The Mississippi Book Festival
- story by Carole McKellar, photography by Ellis Anderson
The 2nd Annual Mississippi Book Festival took place on August 20 in Jackson. Billed as a “Literary Lawn Party,” the event was again held inside and on the grounds of the beautiful and historic state capitol.
Mississippians constantly boast of the state’s literary history, so it’s hard to imagine why this event didn’t happen sooner than 2015. There are at least two other festivals in the state with a longer history: The Oxford Conference for the Book celebrated its 23rd anniversary in March, and the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, held every February, started in 1990. While both these events draw crowds and feature Mississippi writers, a statewide celebration is a welcome addition.
This year’s festival featured more than 200 authors, several of them from the coast. Jesmyn Ward and Margaret McMullan, both Pass Christian residents, moderated panels featuring well-known writers. Author, playwright, and Shoofly contributor Rheta Grimsley Johnson participated in two events, one of which was the closing feature, the Mississippi Experience. That panel’s moderator was Festival board member Scott Naugle, owner of Pass Books and a Shoofly sponsor.
All authors attending the festival signed their books in a special tent on the lawn of the capitol. Lemuria Books, one of the state’s premier bookstores, set up a large tent nearby to sell featured works.
Jacqueline Woodson, recently named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation, was interviewed in an afternoon session by poet Honoree Jeffers. Listening to them talk felt like eavesdropping on a conversation between two friends. Even Ms. Woodson’s conversation is poetic. I loved “Brown Girl Dreaming,” and just finished reading “Another Brooklyn.”
Afterward, I overcame my natural reluctance and introduced myself to Ms. Woodson as a fan. Thankfully, she was warm and friendly. In addition to being poet laureate, Ms. Woodson won the National Book Award in 2014 for “Brown Girl Dreaming,” a memoir in verse. That book contains some of the most beautiful poems I’ve ever read, and their aggregate as an autobiography is an astounding work.
A panel that included Rheta Grimsley Johnson gathered to discuss memoir writing. Rheta read one of my favorite anecdotes from her latest book about her down-the-road neighbor in Iuka, Mississippi. Her fellow panelists were as amusing, and the room was filled with laughter the entire session. For a review of Rheta’s latest book, “The Dogs Buried Over the Bridge: A Memoir in Dog Years,” check the Bay Reads archives for March, 2016.
C-Span 2 aired most sessions live on Book TV, and I’m told the sessions will be available for viewing in October on the Festival website, www.msbookfestival.com.
I urge you to join me next year for Mississippi’s “Literary Lawn Party”!