The Mississippi Book Festival
This second annual literary festival in Jackson featured several prominent coast writers and drew thousands of readers from across the region.
- story by Carole McKellar, photography by Ellis Anderson
The inaugural event in 2015 had an estimated economic impact of $325,000, thanks to approximately 3,700 attendees — and event organizers had been expecting only about a thousand visitors. When I went last year, I couldn’t get into several events due to overcrowding. This year was even bigger and better, but thanks to expanded venues and strategic planning, I found seats for the panels and interviews that most interested me.
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.
Curious George attended to celebrate his 75th birthday and entertain young book lovers. The kickoff event of the festival, held in the sanctuary of Galloway Methodist Church, was an interview with Kate DiCamillo, noted author of young adult fiction. The auditorium was filled with Jackson public school children, each of whom received a copy of Ms. DiCamillo’s book, “Because of Winn-Dixie.”
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.
Jesmyn Ward, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for “Salvage the Bones,” moderated a panel discussion with four contributors to “The Fire This Time,” a collection of essays that Ward edited and which pays tribute to James Baldwin’s 1963 book of the same name. The newer volume focuses on issues of race in present day America as realized by some important young voices.
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”!