Like fellow Mississippian Willie Morris, Julia Reed came home after a career in New York City magazine journalism to give voice to a new South.
Reed, who died at age 59 Friday in Newport, R.I. after a long battle with cancer, first gained fame at Newsweek and Vogue, where she wrote profiles of the Clintons, Bushes and a range of entertainment, fashion and social celebrities.
After moving to New Orleans and her hometown of Greenvillle, Miss., she expressed the viewpoint of an upper-class, successful Southern woman who still revered the region's traditions, a group that had been underrepresented in Southern literature.
Reed's columns in "Garden & Gun" set the tone for the glossy publication, which built a strong readership as other magazines declined with articles and photos on Southern exceptionalism and nostalgia, travel, opulent lifestyles, upper-class entitlement, and music, food, literature, art, film and theater.
Born in Greenville, Miss., a moderate enclave of the race-tortured state, Reed was the daughter of businessman Clarke Reed, chairman of the state's then marginal Republican party.
The town, devastated by the 1927 Mississippi River flood, was known as the home of Pulitzer Prize winning editor Hodding Carter Jr.'s Delta Democratic Times.
"Lanterns on the Levee" author William Alexander Percy, his nephew, novelist Walker Percy, and Civil War historian and novelist Shelby Foote also lived in the Delta city. Foote and Walker Percy grew up together in in Greenville and were lifelong friends.
The Delta Democrat Times announced Reed's death with a long appreciation by biographer, historian, TV commentator and former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, whose wife, Keith, was Reed's partner in an Internet-based business selling Southern-themed lifestyle products.
Meacham, who returned home to Nashville, Tenn., after his New York publishing years to write presidential biographies and other books, quoted novelist Jay McInerney, who called Reed Mississippi's answer to Dorothy Parker
Reed's personal essays for Garden & Gun and books on entertaining, food, drink, fashion and decorating also recalled Nora Ephron and the late Atlanta Constitution columnist Celestine Sibley. Like Rick Bragg, Reed built a loyal audience writing about Southerners clinging to their culture in a time of bewildering change.
But her voice was her own: distinctive, brassy, self-deprecating and rueful. She wrote with an authority that invited readership, no matter the subject. As with other writers of humor, her work was tinged with sadness.
Following other well-bred Southern girls in leaving home for her education, Reed attended prep school at the Madeira School for Girls in McClean, Va., before her college years at Georgetown and American University.
Reed's Madeira connection led to her first byline at age 19, when she was a university student working part-time at Newsweek. The magazine's editor sent her to the campus to do an article after Madeira headmistress Jean Harris was accused of killing her lover, Dr. Herman Tarnover, the Scarsdale doctor.
A leading member of the Southern literary community, Reed expressed a post-racial Southern urbanism that flourishes in Greenville, Charleston and Birmingham as well as Atlanta, New Orleans, Charlotte, Houston and Dallas.
Along with books on New Orleans' hedonistic pursuit of food and drink, Reed wrote one of the best chronicles about the city's recovery from Hurricane Katrina, "The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story." She moved into the lavishly decorated Garden District home four weeks before the hurricane caused devastating flooding across the city.
Reed recently built a house that she called "the Folly" near her parents' home in Greenville. The house, featured in a recent photo spread in Garden & Gun, blended traditional Southern styles with modern luxury.
Her contributions to her native state included the Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Festival, which raised money for education. Like Morris, she was honored by Mississippi's state government.
Among other great writers from the state, her work belongs to all of us.