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  • Writer's pictureCheré Dastugue Coen

Oxford a perfect literary weekend getaway

Home to William Faulkner, Square Books and literary events

There are weekends away and then there are weekends that feel like a week-long vacation. You can drive into Oxford, Miss., and spend three days indulging in fabulous James Beard-honored cuisine, classic Southern culture and history, world-renown literature and literary giants and a dose of the unexpected.

This small Mississippi town barely meets 22,000 population — not counting the surge of students from Ole Miss — but it’s huge on the destination chart. Over the past few years its culinary scene has made Oxford a food haven with many of its chefs nominated for the coveted Beard Award. The town William Faulkner called home hosts numerous cultural events such as the Oxford Conference for the Book, the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium and Thacker Mountain Radio Hour, among many others. The small square that surrounds the Oxford courthouse offers many fashionable boutiques, Neilson’s department store and Square Books, which sponsors 160 events per year.

And then, of course, there’s Ole Miss.

Be a Graduate

Since Oxford is home to the University of Mississippi, there are numerous places to stay. We enjoyed the Graduate Oxford, part of the hotel chain that links itself to major college towns. Our hotel key was Cooper Manning’s student ID, the guest room decorated like a college dorm suite and the décor sporting Ole Miss memorabilia, old photographs and pastel floors inspired by Southern college fashions. A suite even contains a typewriter, a nod to the literary geniuses who lived in Oxford.

“I feel like Graduate Oxford is the only place where pink floors would work,” said Annie King, hotel marketing coordinator.

Free Wifi attracts students to the lobby where they’re welcome to study and enjoy free coffee and snacks.

“The Graduate brands loves being the living room,” King explained of the open-door policy. “We wanted students to feel welcome here. We even have people who come here to use this as their office space.”

Oxford cuisine

Start with breakfast.

Chef Corbin Evans cut his culinary teeth in New Orleans before heading to Oxford to open the tiny Oxford Canteen in 2014 in an alley by the Lyric Theater. Word got out and he quickly outgrew the space, moving to a former gas station on North Lamar Boulevard in 2017. The restaurant is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, so visitors may enjoy a beef brisket grilled cheese with Sriracha mayonnaise or other specialties made with products from local and sustainable farms. (Note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, check their website for hours and available dishes.) Breakfast, however, is to die for and includes breakfast tacos, specialty coffee and a delish avocado toast.

Another fabulous breakfast spot — aptly named — is Big Bad Breakfast, home to James Beard Award-winning Chef John Currence, author of the popular cookbook with the same name. Enjoy skillet egg dishes, giant biscuits and homemade donuts in a space that harkens back to America’s diners. (Again, check their website for hours and available dishes.)

There are so many fabulous places to eat in Oxford but don’t miss Saint Leo, a 2017 Beard semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant that’s cooks up fabulous Italian entrees on its wood-fire stove. Currence’s flagship restaurant, City Grocery, and his Snack Bar, are other favorites, also winning many accolades. For family fare, try the pizza at Proud Larry’s, also known for live music.

And then there’s Faulkner

Faulkner sites are everywhere, from his home at Rowan Oak, available for tours, to his gravesite in St. Peter’s Cemetery, routinely littered with his favorite beverage, Four Roses whiskey. Our group had to pause at Faulkner’s grave and toast the literary great. After a gulp of Jack Daniels, we poured some out so Faulkner can enjoy the whiskery as well.

Check out the photos of Rowan Oak below, including Faulkner's notes written on his office walls.

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