If you have any kind of love for literature and all the beauty it excites, Oxford, MS needs to make it on your bucket list. The literary lure of this quaint southern town will charm you and make you want to return again and again. Geek alert—>>Visiting Faulkner’s home was definitely one of those spine-tingling, goosebump-raising moments and one that won’t soon be forgotten. If literary travel tops your list this is a destination that you won’t want to miss. Read on for all the things you must do during your visit.
Literary + Arts in Oxford, MS
Rowan Oak (916 Old Taylor Road) was the home of Nobel Prize Award recipient and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, William Faulkner for over 40 years. It is surrounded by 29 acres of beautiful wooded land. Stroll along the grounds, admiring the mature trees and various outbuildings from dawn til dusk at no cost, or step inside the stunning entrance to this southern home for only $5. Wander around on your own or schedule a tour to learn all there is to know about the history of this gorgeous and fascinating home.
Faulkner, one of the most celebrated authors in the world, found his inspiration from the history of Rowan Oak and the tales from the surrounding town. His writings were a mix of these stories and his own experience growing up in the South during a time that was torn between tradition and development. His stories and poetry stayed true to Southern speech and didn’t shy away from some of the hard truths, including slavery, racism, and even rape. Faulkner’s writing, while challenging, has left an impressive literary legacy.
Square Books (160 Courthouse Square) is a bookstore that is actually in three separate buildings. It only makes sense to fill the historic town square with bookstores when so many literary greats once walked those streets, including Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, Willie Morris, John Grisham, and of course William Faulkner. Many of these writers (more than 2,000, in fact!) also walked the aisles of Square Books, had book signings, and joined the live radio show, Thacker Mountain Radio.
The main building is two-stories with a cafe and balcony on the second floor. It contains the bulk of their strong selection of literary fiction and works by Southern writers on the American South. The second building is called “Off Square Books” and is made up of lifestyle selections including gardening and cookbooks. You can also find a huge selection of used books at deep discounts. All of the events happen in this second building so that the original Square Books can be browsed undisturbed. “Square Books, Jr.” is over on the east side of the square and holds all the children’s books. This last addition to Square Books has grown by leaps and bounds, offering everything kid-friendly from puzzles and games to story time among thousands of books.
To round out your literary tour, head a few blocks northeast of the Square to visit the resting place of Faulkner, and many other prominent Oxford residents, in Saint Peter’s Cemetery.
Don’t worry, there’s still more to do in Oxford, MS
Head on over to the University of Mississippi where you will find a statue of James Meredith, the University’s very first African American student. This statue has been acknowledged as a part of the Freedom Trail, as the integration of the University, aka Ole Miss, is considered one of the most important events during the Civil Rights struggle.
Before leaving campus, check out the University of Mississippi Museum where you’ll see all sorts of permanent collections including:
Theora Hamblett Collection – an artist who started later in life, who is known for the unique way she painted her trees, and for her love of bringing her work to life through including people and animals in most of her work.
Millington-Bernard collection of 19th Centruy Scientific Instruments – these instruments were used to teach students at the university from 1848-1861 and are carefully preserved in the Museum.
David M. Robinson Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities – Robinson was a world-renowned archeologist and teacher who spent his retirement teaching at Ole Miss. Over the years he acquired what’s considered one of the greatest private collections of antiquities in the US.
Seymour Lawrence Collection of American Art – Lawrence was notorious in the publishing industry for discovering and nourishing new, and eventually renowned, authors. The Museum was gifted his personal collection of American Art after his death.
Traveling Exhibit – don’t miss out on these temporary exhibits. Currently, you’ll find The Beautiful Mysterious, featuring world-renowned photographer, William Eggleston.
Finally, head back to the main square to stroll through Southside Gallery (150 Courthouse Square). Learn about one of Oxford’s oldest and most prominent art galleries and the city’s ever-growing arts scene. Southside regularly participates in the Oxford Arts Crawl, organized by the Yoknapatowpha Arts Council, which takes place on the fourth Tuesday of most months from 6-8 p.m.
Where to Stay in Oxford, MS
I stayed in the Graduate Hotel which was pretty much amazing. It will inspire you, surprise you, and please all your senses. Seriously, I couldn’t stop snapping pictures. The decor, with all its sweet southern flare, and the large, luxurious rooms full of natural light and charm just begged to be photographed. Oh, and the lobby. It is so inviting, I just wanted to curl up on one of their cozy sofas with a stack of their vintage books and read the day away. But I refrained because The Coop, the terrace lounge, was luring me up to the rooftop. I was smitten with the southern cuisine, lively cocktail menu, and breathtaking view over The Square.
Where to Eat in Oxford, MS
The literary lure of Oxford, MS may be strong, but the food will keep you coming back. Oxford has quickly become a foodie destination and after my visit, I can clearly see why. The food options are plentiful and delicious. The only problem will be trying to see how many you can visit before you have to head home.
Snack Bar (721 N Lamar Blvd) – At this John Currence restaurant, raw oysters and cocktails will thrill your taste buds at the cozy bar which might make you feel like you are part of an English Hunt Club, led by Chef Vishwesh Bhatt, a 2017 James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef South.
City Grocery (152 Courthouse Square) – Currence’s flagship restaurant is a fine dining restaurant located in the heart of the Oxford Square, known for their Shrimp and Grits.
Bottletree Bakery (923 Van Buren Ave.) – Grab up all your favorite bakery items made fresh and from scratch daily.
Big Bad Breakfast (719 N. Lamar Blvd.) – With its house-cured Tabasco brown sugar bacon, this restaurant will remind you why breakfast should never be the forgotten meal.
Saint Leo (11101 E Jackson Ave) – The owner’s attention to detail and love of hospitality made this Italian restaurant the 2017 James Beard Award semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant.
Ajax Diner (118 Courthouse Square) – With the menu ranging from fried catfish plates to Eli Manning’s favorite sandwich “The Big Easy”, your belly will be full and happy from the soul food served up daily.
Neon Pig (711 N Lamar Blvd.) – Oxford’s (and Southern Foodways Alliance Director John T. Edge’s) favorite butcher shop and café. Try the Smash Burger. For real.
Handy Andy (800 N. Lamar Blvd.) – this is a casual spot loved by locals for a great burger and crinkle fries.
Volta Tavern (710 N. Lamar Blvd.) – Greek-dining in a repurposed mechanics shop. On a good weather day, sit by the opened garage doors, and don’t miss the best margarita in town.
Proud Larry’s (211 South Lamar Blvd.)- Known for great pizza but mostly for their weekly live music acts (music starts at 9pm).
Taylor Grocery (4 County Rd 338, Taylor) – It’s a ways outside of Oxford in the tiny town of Taylor, but at this old time grocery turned diner, you’ll have the best no frills catfish ever.
Now you can head on back to The Graduate Hotel and curl up with your new book from Square Books in your big comfy bed or in the vibrant and fun lobby.
You’ve earned it!
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