Neil White

Best-selling Memoirist, Award-winning Journalist, Publisher

“A dynamic and energetic speaker who captivates his audience with his knowledge and presentation. He has mastered the art of speaking that keeps the audience engaged and entertained. Listening to Neil makes knowledge sink and time fly by.”

—Samir Husni, “Mr. Magazine” and Chair, Meek School of Communications

Neil White has been a newspaper editor, magazine publisher, advertising executive, and federal prisoner. He operates a small publishing company, writes plays and essays, and teaches memoir writing. His best-selling memoir, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts (William Morrow), chronicles the year he was imprisoned for fraud in the last leprosarium in the continental United States, where he met people he would never have engaged with on the outside. White has been a keynote speaker all over the country at venues ranging from universities, churches, historical societies, libraries, and various community organizations.

White was an ordinary guy who weighed the measure of his worth by appearance. He desired nice cars, homes, and clothing. He loaned money to family and friends. He was active and generous in his church, but his bank account couldn’t keep up with his addiction to an appearance of perfection, so he began moving money from one account to another to avoid bouncing checks. Soon, what started out as moving money from one account to another to cover expenses became something bigger, something illegal: kiting checks. Eventually, he was caught, convicted of fraud, and sent to prison, which was also a leprosarium.

Of all the lessons he learned in that unusual place, the one that resonates deepest is that the most valuable friends – the ones worth knowing best and keeping – are those covered with scars. He discovered the secret to happiness, leading a fulfilling life, and the importance of fatherhood in the most unlikely of places. White’s experiences in and out of prison have granted him no small measure of perspective that make his tale truly inspiring as well as important and educational.

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts was a finalist in the 2010 “Books for a Better Life” program, as well as the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance “Book of the Year” award. In 2010, White won the Outstanding Author of the Year from the Southern Library Association. Barnes & Noble honored White as one of the top three emerging nonfiction authors in America through their “Discover Great New Writers” program. Foreign language translations of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts have been published in Germany, Croatia, and the Netherlands. Sanctuary has been on the Southern Independent best-seller list for nearly three years. The book was selected for Baton Rouge’s One Book, One Community program. It was also selected for the common reading experience at Davidson College and St. Bonaventure University.

White’s essays have appeared in dozens of literary journals. He is the founder of Theatre Oxford’s National Ten Minute Play Contest and editor of the anthology, Ten Minute Plays from Oxford. His scripts have received national awards from Chesterfield Film Corporation and the Edward Albee Last Frontier Play Lab.

White serves as editor of the books, Mississippians and Mississippi’s 100 Greatest Football Players of All Time and The A Game. He is the publisher of Memphians, The Color of Mississippi, Choctaw Gardens, 501 Mississippi Trivia, A Short Ride: Remembering Barry Hannah, Trials of the Earth, Bell on Mississippi Family Law and Samir Husni’s Guide to New Consumer Magazines. He is editor and publisher of the periodicals Life 101, College People, the Going to College series, as well as several textbooks for first-year college students.

White is married to Deborah Hodges Bell, a law professor at The University of Mississippi. They have three children — Lindsay Bell, Neil White IV, and Maggie White. He lives in Oxford, MS.

Praise for Neil White’s Talks

“Neil White’s presentations to our student and community members were among the very best we have had in our eleven years of reading events that have included such well known authors as Sherman Alexie, Jeannette Walls, and Kristen Iversen, among others. He was witty, engaging, and a joy to have on our campus. I recommend him enthusiastically.”

—Robert (Bob) R. Johnson, Michigan Tech University

“Neil White is absolutely one of the best public speakers I’ve ever heard. He is engaging, fascinating, funny, and disarmingly frank. When he speaks to my college classes, I know my students are in for both a treat and an outstanding learning experience. In fact, they talk about him for weeks afterwards!”

—Robin B. Street, APR, Lecturer in Journalism/Public Relations

“Neil White and Sanctuary brought an interest and energy to our community reading program that we’ve never had before, and during his visit, Neil exuded a warmth and sincerity that complemented the tone of his memoir perfectly. Working with him was a pleasure, and we hope that there will be another Neil White book soon so that we can invite him back.”

—Kristie Lowry, Warren County Public Library

“Neil White was an absolute pleasure to have on our campus. He was an engaging speaker, no matter the size or age of his audiences. And with his humble yet powerful approach, he was a great illustration of how the person is, ultimately, the greater part of the message. We would recommend him highly to anyone looking for a guest lecturer.”

—Willard and Jean Garvey Lecture Series, Friends University

“Neil White was a wonderful speaker who interacted well with the audience. His talk was both entertaining and insightful; funny and inspirational at the same time.”

—Sarah  Crisler-Ruskey, Director, Carnegie Public Library   

“Neil White has been one of the best speakers we have encountered in our One Book One Community series. His compelling story and warm delivery style engages audiences in a way that leaves you wanting more from him. . . He genuinely wishes to use his experience to make a difference for others. As a community, we are better for having read his book and learning from his mistakes and triumphs.”

—Robin Kistler, Director, LSU Executive Education

“Neil White is as dynamic a speaker as he is a writer, which is saying a lot. His frequent appearances as a guest lecturer in my Media Ethics classes here are always a highlight of the semester. Students are engaged, ask question after question, and never fail to tell me afterward how much they enjoyed his lecture.”

—Joseph B. Atkins, Professor of Journalism, Editor, Media Ethics & the World

“Neil was a delightful addition to our event. He closed our conference on a serious note, but presented it in a lighthearted manner that gave our attendees pause to think and laugh at the same time.”

—Cindy Tullier, Louisiana Travel & Promotion Association

“Neil White was the buzz of Mountain Home this spring. Our community loved him and was amazed by his talk. Neil’s honest portrayal of his life and time in prison in the last leper colony in mainland America was fascinating! His talk was sincere, heart-felt, beautiful, sad, and funny all at the same time. Neil perfectly combined a subject with historical and intellectual significance with a personal story of redemption. We are grateful to him for sharing his story on our campus and for our community.”

—Ed Coulter, Chancellor, Arkansas State University Mountain Home

“Neil White’s own transformation becomes evident through his heartfelt stories about Link, Miss Ella, and others housed in a federal prison in Carville, Louisiana. Told honestly and credibly, his inspirational story reminds us that negative circumstances can have positive results if we are willing to admit our mistakes and make amends for them. He is a dynamic speaker an audience will want to hear more than once.”

—Peggy Brent, Chair, Mississippi and the Arts Week, Hinds Community College

“Mr. White was so gracious in the face of our questions and comments, and I really appreciated his honesty and thoughtfulness. . .”

—Professor, Davidson College

Praise for In the Sanctuary of Outcasts

“If Federico Fellini had been a film director of the American South, he would have leapt at the chance to make a major movie of Neil White’s memoir, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts. At once surreal and grittily naturalistic, funny and poignant, White’s tale is fascinating and full of universal resonance. And, not incidentally, White is a splendid writer, adept at both creating a scene and illuminating the human heart. This is a book that will endure.”

—Pulitzer Prize winner, Robert Olen Butler

“Brisk, ironic and perceptive, White’s introspective memoir puts a magnifying glass to a flawed life, revealing that all of life is to be savored and respected.”

Publishers Weekly

“Neil White’s memoir, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, is a remarkable story of a young man’s loss of everything he deemed important, his imprisonment in a place that would terrify anyone, and his ultimate discovery that redemption can be taught by society’s most dreaded outcasts.”

—John Grisham

“Neil White’s memoir, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, is a wonderfully bizarre and entertaining memoir of jailhouse redemption – by turns hilarious, astonishing and, when all is said and done, deeply moving.”

—John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts was a rare treat for me as I not only learned about this extraordinary place, only whispered about when I was a child, but, even better, was reminded again of what really matters in this life.”

—Robert Hicks, author of The Widow of the South

“Narrated in an engaging, affable voice with self-deprecating humor, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts is a great American story of personal transformation that leaves White – and ourselves – forever changed.”

—Tom Franklin, author of Smonk

“Neil White in his luminous memoir In the Sanctuary of Outcasts explicates his own path to redemption. White brings to life a wacky bunch of characters who help him remember what is best about himself. His story is unique and deeply felt: I enjoyed this book immensely”

—Darcey Steinke, author of Easter Everywhere and Milk

“White wastes no time getting to the hurt, and once he takes you there, you’ll be riveted. This is a searing tale of trouble, but it’s more than that; it’s also about finding a time and a place in which to lay the groundwork for a new life. A fine memoir and one I highly recommend.”

—Steve Yarbrough, James and Coke Hallowell Professor of Creative Writing Coordinator of the MFA Program English Department California State University

“Leprosy and white collar crime in one dynamic book? Neil White, a writer with a multiple mission, knits two fascinating and unfortunate stories into one powerful narrative that is informative, heart-breaking, and highly compelling. White writes with clarity, sensitivity, and unforgettable passion.”

—Lee Gutkind, Editor, Creative Nonfiction magazine and author of Almost Human: Making Robots Think

“Neil White’s In the Sanctuary of Outcasts is a spellbinding tale of ambition, deception, and unforeseen grace found in unexpected places. It is said that truth is stranger than fiction, and this book once more proves the point. White is a gifted writer, and this is a magnificent story – honest and wise, startling, and revelatory.”

—Dinty W. Moore, author of The Accidental Buddhist

“[Neil White] offers a memoir of personal transformation and a thoroughly engaging look at the social, economic, racial, and other barriers that separate individuals that harden, dissolve, and reconfigure themselves when people are involuntarily thrust together over long periods.”

Booklist (starred review)

“An earnest chronicle written with equal parts enlightenment and atonement.”

Kirkus Reviews

“White’s memoir continues to surprise as it presents a witty, well-rendered narrative of redemption and enlightenment. Readers who enjoy clever, off-beat memoirs will devour this in one sitting.”

Library Journal