With names like William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Richard Wright, Mississippi has a rich literary history, spanning generations of writers and storytellers.
The state is once again stepping into the literary spotlight with the re-release of author Hubert Creekmore’s “The Welcome,” originally released in 1948.
Creekmore was born in Water Valley, Miss., and studied at the University of Mississippi, graduating in 1927. He was a prolific writer, literary critic and photographer, among many other skills. Yet, he was overlooked during his time, especially among his contemporaries.
“The Welcome,” being re-released by the University Press of Mississippi for its 75th anniversary, serves as one of his definitive works.
The novel follows the protagonist, Don, as he returns home following the Great Depression. He finds his friend, Jim, stuck in an unhappy marriage and sinking into alcoholism. As Don connects with a new love interest, secrets between the two men and their pasts become unveiled.
Renewed interest in Creekmore’s “The Welcome” is a testament to its enduring relevance and the continued significance of Mississippi literature.
Pip Gordon is an English professor at the University of Wisconsin Platteville who specializes in LGBTQ+ Studies and Literature of the U.S. South. Due to his role in drawing attention to Creekmore’s work, Gordon was asked by the Creekmore family to write the introduction for the re-released version of “The Welcome.”
“I was originally assigned ‘The Welcome’ in an independent study I took in grad school on Queer Southern fiction,” Gordon said. “The setting in North Mississippi, the time frame that aligned the novel with Faulkner’s writing and connections between Faulkner and Creekmore were the original source of my curiosity.”
Parallels to Faulkner, especially, can be felt in Creekmore’s writing style.
“In Oxford, when locals read Faulkner’s novel, many asked, ‘How could he remember all that?’ because they recognized at a granular level how local histories, individuals and locations infused his work,” Gordon said. “Creekmore’s ‘The Welcome’ is as deeply connected to Water Valley, and while he fictionalized a great deal, his work is marked by a similar ability to ‘turn the actual into the apocryphal,’ as Faulkner once said of his own famous Yoknapatawpha County.”
Gordon, originally a Faulkner scholar, is not one to discredit Faulkner’s accomplishments in Southern and American literature. However, Gordon emphasizes how reissuing Creekmore’s work might help ignite interest in other, lesser-known, gifted writers of the South.
“Creekmore’s novels remind us of the many other novels, stories, plays and works of poetry on which the canon of Southern literature is built,” Gordon said.
Creekmore’s work is especially notable for its modern themes and ideas.
“The Welcome” in particular deals with complex identity themes, many of which are based on homosexuality and heterosexual convention.
“Unlike other queer writers of his day, he does not structure homosexuality as inherently flawed or homosexuals as psychologically damaged. Rather, he sees that social conventions are what keep same-sex love from thriving,” Gordon said. “His gay men are forced into the closet because they do not see any other option, but if they did have space to love one another, they could be okay.”
Gordon said that despite being released in 1948, Creekmore’s work is relevant today.
“This depiction is very timely as we see continued efforts to silence and erase queer identities in our current social context. Such efforts have been made before. They didn’t work except to cause heartache and misery, but queer people and communities remained,” Gordon said. “His novels help bridge the gap of time and remind us of the work that still remains to make a better America.”
Gordon said that the re-release offers a moment for the populace to pause and reflect on what can be gained from Creekmore’s writing.
“In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Faulkner challenged young writers to write from the heart, to write ‘of the human heart in conflict with itself,’ and to write about ‘the old verities of truths of the heart’ to produce writing that truly matters,” Gordon said. “I think Creekmore lived up to this challenge, and I hope readers of his novel will see that.”
“The Welcome” is available for purchase on the University Press of Mississippi website.