Elmo Howell was a teacher, writer, scholar, and poet whose work contributed significantly to the discussion of and preservation of Mississippi places, people, and art. Born on 5 August 1918 in Itawamba County, Howell attended Tremont High School and the University of Mississippi, where he received a bachelor’s degree in English in 1940. He then earned master’s and doctoral degrees in English at the University of Florida before taking a teaching position at Alabama’s Jacksonville State College from 1955 to 1957. He then moved to Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis), where he taught southern literature and the English novel along with other English courses until his retirement in 1983.
Most of Howell’s early publications were scholarly articles and notes on such writers as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, William Gilmore Simms, and Mark Twain. Many of these essays, especially those on Faulkner, explored the interconnections between literature and southern culture, perhaps leading to Howell’s later focus on Mississippi culture and history. He began traveling and collecting information about various locations in his native state and in 1988 published Mississippi Home-Places: Notes on Literature and History, a travel book that offered directions to significant homes in the state and their histories. His subsequently published two additional books, Mississippi Back-Roads and Mississippi Scenes, both of which bore the same subtitle as their predecessor.
Howell then turned his hand to poetry, and he produced eight volumes of poems—Winter Verses, The Apricot Tree, I Know a Planted Field, Have You Been to Shubuta?, Tuesday’s Letter and Other Poems, Mount Pleasant, A Roosting Place, and The Old Settlement. These texts primarily examine and discuss life in Northeast Mississippi, drawing on Howell’s travels and knowledge of history to offer a rich blend of nostalgia and pithy observations and insights. In 2005 he returned to literary criticism with Notes on Southern Lit.
He died on 3 October 2013 in Memphis.
- Lucius Lampton, Journal of Mississippi History (August 1994)
- New Albany Gazette (11 October 2013)