Michael Farris Smith untangles the vines that bind in ‘Blackwood’

It may be hard to imagine today, but once upon a time, kudzu — the scrappy, stubborn vine that blankets hillsides across northern Mississippi, taking the form of virtually everything it encounters — was praised as a cure-all for challenges that arose from logging and large-scale farming.

The vine’s popularity peaked in the next decade as the Kudzu Club of America swelled to 20,000 members. The South’s long growing season and abundant sunshine and moisture accelerated growth, and it began to spread out of control. In 1970, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finally classified kudzu as a common weed. But it was too late.

Kudzu loomed in author Michael Farris Smith’s peripheral vision while he grew up in small towns in Mississippi and Georgia, dulling the landscapes it covered as it worked to consume them entirely. The “sinister” vine, as Willie Morris once wrote, followed him to Oxford, Mississippi, and down Highway 7 to Water Valley, where he keeps a workspace.

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Published by Mississippi Today on May 30, 2020