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From the author of "I Died and Went to Mississippi," comes "The Grove: The Story of Family, Fables, Food, Fashion and Football" by Tom Ward — who works at The Clarksdale Press Register these days.  

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In the center of the Ole Miss campus lies a patch of grass and trees roughly 10 acres in size.

The Grove is the crown jewel of the campus and has captivated people from all over the country, including Alabama native and author Tom Ward, a University of Alabama alumnus, who became infatuated with it from his first trip over for an Ole Miss-Alabama game.

"This was a place I loved even coming over in the 90s with my friends from college,” Ward said. “Even then, we all agreed if that we had come over and visited The Grove in high school, we would have gone to Ole Miss.”

Ward has made many trips over the years. His three kids chose to attend Ole Miss, and he now lives in Oxford. Naturally, he wanted to write about The Grove and made a surprise discovery in the researching process: With as much literature that exists about Oxford and Ole Miss, no one had written a book about The Grove. He sought to change that.

Ward’s new book, titled The Grove: The Story of Family, Fables, Food, Fashion and Football, is due out in September.

“This was something that was too tempting to decline,” Ward said. “It is kind of a hybrid. It is part culture, part history and part stories of The Grove and partially the story of Ole Miss.”

The stories start from The Grove’s origins, when Governor Theodore Bilbo announced plans to move Ole Miss to Jackson and combine it with Mississippi State, only to have city officials invite the Mississippi legislature to The Grove and entertain them.

“It was the first pregame party in The Grove,” Ward said.“They couldn’t bear to take campus away from such a beautiful place. They used it as a weapon to save the campus.”

The history continues all the way up to Katie Perry’s famous College Gameday appearance on that iconic Saturday afternoon in 2014. Ward interviewed dozens of people. The lists includes former athletes ranging from the last few years and all the way back to the Johnny Vaught era, to former politicians Trent Lott and Ray Mabus, and culinary expert Elizabeth Heiskell.

Ward’s book tells both the story of The Grove and the mirroring story of Ole Miss. The writing process was gradual, and like most who’ve visited, often inspired by a memorable experience. Like one warm, sunny Saturday last February, The Grove was filled with people reading, studying and enjoying the pleasant weather. John Grisham’s latest book had just arrived at Square Books. Ward ventured from The Grove to the Pavilion where Ole Miss hosted Vanderbilt.

“I went to the basketball game, and without knowing what was going to happen at halftime, they recognized The Grove landscaping team for winning the national championship,” Ward said. “That way was so perfect that I had to go home and start writing about it that day.”

Ward believes his book tells the other side of the story for Ole Miss — a university, like many others in deep southern states, that has often been beaten up in writing over the last half century. It chronicles personal experiences in The Grove, from both Ole Miss alums and those that attended rival schools, and harps on the atmosphere it promotes.

“It is reflective of the journey of Ole Miss too,” Ward said. “From athletic excellence to a culture that breeds family, fellowship and just a welcoming experience you don’t see at that level at other places.”

Ward said his favorite part of the process in putting together the book was interacting with the people, as cliché as it sounds. He believes the warm nature of The Grove, Ole Miss and Oxford is something rare.

“Oxford is a small, welcoming town, the smallest town with Division-I sports,” Ward said. “I just don’t know of another place that is so welcoming, and the more I research and talk to other people, that seems to be what they say too.”

"The Grove" book by Tom Ward

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