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INTRODUCTION

T. S. Eliot once wrote, "We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time." For many Mississippians the life-long journey toward self understanding and fulfillment ultimately winds back to the communities the people and their places of youth. Within their communities Mississippians have developed and/or rediscovered shared meanings which have shaped their understanding of heritage and which have offered insight which reaches into the very soul.

Crossroads of the Heart: Creativity and Tradition in Mississippi offers Mississippians of all ages a reflective glimpse at the traditions of our people which have contributed to the rich cultural diversity found across the length and breadth of our state, in all of its cultural areas. From the Mississippi Gulf Coast to the Delta, from the Piney Woods to the foothills of the Appalachians and Mississippi's Red Clay Hills, Mississippians have expressed their culture, heritage, and spirit through creativity and tradition, and they have passed these on across the generations.

Through music Mississippi communities have contributed greatly to the world outside our state, but most importantly the music of Mississippians has connected us to one another. Through gospel and shape-note singing, fiddling and the blues, Mississippians join culturally in a dance to which we know common steps.

Mississippians put their hands together to make music, but they also use their hands to make artifacts which reflect traditions within their communities. Pottery, baskets, and bottle-cap birdhouses, along with game calls, woodcarvings, and other handmade objects join creativity with the natural world in ways which Mississippians recognize and celebrate as their own.

Hands also open the pathways to creative outlet in maritime traditions which spring from the occupations of the seafood industry. Building boats, sewing nets, or constructing models of maritime vessels past or present, Mississippians pursue creations which express the connection of their communities with the bounty of the Mississippi Sound.

Hands figuratively wrap loved ones in a warm embrace in the form of the quilt. No longer made of necessity for cover on a cold night, quilts demonstrate the creativity of Mississippians throughout the state who utilize this form to commit memory for posterity through pattern, color, and utility.

The tie that binds each creative tradition that Mississippians celebrate must be the Oral Tradition. The willingness of Mississippians to tell their stories and demonstrate their ways enables the passing of traditions across the generations. Consequently, the spoken word is a thing of value in communities across the state. The preacher conveys meaning through speech and chant, and the storyteller shares lessons through humor or dramatized horror. Committing representations of these stories to the written page has produced the greatest of recognition for Mississippians who practice the art of writing literature.

And so creativity and expression do cross paths in Mississippi -- among Mississippians. And at this crossroads, we find the heart of who we are as a people, and we know the place from which we have come for the first time.

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