ON THE SHELF: New Nonfiction titles to tell true tales

Published 4:00 am Sunday, September 11, 2022

This column was submitted by Evangeline Cessna, Local History Librarian at the Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library.

This week the library is featuring some of the newest titles in the New Nonfiction collection.

Kirk Wallace Johnson’s latest is titled “The Fishermen and the Dragon: Fear Greed, and a Fight for Justice on the Gulf Coast.” In the late 1970s, the fishermen of the Texas Gulf Coast were struggling because the bays were contaminated with run-off from nearby petrochemical plants, oil spills, pesticides and concrete. The white shrimpers, however, chose to blame the newly resettled Vietnamese refugees who had recently started fishing in the Gulf. Turf lines were drawn, guns were waved and threats were made. All this came to a head when a young Vietnamese refugee killed a white crabber in self-defense. The Grand Dragon of the Texas Knights of the Ku Klux Klan saw an opportunity to stoke racial hatred among the fishermen. He held a massive Klan rally in Galveston in 1981 where he burned a fishing boat in effigy while spouting hate and encouraged white fishermen to force the refugees to leave. The Vietnamese were on the brink of leaving until a charismatic leader and former colonel convinced them to stand their ground by putting their faith in the Constitution of the United States. “This explosive investigation of a forgotten story, years in the making, ultimately leads Johnson to the doorstep of the one woman who could see clearly enough to recognize the true threat to the bays — and who now represents the fishermen’s last hope.”

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Author Beverly Lowry tells the stunning true story of a murder that shocked the Mississippi Delta and forever shaped her own life and perception of home in her book “Deer Creek Drive: A Reckoning of Memory and Murder in the Mississippi Delta.” In 1948, socialite Idella Thompson was viciously stabbed more than 150 times and left face down in one of her bathrooms. The only other person in the house was her daughter Ruth Dickins and she told authorities that she saw an unknown Black man running from the scene. No evidence of a man’s presence was uncovered and Dickins herself was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The small community was up in arms and petitions were circulated pleading for her release. With all the signatures and after only six years, the governor of Mississippi granted Ruth Dickins an indefinite suspension of her sentence and she was set free. Beverly Lowry was ten years old at the time and lived only a few miles from the victim’s home. She reflects on the brutal crime, its aftermath, and how much privilege and political connections can sway justice.

Chef and author Vishwesh Bhatt invites you to grill, stew and fry your way to a more expansive and delicious meal in his book “I Am From Here: Stories and Recipes from a Southern Chef.” He fuses Southern staples with ethnic cuisines from his family’s Indian heritage to offer things like Peanut Masala — Stuffed Baby Eggplant served with fried okra, tossed in tangy chaat masala. Or perhaps you would like to try Collard-Wrapped Catfish with a spicy Peanut Pesto. These dishes are favorites on the menu at Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi where Bhatt has been executive chef since 2009. In 2019, he was awarded the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South and was inducted into the Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans, and Chefs in 2022. The 130 recipes are arranged by ingredient, emphasizing staples, spices, and vegetables that are loved on both the Indian sub-continent and throughout the American South. Summer means okra, tomatoes, corn, and peas. Winter brings sweet potatoes and collard, mustard, and turnip greens. Recipes range from the unfrilly roast chicken and Citrus-Herb Rice Salad to dinner party-worthy meals like Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Tandoori Spices. This book is written with the home cook in mind and features a mix-and-match meal-planning guide to help you pair dishes for different occasions using ingredients within the reach of every kitchen.

Author and adventurer Rinker Buck returns with his latest “Life On The Mississippi: An Epic American Adventure.” Buck chronicles his latest adventure: building a wooden flatboat from the early 1800s and journeys down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. Over the course of his trip, he and his intrepid crew steer his fragile wooden craft through narrow channels overshadowed by massive cargo barges. He rescues his first mate gone overboard, sails blindly through fog, breaks his ribs not once but twice, and camps every night on sandbars, remote islands and steep levees. As he chronicles his modern-day Huck Finn story, he also ruminates on the importance of the flatboat in the evolution of America. Between 1800 and 1840, millions of farmers, merchants, and adventurers embarked from states like Pennsylvania and Virginia on flatboats headed across the Appalachians to states like Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana. Settler families repurposed the wood of their boats to build their first cabins in the wilderness and cargo boats were broken apart and sold to build the boomtowns along water routes. There were also floating brothels, called “gunboats”; “smithy boats” for blacksmiths; and even “whiskey boats” for alcohol. 

“A Place in the World: Finding the Meaning of Home” is the latest from traveler and author Frances Mayes. Though the author is best known for her travels, she has always sought to find a sense of home wherever she goes. As a testament to the power of place in our lives, Mayes reflects on the idea of home, from the earliest imprint of four walls to the surprising discoveries of feeling at ease in homes abroad, friends’ homes, and even temporary homes. Her musings, written in a warm, intimate style, are even more important for those feeling suffocated after months spent at home during the pandemic. From her travels across Tuscany, Venice and Capri in Italy to the American South, France and Mexico, Mayes examines the connecting strands of each place through the homes she’s inhabited. She explores her passion and obsession with houses and the things that inhabit them — old books, rich food, beloved friends and evocative art. Each home has left its mark on her mind and on her heart.