Steele Magnolias

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“If something happens and I need to speak, I just speak,” says Tennie S. Self, 89, of Clarksdale, Mississippi. That’s what Self has to say in a promo video for a new book featuring more than 50 “jewels” — Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom (Center Street) by photojournalist and author Alysia Burton Steele.

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Steele will be discussing and signing Delta Jewels on Thursday, April 9th, at 6 p.m. inside story booth at 438 N. Cleveland, with books provided by The Booksellers at Laurelwood. But you can get a preview of Steele’s book and the women profiled and photographed in it at the author’s website, alysiaburton.com. That’s where you’ll meet some of the female church elders who spoke to Steele in this book of oral histories — personal histories that recall hard times in the heart of the Jim Crow South.

Steele, a photojournalist, isn’t Mississippi-born, but Mississippi is where she lives now: Oxford, to be exact, where she teaches in the journalism department at the University of Mississippi. Before that, she worked at newspapers across the country. At one of them, the Dallas Morning News, she earned a Pulitzer Prize as a picture editor for that paper’s team coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

The official launch of Delta Jewels will be at Square Books in Oxford on April 7th. But on this, the day before we remember the death of Martin Luther King Jr., take time to meet some remarkable women who survive. Their personal stories, thanks to Alysia Burton Steele, can be previewed here and here.

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