I never knew how a Mississippi girl like Donna Tartt ended up transferring to Vermont’s Bennington College from Ole Miss, but this brief excerpt from Larry L. King’s forthcoming In Search of Willie Morris: The Mercurial Life of a Legendary Writer and Editor goes a long way toward explaining the move.
One day a young Ole Miss miss — Donna Tartt — having a drink in the Holiday Inn bar felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see its owner who said, “My name is Willie Morris and I think you are a genius”; he based that opinion on several unpublished stories the young woman had written, which had been slipped to Willie by a faculty member.
Willie persuaded yet another writer [Morris was teaching creative writing at the university then] on the faculty, Barry Hannah, like Willie a native of Mississippi, to permit Miss Tartt, a small-town Mississippi girl, to enroll in his graduate student writing workshop, although she was only a freshman. The two writers convinced Tartt to transfer to a liberal arts college in New England — Bennington, in Vermont — so as to broaden her cultural, social, and geographic base….
“Willie became my best friend,” Donna Tartt later said. “The year I was at Ole Miss we drove all over the countryside, talking about writing and history and Mississippi. When I was going out on my first book tour with The Secret History, I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect. Willie Morris came to New Orleans and calmed me down.”