Richard Grant is a journalist who writes for the Smithsonian Magazine, the New York Times, Al Jazeera America, The Telegraph UK, Aeon, and other publications. A British writer based in the U.S., Grant documented his move from New York City to rural Mississippi in a travel memoir, Dispatches From Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi River Delta.
“It was a difficult decision to explain to New Yorkers,” he said in a New York Times article. “They viewed Mississippi as a backwater, at best, and more commonly as a byword for ignorance and bigotry. One woman accused me of being a racist for wanting to live there, even though I was moving to a county that was 82 percent African-American.”
In the unique world of the Delta, among its singular and unexpected people, Grant did indeed observe racism. He also discovered a community of people deeply committed to one another across racial lines, whose compassion went against common stereotypes of the Deep South.
“Contradictions are like oxygen here, part of the air itself,” Grant explained. “The Delta is arguably the most racist, or racially obsessed, place in America, and yet you see more ease and conviviality between blacks and whites than in the rest of America. It’s not uncommon to find close, loving, quasi-familial relationships between black and white families who have known one another for generations. They weep together at one another’s funerals, and sometimes name their children after one another. But they still feel awkward about sitting down to a meal together, and both sides enforce the old taboo against interracial dating.”
The Southern contradictions Grant speaks of–regarding not only race relations but many other issues–have led writers to pen some of the best works of American literature. As the great fiction writer Flannery O’Connor once said, half of the work of the Southern writer is done for him. Grant’s time in the Delta introduced him to the raw material of literary masters, and out of it he created a book that gives a humane treatment to a misunderstood region.
Dispatches from Pluto has been the #1 best-selling book in Mississippi for the last eight months. “His empathetic manner, reportorial talent and eye for the unexpected detail make this a chigger-trip that entertains as much as it informs,” said the New York Times.
Grant has traveled extensively on four continents, and written four books of non-fiction. His first book American Nomads was a history of wanderlust in North America. Soon afterwards, he ventured into the Sierra Madre Occidental in northern Mexico, a violent, lawless mountain range dominated by drug growers. These travels resulted in the adventure classic God’s Middle Finger. His third book Crazy River chronicles Grant’s efforts to raft a previously unexplored river in Tanzania, and map the human geography of contemporary East Africa.