Ghosts of Mississippi.
Â"The basic crisis in America is that of racism,Â" Morris wrote. Â"Mississippi has always been the crucible of national guilt.Â"
Earlier this year, filmmakers were in Mississippi for a movie version of one of Morris' works, a 1995 heart-tugging memoir, My Dog Skip. The movie is set for release later this year.
Word of the death spread quickly among the literary community.
A weeping Dean Faulkner Wells, niece of William Faulkner, could manage only a few words. Â"He was my Huckleberry friend, and I'm very, very lonely. I'll never get over it.Â"
©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
© 1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.