tv Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown CNN November 12, 2016 8:00pm-9:01pm PST
gets around ♪ ♪ from what i've found this town gets around ♪ >> anthony: some time ago, something crawled, or slithered, or grew like a fungus. something that started small, got bigger, lurched like a swamp thing out of the mud and moist earth and humid nights of the delta. then, it took over the world. so next time some smart ass foreigner, horrified by our latest ham-fisted foreign policy blunder wonders out loud, "what good is america?" well, you can always pipe up that the blues, rock 'n' roll, r&b, and soul all came out of this place -- one state -- mississippi.
♪ i took a walk through this beautiful world ♪ ♪ felt the cool rain on my shoulder ♪ ♪ found something good in this beautiful world ♪ ♪ i felt the rain getting colder ♪ ♪ sha la la la la sha la la la la la ♪ ♪ sha la la la la sha la la la la la la ♪ >> geno: right now we're in the middle of downtown jackson.
farish street. >> anthony: it is a street with a lot of history. what did it used to be like back in the day? >> geno: the street was packed with folks. folks all over, they had their own restaurants, grocery stores, juke joints. i mean everything happened on farish street that happened in jackson for the african-american community. >> anthony: the state capital of jackson, mississippi, located along interstate highway 55, just outside what's known as the mississippi delta. it's the kind of place that makes you wonder why did they make it the capital. until you grab hold of what used to be around here. farish street used to be the hub of african-american life in the city. it's black commercial, cultural center. when dr. king came to town, he came here. everybody did. medgar evers had an office just upstairs, here. musicians like tommy johnson, sonny boy williamson ii, and elmore james all played here. and the likes of duke ellington, cab calloway, count basie, and louis armstrong all took the
stage at places like the crystal palace ballroom and the alamo on farish street. what happened? where did it all go? >> geno: what killed farish street was immigration. once we were able to branch out of our own indigenous black-run businesses, the black-owned businesses died. >> anthony: right. >> geno: so great for the black race, but terrible for the black business. in fact, the only reason you're coming to farish street right now -- >> anthony: mm-hmm. >> geno: -- is we have two churches, two funeral homes, and the big apple inn. so you're gonna either die, worship, or come to my place to eat, and that's the only traffic we get. >> anthony: or all three, and that -- you know? >> geno: that's right. >> anthony: not in that order, but -- >> woman: how you doing? >> woman 2: one hot? how y'all doing today? >> anthony: back when things were hopping, geno lee's great grandfather juan "big john" mora moved to mississippi from mexico city, started a family with an african-american woman in jackson. he sold hot tamales out of a steel drum on the corner. in 1939, he moved the operation inside, right here. now, the last restaurant on the
street. lurking inside waiting for us is john t. edge, who leads the southern foodways alliance. mr. edge, how you doing? >> john t. edge: i'm well, sir. >> anthony: who makes a point, a mission, out of knowing and teaching as much as he can about the real culinary traditions of the south. and doing what he can to keep them alive and unmolested. >> server: all right. >> man: thank you. >> anthony: oh, man. >> john t. edge: thanks, sir. >> server: and that's yours, tony. >> anthony: look at that. awesome. it's just like a dream sandwich. what you go for here are smokes. smoked sausage sandwiches. and these magnificent beauties, pig ear sandwiches called ears. both pretty much served with the same garnishes of slaw, mustard, homemade hot sauce, on a soft bun. now as i understand it, originally this is one of those, nobody wants these things, they're dirt cheap. >> geno: that's exactly right. in fact, by "dirt cheap," ears were actually free. >> anthony: right. >> geno: when my great grandfather started getting the pig ears, the local butcher was
giving it to him because he was just throwing them away. >> anthony: it's everything, you know, we love about bacon -- the texture, the mix of fatty, lean, all that. oh, that's good. mm. man! that is just hard to beat. >> geno: isn't it good? >> anthony: mm-hmm. >> geno: it's a good sandwich. >> anthony: and, of course, some hot tamales. which, at this point in history, are about as mississippi as they are mexican. like the blues, they came out of mississippi in the early 20th century, as mexican migrant workers came in to replace african-americans who were headed to work in the great factories and stock yards of chicago and detroit. >> john t. edge: you know, sitting down here, um, eating tamales, we can sketch a history of mississippi. and that's kind of what i'm most interested in doing. helping southerners understand that their foods are as african as they are western european. and -- >> anthony: if not more. >> john t. edge: and hopefully by way -- if not, oh, largely. you know music, and, you know, and all the other cultural expressions in the south. i think food is a sneaky way of getting at some of the serious stuff we've been talking about.
>> geno: as i told you before, i didn't know what a cool job or what a cool restaurant i had until you showed it to me. i'm just making a living. you know, just like a lot of folks around mississippi. we're not trying to make history, we're not trying to increase tourism, we're not -- all we're doing is -- doing what we do. >> anthony: there is a discomfort level about exploring southern foodways, or particularly mississippi foodways. when you're talking about high-end, traditional southern cooking, you're talking plantation, slavery cooking, 'cause that's where these recipes came from. so to revel in that you don't wanna tumble into nostalgia you -- the potential for awkwardness, uh, and offense, is enormous. >> john t. edge: right. i wanna be careful. i'm not saying that's what i want the south to be. i'm saying that's what people come to the south looking for. >> anthony: right. >> john t. edge: they come to the south looking for the past preserved in amber. but the reality is something different. i don't wanna fix the past. i don't wanna fix it in 1865, or 1965. i want it to progress and change. i wanna document the change along the way and celebrate that
change. the burden of race is upon us and we ain't gonna shake it. and that can make us better. >> anthony: i'm a yankee. so, for me, it's kinda shocking to see this flag. it means a lot of things to a lot of people. first and foremost meaning, "i'm not a yankee, and i don't much care what you think." there's no doubt that much of mississippi history is ugly. from slavery, which was pretty much the backbone, the foundation of industry here from the get go, to jim crow, lynchings, to church burnings. 14-year-old emmett till, killed for talking sass to a white lady in 1955. the assassination of medgar evers in 1963. the murders of civil rights workers james chaney, michael schwerner and andrew goodman in 1964.
hell, they had to send in 30,000 armed federal agents, national guardsmen, and military police just to enforce federal law allowing a black man to attend state college. a notion that was, shall we say, less than popular here. to be honest, that was about all i had for an image of the state of mississippi. that was all i knew. and it hadn't occurred to me to look further. but i've traveled the world since then, and i've visited and learned to love many places not my own. cultures and beliefs very different from the upper east side of manhattan. why can't i love mississippi? ♪ y'all know the name pyinfamous ♪ ♪ all bets are off i'm through talking ♪ ♪ never gonna fall for my spider move august and september ♪ ♪ block your october
so you should be thankful the party's not over ♪ ♪ we won the race 'cause they ran a lame campaign ♪ ♪ i'm over here cooking victory you want a taste? ♪ >> anthony: pyinfamous is a proud son and resident of mississippi. a youth mentor in jackson's church and public school systems, owner of a marketing agency, and hip-hop artist. this town, it feels empty. where is everybody? >> pyinfamous: i think one thing is a lot of people think that you have to leave mississippi to be able to do something great. but i think a lot of it is there's so much bubbling in the undercurrent that sometimes isn't seen. and i think it takes an artist who usually takes something that's blank and creates something that's awesome to be able to see the potential in a place, in a canvas, so to speak, that has been vacated by others. >> anthony: soul wired cafe. one of a number of places where something is going on. where artists,ntpreneurs move into workshops, perform in spaces, set up something new and
good in formerly abandoned and neglected parts of town. ♪ yeah you know the name already so there's no need for intros ♪ ♪ gather 'round, get close the hood here ♪ ♪ that's exactly why the hood's here ♪ ♪ and if you trying to find man, look here ♪ >> anthony: this is a deeply, deeply conservative state. to say the least, right? this is a tough question 'cause i've got my own opinion. is it more racist than new york? >> pyinfamous: so, i think there -- there are some deeply ingrained problems in mississippi that are connected to a very ugly past that we share with some other southern states. however, i think as far as we talk about racism expressed through a classes lens -- >> anthony: mm-hmm. >> pyinfamous: -- i think mississippi and new york are on par. right? >> anthony: yeah, no doubt. pyinfamous is originally from clarksdale in the delta and went to ole miss. but he's neither left, nor lost faith. he feels an obligation to empower, uplift, educate, to contribute. >> pyinfamous: one of the
important tasks of musicians is being able to really speak truthfully about what's going on without fear of reprisal. right? it allows the audience then to say, "you know what, you're right." now that you put it to a nice melody, or to a nice beat, or you say it in that way, and hopefully in the end, that engages them more and allows them to move. and i don't think any movement in the world has not had a soundtrack. right? regardless of what it is. and so, that's our job. ♪ the hood here that's exactly why the hood's here ♪ ♪ and if you trying to find better look here ♪ ♪ close the lines scared to cross ♪ ♪ it's not fair to y'all make rules, break rules ♪ of a different drummer... beat i say, i just dance. be up for anything with boost. it's intelligent nutrition. with 26 vitamins and minerals and 10 grams of protein. and i'm just getting warmed up. boost. be up for it.
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>> john ruskey: well, anywhere a raindrop falls in 44% of america. and its furthest reach is three forks, montana. if you follow the volume of water, two-thirds comes down the ohio river. but most people say lake itasca, minnesota. >> anthony: john ruskey is what i guess you'd call a river rat. in 1998, he started the quapaw canoe company, a custom outfit that leads guided expeditions on the mississippi river and its tributaries. as a central part of his operations, he trains local kids from mississippi and across the river in neighboring arkansas under an apprentice program. teaching skills like hand-carving canoes, outdoor survival, and the ins and outs of guiding and the history of the river. most of these kids come from pretty distressed neighborhoods. and the hope, the intent, is that once trained up, they'll stay with the company. >> john ruskey: nice paddling,
tony. you got the feather down. >> anthony: thank you. i'll be feeling that tomorrow. >> anthony: buck island. most of the island could be under 45 to 50 feet of flowing river water from april to june, with a spring ice melt and rain storms. >> john ruskey: we do a lot of cooking with dutch ovens out here. >> anthony: multipurpose and indestructible. >> john ruskey: mm-hmm. and the next step on this thing is that here are the greens and we should stuff as many greens as we can into that pot. >> anthony: into this right here. >> john ruskey: uh-huh. >> anthony: all right. so how does your program work? at what age are they generally when they first -- >> john ruskey: uh, teenagers. and as soon as they can hold a paddle, the only thing we ask is interest and commitment. >> anthony: well, what does that mean, commitment? >> john ruskey: we have this thing called the three "rs". which is respect of yourself, getting good sleep, eating good food. especially before you go on a trip. the second one is respect of other people, the other paddlers
and of course the clients. and then the third thing is taking care of the river. and you know they've been told by their parents, don't get on the mississippi river. maybe they don't even know how to swim. and you know for a young man or woman, overcoming a fear like that and getting in the canoe and then to have people come and appreciate what you're doing is a life-changing experience. but within that is this incredible great and beautiful spirit that is intact in the delta. >> anthony: sweet potatoes, greens, into the dutch ovens. throw on the corn when getting close. finally on the wet logs on top of glowing coals lay some steaks, some pork loin and pork tenderloins right on there. just keep an eye on them. good, we have full spectrum steaks. potatoes perfect. >> john ruskey: corn on the cob? >> anthony: yeah. a hunk of bread. living large on the mississippi.
and yes, there is too much food for two people. and yes, that is a whole helluva lot of meat. and i know it would be awful to waste all that extra. but don't worry. >> john ruskey: woo-hoo. woo-hoo. >> man: woo. >> john ruskey: woo-woo. >> anthony: 'cause these gentlemen are tired and hungry. welcome, gentlemen. >> john ruskey: right on, quapaws. come on, there's corn on the cob here, greens. >> anthony: oh, i'll be cookie. yeah. cut a little more of this. oh lookin' good. i don't wanna say i'm good, but i'm good. >> man: you. you. >> anthony: all right. corn, sir? who's missing steak here? sir, you got it? who needs steak? i feel all crocodile dundee. >> man: beautiful. >> anthony: so all that paddling, how bad am i gonna hurt tomorrow? >> man: ooooh.
>> anthony: oh, i don't like the sound of that. >> man: can i tell you, i got the -- >> anthony: that hesitation, not a good sign. those tenderloins are nice. good stuff. man, we have mastered the wild today. the mississippi delta is a big sponge that stretches between the yazoo and the mississippi. it's what's called an alluvial floodplain of about 7,000 square miles or almost 4.5 million acres. this area used to look very different. massive, wild, old wood forests and swamps. after the passage of the cheerful sounding native removal act of 1830, the delta became open for settlement by any white people crazy enough, hearty enough, determined enough, or
just plain mean and greedy enough to come here. >> julia reed: there's no way to make up for our bad racial past, but you do, you know, the sense of community that keeps people here is evidenced in this place. >> anthony: julia reed is greenville born and raised. the daughter of a political family. a writer, author, and as delta as it gets. how long you been in the city? >> john currence: 22 years. i came in 1992. >> anthony: john currence is a celebrated chef, who had left new orleans to come to mississippi. and opened first one, then many more restaurants and businesses in the town of oxford. >> john currence: i've stayed busy. >> anthony: and this is doe's eat place in greenville. >> julia reed: this is the great florence signa. >> anthony: oh, it's so good to meet you. >> julia reed: florence is in charge of the salad bowl and has
been for -- this is -- florence is doe senior's sister-in-law. uh, when did y'all open up for us? 1930? >> florence signa: 1941. >> julia reed: '41. close enough. >> anthony: like a lot of folks around here, dominick "big doe" signa got his start selling hot tamales to go. in the beginning, the place catered to the black community. but after word got out how good the food was, white people started coming. which led to a kind of weird accommodation to the segregation of the day. blacks came in the front, white people snuck in the back. the menu expanded with the clientele. what human qualities are unique or marked in the native of mississippi? >> julia reed: i cannot address mississippi 'cause like i said, the delta is a whole 'nother planet. >> anthony: wow. okay, better question then. how does the lifelong delta resident differ from the other -- >> julia reed: you had to be a little crazy to wanna come in the first place, 'cause it was like the swamps, buddy. it was under water. i mean, you had to be crazy to come, and you had to have enough money to make it work.
so you had some sort of gamblers. i mean, that -- that spirit still infuses the place. it's a little reckless. it's sophisticated 'cause they'd all come from elsewhere. you know, i mean, you know, you go from the delta to the hills. i mean, we're totally snobbish up here, even when we didn't have the right to be. i mean, look at where you just came from, jackson. are you kiddin' me? you'd have to be paid money to go to jackson from greenville. >> anthony: do they feel the same way down there about you guys? >> julia reed: they don't get us 'cause they ain't got no sense of humor. [ laughs ] >> anthony: so what about the food? has this place changed at all? >> julia reed: no. >> john currence: it's -- it's been 20 years since i was here last. and literally exactly the same. >> anthony: not much in the way of capital improvements or time motion study. the system, such as it is, well, crazy. you eat right here in the kitchen. and the division of labor, the flow of work, well, i gave up trying to figure it out five minutes in and just figured i'll get loaded and eat all this delicious food. the salad thing is famous. hand-tossed in the same wooden bowl for decades.
the hot tamales, same as they ever was. >> julia reed: and doe's tamales are just incredible because they're made with the steak drippings and stuff that you're getting ready to see, so it -- >> anthony: oh yeah. oh really. >> julia reed: -- greatly enhances the flavor. oh my god. >> john currence: i could eat 'em till i was sick. >> anthony: fries done in cast-iron pan on the stovetop. the famous shrimp. steaks on an old rollout broiler. drippings all over the top. >> julia reed: and, you know, you're not gonna get skinny or healthy eating the hot tamales and fried shrimp and steak at doe's. there's no question about it. >> anthony: oh that's good. happy. it's the grease that makes it. uh-huh. man, that's good. and you're right about those shrimp, they are delicious. >> julia reed: the shrimp? >> anthony: yeah. >> julia reed: oh yeah. >> anthony: is there a dessert that i should be saving room for? >> julia reed: are you kiddin' me? there is no dessert. it's pretty damn bare bones, my friend. if you ask for one, they'll give you a lollipop.
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moved here from georgia, and the thing that struck me when i moved here driving through the delta the first time was just how empty it was. like, you know, it's like everybody left. >> anthony: the great migration. three factors. automation -- the invention of mechanical means to pick cotton. the call of better-paying jobs in the industries of the north. and, of course, freedom. >> john t. edge: you know, people think about the blues as a lament. a lot of blues songs are about freedom, about getting the hell out of mississippi. you know, and there were a lot of reasons to get the hell out of mississippi. for a long time. now there's a return migration. and there's that whole period in the late '60s, early '70s where kids are buggin' out of brown university to come sit at the foot of an ancient bluesman in mississippi. there's a cyclical pattern to that. now, you know, you see people kinda doing the same thing with food, like there's a whole generation that wants to come down here and sit at the foot of an ancient catfish cook. >> anthony: state senator
willie simmons has been an elected official of the mississippi delta for 20 years. and he's been running this place, senator's place, for 11. now what's the difference between soul food and southern, traditional southern food? >> willie simmons: it depends upon the culture. and what neighborhood you was in. if you were in the black neighborhood, then it became soul. we probably put a little bit more of the throwaway in our cooking -- the pig feet, the pigtail, the neck bones, and all that's fatty. >> anthony: now you're making me hungry. now you are definitely making me -- >> willie simmons: we got some neck bones over there, okay. >> anthony: oh, excellent. so greens -- >> willie simmons: turnip greens. >> anthony: i'll have some of that for sure. is that fried okra there? i'll have a little of that. i might need more than one plate at this rate. uh, let me get some mac 'n' cheese. what's that, lima beans?
the red bean, oh man, that looks kinda good too. yeah, a little bit of that. neck bones floating around somewhere? >> woman: they are, they're right here. >> anthony: okay, yeah i'll have some of those. little rice and gravy on there, yeah thanks. and uh, oh i dunno, a piece of fried chicken there, if you got a thigh that would be great. >> john t. edge: okra's perfect. >> anthony: yeah it is. oh man, that's good. >> willie simmons: now here in the south if you want to, you can throw your fork away and just grab the neck bone. >> anthony: oh yeah, i'll be working on that. once -- >> willie simmons: we forgive you and don't hold it against you for doing it. >> anthony: i could eat this okra all day long, man. it's good. >> willie simmons: and i wanna know what you think about those greens and butter beans. >> anthony: oh man, they're nice. man, that's tasty. do you think the right people get the credit for southern cooking as we know it? >> willie simmons: i do. >> anthony: you think the right people get the credit? i mean, look, you -- >> john t. edge: people know. people know who's behind this food. whether it's called soul food or
whether it's called country cooking. >> anthony: how is the delta -- the mindset of the delta different than the rest of the state? >> willie simmons: no one else can compare with us. like there is no other senator who can sit and talk to you and tell you that they represent dockery plantation, where the blues supposed to been born. there's no one else can tell you that in his district is the home of b.b. king. can tell you that he represents the area where fannie lou hamer came from. where jerry butler was born. go on and name others. the staple singers. when we talk about the heritage and the culture and what comes out of the delta, that's all within this little district that i represent. so mississippi delta has that pride. >> anthony: 46 miles southeast is greenwood. a town with a lot of history.
most of it of the not good variety. known unfortunately as much for byron de la beckwith, and tom brady's infamous speech after brown v. the board of education as anything else, fairly or not, it's hard to get past that. during all the years of cruelty and struggle from 1933 on, through it all and until today, this place, lusco's, was a beloved institution. once a grocery store, it turned restaurant to the money class, serving them in discreet quarters in the back where one could enjoy an alcoholic beverage in what was then a dry state. still going after all these years. and unchanged. why? >> john t. edge: this place is like a reliquary of like indiscretions past. you know? >> anthony: but maybe, to really tell the story of this place, you have to start with the story of its most famous employee -- booker wright, who had been working at lusco's as a waiter wince he was 14 years old.
>> booker: thanks to y'all. we don't have a real menu. i'd be glad to tell you what we're gonna serve tonight. >> anthony: in 1965, nbc news came to town, making a documentary on race relations. booker's entertaing recitation of the menu atusco'sas famous around town, so they asked him to do his usual routine for the camera. >> booker: we have fresh shrimp cocktail, lusco's shrimp, fresh oysters on a half shell, baked oysters, oyster rockefeller, oyster almadine. >> anthony: but at the end of his usual litany is where he dropped the truth bomb that nobody was ready for, right here. customers, i say my customers, be respecting of me. some people nice, some is not. some call me booker, some call me john, some call me jim. some call me nigga. oh that hurts, but you have to smile. if you don't, "what's wrong with you?" the meaner the man be, the more you smile. although you crying on the inside. "i'm not gonna tip that nigga. he don't live for no tip." "yes sir, thank you." "what'd you say?" "come back, goodnight, take
care." so that's what you have to go through here. but remember, you have to keep that smile. >> anthony: telling the truth was still risky business in 1966 mississippi, and booker wright was not rewarded for his candor. it was not a good experience for him. it did not make him a star by, you know -- >> john t. edge: not within the white community, but even though stokely carmichael maybe first chanted "black power" here, that was less important to the black community here than what booker said on the nbc news. >> anthony: yeah. the private dining rooms at lusco's are still here. the menu, much the same. steaks, fish, the famous broiled shrimp. the lusco's special salad with the house italian vinaigrette dressing and a healthy dose of anchovy. onion rings. >> john t. edge: the salad makes me happy. >> anthony: yeah, me too. >> john t. edge: mostly the anchovies make me happy. >> anthony: yeah, yeah, love those.
catfish for mr. edge, the famous pompano for me. >> john t. edge: it's the kind of mark of being a great restaurant in the delta, if you have pompano. >> anthony: it's a big damn fish. no way i'm finishing this. sitting here, the booths, the curtains, the whole "ring bell for service" thing, it seems lost in time. >> john t. edge: we got a real long and ugly history. but one of the things i love about this place is you can't deny the burden of the past, like it's on your shoulder, it's right there. like you know, america chooses to deny its problems. you know, in many ways, you know. i mean, it declares itself a post-racial society. that just doesn't fly in mississippi. you can't -- you can't claim that.
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>> anthony: oxford, mississippi, is a lovely, incongruously eccentric little island. a mutation. a college town. a magnet for writers, thinkers, and oddballs. drawn perhaps by its rich literary tradition as the home of one of our greatest authors, william faulkner. faulkner was a mississippi native, a former postman, an outdoorsman, and eventual winner of the nobel prize in literature and two pulitzer prizes for fiction. he never graduated high school. this was his house, roanoke.
faulkner wrote such american classics as "the sound and the fury," "as i lay dying," "light in august," and "absalom, absalom!". and many of his works took place in a fictional county, a place very much like this place, in mississippi. >> bill griffith: this is where faulkner started his writing career in this room, here. >> anthony: for the past ten years, bill griffith has been curator at william faulkner's estate. >> bill griffith: he added this room on after he won the nobel prize. and on the wall here is an outline of one of his novels. >> jack pendarvis: yeah, that was his greatest book. >> bill griffith: yeah, faulkner thought this was his masterpiece. >> anthony: jack pendarvis is the author of "your body is changing," "the mysterious secret of valuable treasure," and "awesome," as well as staff writer for a game-changing animated series "adventure time" -- all works of which i am a huge fan. so he wrote right -- right on the wall. >> bill griffith: he just wrote on it. >> anthony: it's -- it's his man cave. >> bill griffith: yeah, it's his -- it's his version. he said that houses in mississippi who have a family business have one room dedicated
to the family business and this family's business is writing. >> anthony: from as early as 1919 through the '60s, faulkner wrote extensively about the post-civil war south. he was the first author to do so at a time when most writers were writing about anything but. >> bill griffith: he always said that he wrote about a south torn between itself. torn between the old ways, the old traditional ways, and modern development. he said he was gonna break the antebellum code. >> anthony: right. >> bill griffith: and he did. >> anthony: but -- >> bill griffith: he did, and yet -- he had those hobbies and interests that were definitely of a gentry class and a gentry nature. >> jack pendarvis: his portrait and his horse -- >> bill griffith: there's a great example. >> anthony: yeah. >> bill griffith: in his -- in his riding habit. that's a great example. you do get to a certain level of success, and all of a sudden, this seems like a good idea. and it's never a good idea at that age. >> anthony: at any age, really. >> bill griffith: exactly. >> anthony: was he politically active at all?
i mean, there was a lot going on. >> bill griffith: he's a middle-of-the-road democrat. that's what he said. he said you have to bring black education up with white education. and since the state of mississippi will not invest in black education, it's up to its citizens to do so. he said that segregation wasn't about being right or wrong, he said any sane, sober southerner knows that it's wrong. it's about wanting to change or not. but people don't want to give up power. fear is still alive and well in mississippi. i think racism is one of those great things in the world that you'll never solve and that's why faulkner wrote about it. >> anthony: writers, as i know from looking in my own dark heart, are generally terrible people. put ten of them together and it's like putting your head in a bag full of snakes. i meet a bunch of them above in city grocery, john currence's place on the square. there's the brilliant author tom franklin and his wife, the poet beth ann fennelly. grisham writer-in-residence, megan abbott. pendarvis, you know.
poet chiyuma elliott. wright thompson is a senior writer for espn. fellow writer on the series "treme", chris offutt. novelist ace atkins. poet derek harriell is originally from milwaukee. crime novelist billy boyle from brooklyn. downstairs, currence's restaurant city grocery cranks out many delicious things. the man known as big bad chef, aka "johnny snack", is sending some of those goodies upstairs as there's nothing professional writers like more than free food. usually you put five writers in a room it's a ugly hell broth of envy, hatred. >> writer: we all hate tommy. >> writer 2: no, that goes without saying. >> tom: even me, i hate me the worst of all. >> jack pendarvis: around here anyway, the writers are really supportive of each other. for writers to argue would be like arguing over a piece of dirt.
i mean, what are we fighting about? the stakes are so low, why would you be a jerk about it. >> anthony: if mississippi were a country and there were a national hero, uh, dead or alive, by consensus, statewide, who would -- who would the statue be of? >> wright thompson: elvis. >> anthony: really? wouldn't be b.b. king? >> wright thompson: it should be. it should be b.b. king. >> anthony: i mean -- >> chris offutt: yeah. but it would be elvis. >> anthony: but it would be elvis. >> wright thompson: well, i mean, mississippi is -- the joke is that it's not a state, it's a club. that it's so small that everybody knows everybody. >> ace atkins: in the middle of mississippi, oxford is an oasis of thought, and art, and literature, and feeling, and sentiment and everything. they call this place the velvet ditch. >> anthony: why the velvet ditch? >> jack pendarvis: i guess you just roll in and it's pretty frigging comfortable, and you don't care much about getting out. right? right? am i right? >> anthony: well, no one here
seems too bitter about that. >> wright thompson: it's a place that needs help but it's a really great place. we're never leaving. the waterspout.nt up down came the rain and clogged the gutter system creating a leak in the roof. luckily the spider recently had geico help him with homeowners insurance. water completely destroyed his swedish foam mattress. he got full replacement and now owns the sleep number bed. his sleep number setting is 25. call geico and see how much you could save on homeowners insurance. thosthey are.sses? do i look smarter? yeah, a little. you're making money now, are you investing? well, i've been doing some research. let me introduce you to our broker. how much does he charge? i don't know. okay. uh, do you get your fees back if you're not happy? (dad laughs) wow, you're laughing. that's not the way the world works. well, the world's changing.
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>> anthony: is there a distinctive barbecue style in the state of mississippi? >> john currence: no, not that -- that we can really discern at all. and it's part of the reason that we wanted to do this. we got our hands on this place and sort of been puzzled for years, you know, what mississippi barbecue is all about.
and the more i dug into it, the less and less i could find. so what we wanted to do is sort of take a look at barbecue that surrounds us and see if we could sort of frankenstein barbecue. >> anthony: there isn't really any fixed idea of mississippi barbecue. and other than this place, lamar lounge, john currence's not-for-profit bar restaurant, there's no other pit-smoked, whole-hog barbecue in the entire state. a 175-pound pig will feed many mouths. about 250 people eat here a day. now this is a not-for-profit establishment? >> john currence: yeah. >> anthony: is that right? >> john currence: yeah, it sure i >> anthony: what kinda socialist, communist -- are you up to, currence? what's going on here?
this is the state of mississippi. >> john currence: well, i'm just a feel-good kind of guy. >> anthony: me too. i've been here only a week. my sentences, they're starting to change already. 'cause it's not just a physical, a rhythm to the speech, but the way i'm organizing my thoughts is starting to change. some of the oxford writers from last night managed to make it out of bed. heads pounding no doubt, filled with the shame and self-loathing surely familiar for writers. but like such greats of the past as malcolm lowry, f. scott fitzgerald, and charles bukowski, they too have learned that more alcohol first thing will often make you feel better about the world. particularly if accompanied by freshly baked cornbread, biscuits, pulled pork off that whole hog, sweet jerk chicken, and brisket. hell, i feel better already. >> man: the mississippi that i've received is not the mississippi that i've had in my head. i was surprised on how sold i
was off the bat. if you wanna write, you come to oxford. >> anthony: do you think that's true? well, apparently yes. >> jack pendarvis: like that line in "barton fink," "you can't throw a rock without hitting a writer." and then he says, "do me a favor, throw it hard." >> john currence: it's easy to just look at mississippi and go, "that just happens down there, so we're good, our hands are clean." it's a totally misperceived place. when i came, i fell in love with the place. i never thought that i would -- there's something to it, but you can't put your finger on what it is.
you don't like my rules, don't come. >> what are other rules here? no rap music. no rap music. >> william "po' monkey" seaberry: no. nobody likes that "bumpa bumpa bump". i don't like that. it gives me a headache in the brain. i love all blues. all of it's good to me as long as it's blues. >> anthony: good r&b? >> william "po' monkey" seaberry: that's right, that's right. >> anthony: but no rap. >> william "po' monkey" seaberry: no, no. >> anthony: never, even if i have -- kanye west wants to rent out the place, are you gonna rent it to him? >> william "po' monkey" seaberry: yeah, i'd rent it to him. >> anthony: oh okay. just in case. >> william "po' monkey" seaberry: so i ain't got time to work with them and keep down all this old bullshit, if you ain't come for a good time stay away
from here. >> anthony: words to live by. well, thank you, sir. i love your place and thank you for having us. >> william "po' monkey" seaberry: well, you got to come back again. >> anthony: oh, i surely will. >> william "po' monkey" seaberry: i'll find somebody to get naked with you. >> anthony: uh-oh. >> john currence: there's a promise. >> william "po' monkey" seaberry: okay, dj, you can kick it back off. ♪ >> dj: a bad girl. don't forget about it, come right here. >> anthony: thursday night is family night at po' monkeys, mostly locals, a mixed bag. the music is classic r&b and pre-disco soul. the attitude -- loose. just familiarize yourself with those rules and there won't be a problem. in the cities of the north where i come from, in some ways, we've been able to buy ourselves free from our past. new arrivals pour in with no memory of the ugly parts of our history. we can afford the luxury of the new. we can live in comfortable bubbles or apartments high in the sky. in many ways more separate than at any time in history. but for mississippi, the past is