Mississippi Author Cid Ricketts Sumner
Brookhaven, Mississippi native Cid Ricketts Sumner (born Bertha Louise Ricketts) published her first poem in the Jackson Daily News at the age of 18. After graduating from Millsaps College in Jackson, she went on to receive her MA at Columbia University, and then enrolled in medical school at Cornell in 1914. In 1915, she married one of her professors—future Nobel Prize-winner James B. Sumner—and dropped out of school. The couple had four children, and once the children were all in school, Sumner devoted herself to writing. Over the course of her career, she published “more than ten novels, numerous short stories, and several works of nonfiction.” She also wrote book reviews for publications, including The Saturday Review of Literature.
As an author, Cid Ricketts Sumner is best remembered for three of her novels that were each adapted into successful movies—Quality, Tammy Tell Me True, and Tammy Out of Time. The novel Quality (1946) was the basis for the film Pinky (1949), a story about a light-skinned black woman who passes for white. The movie—which was both controversial and critically-acclaimed—was directed by Elia Kazan and nominated for multiple Academy Awards. The Tammy movies, on the other hand, were in no way controversial, but were also successful. The film Tammy and the Bachelor (based on the book Tammy Out of Time) even spawned the number one hit single “Tammy,” written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, and performed by Tammy and The Bachelor star Debbie Reynolds.
In addition to her fiction, Sumner wrote a number of nonfiction books about her many adventures travelling. For instance, at the age of sixty-three, Sumner was one of nine people—and the only female—who made a thirty-one-day expedition which ran the rapids of the Colorado and Green Rivers in a rubber raft. This experience became the book Traveler in the Wilderness. Ten years later, at the age of seventy-three, Sumner recreated Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous Travels with a Donkey, by riding a donkey through the south of France.
Though Cid Ricketts Sumner lived most of her life outside Mississippi, she made frequent visits to the state, including a 1967 trip to Millsaps College, where she was a featured speaker on Alumni Day.
In her later life, Sumner resided in Duxbury, Massachusetts. At the age of 80, she was killed by her grandson, a tragic event that “represented a shockingly ironic contrast to the gentleness of her personality and her printed words” (Holditch).
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Holditch, W. Kenneth. “Cid Ricketts Sumner.” Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967 (James B. Lloyd, ed.) 1 981.
Text by Andrew Rhodes, Mississippiana Specialist