Orr's Biographical Essay on Civil Rights Era Violence Anthologized

August 24, 2009 — Poet Gregory Orr, an English professor in the University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences, wrote an essay, "Return to Hayneville," about returning after 40 years to the small, rural Alabama town, where his civil rights activism led to his beating and imprisonment.

The Virginia Quarterly Review published the essay in its summer 2008 issue, and now the editors of three major anthologies have chosen to reprint it.

The essay appears in the recently released collection, "The Best Creative Nonfiction 2009" from W.W. Norton. It will appear in "The Best American Essays 2009," published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, in October. "The Pushcart Prize XXXIV," an annual collection featuring the best nonfiction, fiction and poetry published in literary journals and by small presses, includes the essay in its 2010 edition, due out Nov. 1, 2009.

The essay explores Orr's memories, thoughts and feelings from his experiences in June 1965. Then 17 and fresh out of high school, he drove alone from upstate New York to Mississippi to join in voter registration drives and a demonstration in Jackson. There he and several hundred protesters were arrested and taken to the county fairgrounds outside the city, where they were beaten and detained for about 10 days.

Afterward, as Orr was driving home, he was kidnapped at gunpoint by vigilantes near Hayneville, Ala. They threatened to kill him, but took him to the jail instead, and he was held without charges for a week in solitary confinement.