• Growing up in Mimosa, Mississippi…

  • … all Max wanted to do was fit in.

  • Find out what inspired him, so he could overcome his obstacles.

  • Forsaking Mimosa by Valerie Winn

Max Brinkmann resents his life, his religion, and most of all, his father—the man who sends his son to a Catholic girls’ boarding school in order to save the youth’s soul. But piety and puberty don’t mix as Max struggles to achieve a sense of identity in Forsaking Mimosa, a novel that exemplifies the redeeming power of home in the most unexpected places.

It’s 1937 in Mimosa, Mississippi, and fourteen-year-old Max is an active kid in the lively railroad town where he is craving the normalcy of going to public school. He dreams of running track and playing baseball at Mimosa High School.

But when Max’s father, Josef (a devout Roman Catholic), announces that the small Catholic school in Mimosa is closing, Max’s world is turned upside down. Not only is Josef moving the family to a farm in the middle of nowhere—to remove Max and his six younger siblings from the “temptations of the city”—the only option for a Catholic education is enrollment at nearby St. Agnes Academy.

An all girls' school.

Max is overwhelmed by classes of young women and more nuns than he’s ever seen, not to mention a new home without electricity and indoor plumbing. Even worse, his hard-hearted, Rosary-a-day father seems intent on making his oldest son as miserable as possible. Max’s friends? Forget them. Hobbies and dreams and goals? Not hardly. Even one speck of something close to fun? Sorry, Max, go chop the wood.

This is a timeless story of a disillusioned boy who grows into a man in a most unlikely environment. Along the way he faces tragedy, falls in love, and makes important discoveries about himself, his faith, and ultimately his perplexing father.

Book Signings

  • “The aura of spring…infused Max with anticipation that he could accomplish almost anything.”
  • “Max couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He watched Papa, who kept his eyes on the serving spoon as he filled it with lima beans and unloaded them onto his plate.”
  • “Max couldn’t imagine facing his two best friends…after all his boasting about running track for Mimosa High. Both boys knew all about Max’s dreams…”


Mary C. Reads! Encourages Reading

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Sponsors: Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce
Ocean Springs School District
in February 2013

We at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center for Arts and Education are very excited about this community reads project slated for March 16! Books may be purchased at Hillyer House, Gina’s, Lee Tracy, The Pink Rooster, Coffee Fusion, the Mary C., and the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce office.

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Winn to Head Mary C. Literary Arts

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Ocean Springs Gazette
in January 2013

Winn says she hopes to bring a variety of authors to the Mary C., particularly southern authors who are willing to share their writing processes. "Part of the goal is to create a place for independent booksellers to promote regional titles."

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Valerie Winn Interviews for the Mississippi Arts Hour

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Interviewed by Diane Williams
Mississippi Public Broadcasting
on 23th September 2012

Diane Williams talks to author Valerie Winn. Winn's novel is titled Forsaking Mimosa; it's a coming of age story set in the 1930's in the mythical southwest Mississippi town of Mimosa. Winn also talks about being a recipient of the Mississippi Arts Commission's literary artist fellowship.

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Perseverance pays off for 'Forsaking Mimosa' author

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Written by Susan Ruddiman
The Mississippi Press
11:07 PM, on 8th April 2012

GAUTIER - Valerie Balser Winn has a notebook full of rejection letters and so many revised manuscript pages that she plans to make a totem pole of the stack. The creative process she started more than 18 years ago is finished. Now, Winn, 59, is a published writer, ready to travel the state.

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‘Forsaking Mimosa’ coming of age novel set in state

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REVIEW — By Sheri Krause
on 23rd March 2012

Sheri Krause - You’ll struggle awake with Max each day at four a.m. to do his chores, drive his dad to town to his railroad job, then chauffeur himself and his brothers and sisters to school in a broken-down Ford. You’ll see how Max and his family meet the challenges, sorrows, and everyday happenings in their new rural life.

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Image of the author

Honors and Publications

Recipient of Literary Arts Fellowship from the Mississippi Arts Commission, 2008

Finalist in the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, 2002

Finalist in the Pirates Alley Faulkner Society Creative Writing Competition, 2001

Winner of several feature writing and photography awards from the Mississippi Press Association, 1984-1990

Freelance credits include publication in Mississippi Magazine, Mississippi Coast Magazine, Mississippi Coast Business Journal, Mississippi State Alumnus, Today’s Catholic Teacher, and others

Other work-related writing : News editor of the Ocean Springs Record and Gautier Independent, staff writer for the (McComb) Enterprise-Journal, staff writer for the (Pascagoula ) Mississippi Press, staff writer for the (Catholic Diocese of Biloxi) Gulf Pine Catholic. Stringer for The (Biloxi) Sun Herald

Editor of NMEA News, the quarterly newsletter of the National Marine Educators Association, 2004-2013

Voluntary literary arts director for the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center for Arts and Education, Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Born in New Orleans, I grew up in McComb, a small Mississippi railroad town just twenty miles north of the Louisiana state line. My father, a professional photographer, and my mother, who managed the studio in addition to retouching and hand coloring portraits, fed my imagination with their lively stories of growing up during the Great Depression. They also encouraged me in my pastimes of drawing, reading, and writing.

Those early affirmations were reinforced through my first published pieces which were cartoons for my junior high school newspaper. Editor of my junior college yearbook, I later worked as a staff writer for The Reflector, the student newspaper of Mississippi State University. At State I earned a bachelor’s degree in art education and studied communications. Later, I was certified to teach journalism. After graduating from college, I taught art and journalism for four years at St. Joseph High School in Jackson, Mississippi, where advising the yearbook and newspaper was part of my job. I then returned to my hometown to write for its local newspaper, The McComb Enterprise-Journal. That next year I married Frank Winn, a dentist, and we moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast where we have lived since 1982.

Throughout the years I was very fortunate to work as a writer and editor for several coastal newspapers, most recently as arts editor for the Ocean Springs Record. I covered myriad news events, took photographs, and wrote hundreds of feature stories. In addition to freelancing for mostly regional, and a few national magazines, I created various artworks in acrylics, watercolor, and pen and ink.

I also began to write fiction, something I’d wanted to do since my early teaching days. During a second stint as an educator—this time seven years at Resurrection Catholic Middle/High School in Pascagoula, Mississippi—I earned a master’s degree in art education and participated in three fiction-writing workshops at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. That’s when my novel took root. Thus began a long-lasting agenda of conferences, workshops, and seminars, all of which helped to form me as a writer.

I spent nearly eleven years submitting query letters to literary agents, being rejected, rewriting, submitting more queries, being rejected again, and rewriting again, again, and again. There were, however, times of celebration when an agent asked to read a full or partial manuscript. I was always grateful and encouraged whenever I received a personal response.

I have also been privileged to be part of a remarkable writing group. We call ourselves Women of Words (WOW). Interacting with these fine writers has been the most rewarding and educating experience for me. It was one of our members who encouraged me to query Joe Lee, the editor/publisher of Dogwood Press back in 2009. That query yielded a request for the first fifty pages, then the entire manuscript. Nearly eighteen months later I got the telephone call I’d been waiting for—publication at last!

Novel Background

At the core of this novel is an 8 x 10 sepia-toned photograph of a 1941 high school graduation class. In this image twenty-eight young women wearing white caps and gowns are posed on a stage.

Right smack in the center of the back row stands one young man in a dark suit. That boy is my father, the inspiration for protagonist, Max Brinkmann. The school is St. Mary of the Pines in Chatawa, Mississippi. For me, this photograph represents a mode of education that disappeared when this Catholic girls’ boarding school was demolished in 1978.

In telling the story of this long lost way of life and the spirited young man who was “the only boy in class,” I have also drawn on the lives of my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, priests, nuns, and others who lived in Chatawa and in the nearby railroad city of McComb, my hometown.

Historical photographs, publications, scrapbooks, interviews, anecdotes of my family’s many years of employment with the Illinois Central Railroad, and my own experiences with Catholic schools have also provided fodder. Though based on real people and places, the fictional characters and locations of Forsaking Mimosa have come into their own, providing me with many more challenges than I ever expected.


Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion

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1. Who are the parental figures in this story? How do the nuns influence the lives of Max and the other students?

2. Aunt Jimalou never seems to take an active part in the book. How does her influence infiltrate the story? What kind of person is she?

3. What is the significance of Dewey’s marble for Max?

4. What message does Papa convey at the end of the book?

5. How and when does Adele’s attitude toward the nuns change?

6. How does Inez Rhinehart feel in the company of nuns? Why?

7. How does teaching Lazarus change the way Sister Clare sees her vocation?

8. How does Josef Brinkmann relate to his family?

9. After being warned about the possibility of encountering panthers in the woods, the Brinkmanns discover a kitten at their back door. What message, if any, does this convey?

10. Does Mary Meow serve as a larger metaphor in the story?

11. What kind of person is Nora Brinkmann?

12. Explain the relationship between Max and Lazarus.

13. How does Uncle Jude influence Max?

14. Which character in the book do you identify with the most? The least?

15. Which character changes the most in this book?