Oxford, Mississippi. Some may know this quaint Mississippi town for the university community that calls it home, some may know it for its southern charm and hospitality. On my recent trip to explore Oxford, Mississippi with Visit Mississippi, I had the pleasure of encountering a multi-faceted town, teeming with all walks of life, interests, and cultures. In just a few minutes walking around the town square, I realized there is much more to Oxford than meets the eye.
My home away from home for my travels was the Chancellor’s House Hotel, right in the heart of town. Chancellor's house is the essence of southern elegance. The interiors are refined and beautiful, yet filled with charm and warmth that makes you want to sit and stay a while. Truly a hotel to put on your must-stay list when in Oxford!
My first stop of the day was to Square Books, a bookstore and meeting place full of history and meaning to Oxford locals and the literature community alike. It was there where I met up with Tom Franklin, accomplished author and professor at The University of Mississippi. Tom and his family have been a part of the Oxford community for almost two decades now. He first came to town as a Grisham Writer-in-Residence. His year spent in Oxford captivated him, leading him and his wife Beth Ann to plant some roots. His investment and love for Oxford shines bright. Everywhere we turned he greeted a friend, colleague, or fellow community member. Tom’s wife Beth Ann is also a professor and a poet, making them a powerhouse duo committed to advancing and enriching the already esteemed literary culture of the town.
Tom walked me through the rich literary and arts culture of Oxford, which originates from Oxford native and celebrated American writer and Nobel Prize Laureate William Faulkner. Our meeting place of Square Books made perfect sense, as this quirky two- storied bookstore was awarded the title “Bookseller of the Year” by Publisher’s Weeklyin 2013. Writers and book lovers flock to the store, gaining inspiration to keep exploring and honing their craft.
Tom’s stories from Oxford life past and present ushered me into the charming small town life, bustling with a rich arts tradition. Needless to say, the hour I spent with him sipping an iced coffee on the wraparound upstairs porch of Square Books made me excited to explore this Mississippi town.
I decided I then needed to venture to the home of Faulkner himself to get a true taste of the literary pioneer’s life. Rowan Oak is just a five minute’s drive from the square, yet its rural and lush environment makes it feel worlds away. Walking the halls where Faulkner once lived and worked is definitely a must-see when visiting Oxford. It was cool to see this snapshot of Faulkner’s past, as his talent and legacy has led to the foundation of Oxford’s literary scene. Faulkner recognized the importance of the state he called home, as legend has it Faulkner believed, “To understand the world, you have to understand a place like Mississippi.”
While book lovers will certainly find Oxford compelling, foodies will be attracted to its growing culinary scene. I ate lunch one afternoon at Saint Leo, a 2017 James Beard Foundation "Best New Restaurant" semifinalist. It’s a quaint spot with a gorgeous bar at front of house and a wood-fired pizza oven in the back. I highly recommend the chopped salad and pizza! Another new spot to check out is Oxford Canteen. This quirky eatery with a great patio serves up foodie favorites of breakfast tacos and avocado toast all day long.
Oxford’s shining star chef is John Currence and his influence has grown into multiple restaurants around Oxford. I visited his flagship, City Grocery, one evening for dinner and my experience did not disappoint. Its modern-southern cuisine paired with a warm ambiance makes this place a perfect stop on your visit to Oxford. I highly recommend the brussels appetizer and the catfish with shrimp etouffee. I also was able to visit another one of Currence’s culinary hits, Snackbar, a newer eatery just outside of the
Square. If you are an oyster fan like myself, be sure to check out Snackbar's happy hour with oysters on the halfshell and a super fun drink menu. My stop at Snackbar was a perfect late afternoon jaunt before I headed to the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour back in the Oxford Square.
The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour is an institution in Oxford. This weekly radio show is an intersection between music and literature, an outlet bringing the community together to celebrate the best of southern culture. Held every Thursday evening inside Off Square Books in the heart of Oxford, the show has featured author readings and a wide array of musical performances since 1997.
While visiting Oxford, my eyes were truly opened to the wealth of history, literature, arts, and food this southern town offers. Be sure to check out this vibrant city next time you are visiting Mississippi and for more travel ideas check out Visit Mississippi https://goo.gl/p7sbMS.
All photos copyrighted ©Kathryn McCrary Photography, LLC.