Speaker of the South

Novelist discusses socioeconomic issues south of the Mason-Dixon

Author Jeffrey Blount’s newest novel is set in a fictitious Mississippi town.

In 2020, when the world came to a screeching halt, Washington, D.C.-based author and former NBC News host Jeffrey Blount started thinking. He thought about issues plaguing his native Virginia — issues like poverty and healthcare and race and housing and jobs and education. He also thought about how he — a self-described “modern literary activist” — could address all of these issues in a single book.

Blount admits the prospect of cramming a litany of societal woes into one novel felt “a bit unwieldy.” But, he explains, “I knew that if I wrote about a community mired in poverty, that all of these other issues would present themselves in some manner.”

And so, Mr. Jimmy From Around the Way (Beaufort Books, January 2024) took root.

Published earlier this year, the novel follows James Henry Ferguson (aka Mr. Jimmy) — a well-known humanitarian who suffers a highly publicized fall from grace. In response, the socialite flees the nation’s capital for a fictional Mississippi town called Ham.

In this tiny burg, Mr. Jimmy hopes to find anonymity. Instead, he finds himself living — as phrased in a press statement — “uncomfortably adjacent to a neighborhood mired in abject poverty.”

According to Blount, placing low-income families “next to their opposite” — a billionaire — underscores the socioeconomic issues at play in the Deep South. At times, this juxtaposition is heart-wrenching. But more than desperation, Blount wants readers to “feel the love and hope in the story — to sit with that for a moment.”

“Then,” he says, “I want them to acknowledge that there are fellow human beings in need.”

The fourth book penned by Blount, Mr. Jimmy From Around the Way is quite different for the author — at least stylistically speaking. While his other stories have a linear narrative structure, this piece makes use of flashbacks. “Heavily,” Blount emphasizes.

“In the present time, [Mr. Jimmy] has his struggles,” says Blount. “Through flashbacks, I give the reader a deep understanding of how he became who he is and why he is motivated to do many of the things he does as he fights through those struggles.”

This jumping back and forth deepens the reader’s relationship with the text. “For me,” says Blount, “it’s a fuller book with a greater range of emotions.”  

Mr. Jimmy From Around the Way is available at Highland Books in Brevard (highlandbooksonline.com), Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville (malaprops.com), and from most online booksellers. Jeffrey Blount will speak at Blue Ridge Community College (180 West Campus Dr., Flat Rock) on Saturday, Jan. 20, 1:30-3:30pm. The event is free, but online registration is required. To register, visit hendersoncountync.gov/library. To learn more about the author, see jeffreyblount.com.

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