David Rae Morris is not technically a Mississippian. He wasn’t born here, didn’t grow up here and doesn’t currently live here. Nonetheless, Mississippi is in his blood. He inherited from his father Willie Morris a love for the state and a desire to see it confront and heal from its violent past. His father, of course, was the acclaimed and beloved author from Yazoo City. His hometown, Jackson, Oxford and all of Mississippi featured prominently in his work—and a perennial family film favorite, “My Dog Skip,” draws on his book of the same name. His time in New York City—where David Rae was born and lived as a child—as a famed editor and man-about-town also is central to his work.
Like his father, the son has often featured Mississippi in his work. Though his choice of medium is different—photographs and film rather than extended prose—the younger Morris’ work is firmly grounded in a sense of place in a way that echoes that of his father. In addition to photographing Mississippi, Morris has done extensive work in New Orleans, the city where he has lived since the mid-1990s. His work in New Orleans includes photographic documentation of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which resulted in a solo exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and a book, “Missing New Orleans.” In fact, he used the Jackson Free Press offices here as a home base as he traveled back and forth to chronicle the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in both his adopted city and along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.
Morris’ most recent project is his new book, “Love Daddy: Letters from My Father,” a collection of letters his father wrote him over the course of 20 years, which the son’s photos and memories accompany. The book comes 22 years after the publication of Morris’ first book collaboration with his father. “My Mississippi,” which was near completion at the time of Willie Morris’ sudden death in 1999, was a collection of essays and photographs of and about the state and its people by native-son father and the son who came to the state as an “outsider.”
In “Love, Daddy” the subject is more personal—an intimate look at the loving, but complicated relationship between a well-known father who could more freely express his feelings in writing and a son who used his camera as an instrument for setting boundaries between them. Morris does not hold back about his father’s struggles with alcohol in the book or the difficulties it could be growing up “in the shadows” of such a larger-than-life Mississippi man.
To learn more, tune in to MFP Live Thursday, June 23 at 6 p.m. on the MFP Facebook page or YouTube channel as David Rae Morris joins Kimberly Griffin and Donna Ladd to talk about his book “Love, Daddy: Letters from My Father.”
This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information to [email protected]. We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.