Southern Women: A Conversation on the Steps We Take – or Don't with Ellen Ann Fentress and Deirdre Sugiuchi

The Steps We Take book cover
Wednesday, April 17, 2024 - 7:00pm to 8:00pm

The Athens-Clarke County Library and Avid Bookshop invite you to a literary event with author Ellen Ann Fentress in conversation with Deirdre Sugiuchi for her book The Steps We Take: A Memoir of Southern Reckoning. This event is on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, from 7-8pm at the Athens-Clarke County Library.

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Ellen Ann Fentress is a veteran writer for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Atlantic. She’s also a seasoned southern woman, specifically a white Mississippi one. “Women do a lot for free, no matter the era, no matter the location,” she observes in The Steps We Take: A Memoir of Southern Reckoning. As a good southern woman, Fentress felt a calling to help others. As a teenager, she volunteered as a March of Dimes quarter collector and sang hymns at a soup-and-salvation homeless shelter. Later, she married, reared two daughters, renovated a 1941 Colonial home, practiced her French, and served as the bookkeeper for her husband’s business. She followed the scripts she was handed by society.

But there were the convenient lies and silences that she and most southern—make that American—white women have settled on in the name of convention and, to be honest, inertia. For Fentress, her dodges both behind her front door and beyond became impossible to miss. Eventually, along with claiming a personal second act at midlife, she realized the most urgent community work she could do was to spur truth-telling about the history she knew well and participated in. She was one of the nearly one million students in the South enrolled in all-white “segregation academies,” a sweeping movement away from public education that continues to warp the Deep South today. To document and engage with this history, she founded the Admissions Project: Racism and the Possible in Southern Schools, which has been featured in the Washington PostSlateForbes and other publications.

The Steps We Take tells how one woman reckons with both a region’s history and her own past. Through a lens ranging from intimate to the widely human, through moments painful and darkly comic, Fentress casts a penetrating light on what it means to be a white southern woman today.


Ellen Ann Fentress is a Mississippi Delta native whose memoir The Steps We Take: A Memoir of Southern Reckoning was named one of Garden & Gun Magazine’s best books of 2023. Kirkus Reviews called her account “a forthright reflection on the effects of segregation” while Garden & Gun called Fentress “a raconteur—sly, witty, with a prose style that’s almost always fizzing.” Four years ago, she launched The Admissions Project, an online forum about the impact of the South’s circa 1970 segregation academies. The project has been featured in the Washington Post, Slate, Mother Jones and Forbes and cited in several recent books. She teaches in the Mississippi University for Women MFA program and in community workshops in Jackson, Mississippi, where she lives. Her documentary Eyes on Mississippi on iconic civil-rights journalist Bill Minor has screened at universities and other venues nationwide.


Deirdre Sugiuchi spent her adolescence in a Christian nationalist reform school for so-called troubled teens and recently finished her captivity narrative, Unreformed. Sugiuchi is an Assistant Editor at The Rumpus and a Contributing Writer at Electric Literature. Her essays and interviews have been featured in Dame, Huffington Post, GuernicaSalon, the anthology Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church, and other places. She lives in Athens, Georgia, where she served as a public school librarian for over a decade. 


Event Location

Athens-Clarke County Library
2025 Baxter Street
Athens, GA 30606
The Steps We Take: A Memoir of Southern Reckoning (Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography) By Ellen Ann Fentress Cover Image
ISBN: 9781496847751
Availability: May be on our shelves (or available in 5-10 business days)
Published: University Press of Mississippi - August 23rd, 2023

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