Memphis author explores real Greek life issues through fiction

Posted on Sep 7 2018 - 5:50am by Andrew Osman

Memphis-based author Lisa Patton will preview her latest novel, “Rush,” which depicts sorority recruitment at Ole Miss, at 5 p.m. Friday at Off Square Books.

A former student at the University of Alabama, Patton is no stranger to SEC traditions and college life in the South.  

Photo Courtesy: Lisa Patton

“Rush” is set in a fictional sorority on the University of Mississippi campus and allows readers to experience the behind-the-scenes lives of sorority members, freshmen going through recruitment and sorority employees.

The book’s plot follows the distinct, but intersecting, lives of three people involved with Ole Miss sororities: Lilith Whitmore, the president of Alpha Delta Beta; Cali Watkins, a potential new member with everything but the pedigree to get her a bid; and Miss Pearl, Alpha Delta Beta’s housekeeper.

Patton said her hope with this novel was “to write something with meaning and that had a message.”

Although she attended Alabama, Patton said the decision to set “Rush” at Ole Miss felt right.

“I wanted to set my characters in Memphis and have them go to Ole Miss,” Patton said. “It felt very natural.”

Patton said the book is primarily about women’s’ lives but also deals with equality and inclusion.

“The main message is that young women have a voice, and young women today are learning to use that voice,” Patton said. “They can use their voices for change.”

To ensure the book presents accurate information, Patton spoke with women involved in Greek life at Ole Miss, LSU and Alabama as well as housemothers and housekeepers at Ole Miss.

“Rush” is Patton’s fourth novel. She was inspired to write her first book, “Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’easter,” after working in Vermont as an innkeeper.

After this, though, Patton said she realized that the North was not for her and returned to Tennessee. In Memphis, she worked in the music industry as a manager at the Orpheum Theatre, a promoter for a radio station and a music producer, before returning to her writing.

This will be Patton’s fourth time at Square Books, and the store’s special events coordinator, Alissa Lilly, is particularly excited about having Patton visit again with a novel Lilly thinks many will relate to.

“Patton is a best-selling Southern writer, and we are so excited that she’s doing an event here for ‘Rush,’” Lilly said. “We think it will be a big book for our community because it is set here in Oxford on the Ole Miss campus and is about sorority life in the South.”

Lilly, who was a sorority member at Ole Miss in the 1980s, said she loves the book, noting how true-to-life Patton’s writing is.

“Even though this is a work of fiction, I think (that) the author does a good job of capturing the culture of sorority life and that readers will enjoy peering into that world — into its good parts and not-so-good parts,” Lilly said. 

Lilly said she thinks the book will be engaging even for those who haven’t had first-hand experiences like Patton’s.

“I think people who read ‘Rush’ will not only be entertained by the book’s engaging story but will also be deeply moved by the struggles and achievements of its central characters,” Lilly said.

Lilly said she is unsure if the book could lead to changes in Greek life on the Ole Miss campus.

“The book raises some serious, thought-provoking questions (about) issues of race, fairness and economic diversity within sorority culture — both for the sororities themselves and how the system as a whole treats the employees who work in the sorority houses,” Lilly said. “Hopefully, it will spark conversations on campus and provide a backdrop for heightened awareness and positive change.”