By Clara Martin. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (August 13).
For the past two years, on a sweltering Saturday in the middle of August, the booksellers of Lemuria have gathered outside of the Mississippi State Capitol at the crack of dawn to unpack boxes of books. For the third year in a row, these booksellers will be there with their sleeves rolled up, filled with anticipation. Because one day of the year, the most exciting literary event in the state will take place in the heart of Jackson on the steps of the Capitol. It is a place where people of all faiths, political leanings, and races join together in the celebration of one thing; books.
When you think of Mississippi’s literary history, there are the heavy weights: Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Margaret Walker Alexander, and Richard Wright. But what the Mississippi Book Festival celebrates is the growth and continuation of literature in the state. The festival shows Mississippi as a hub that is rich in literary culture that is constantly evolving.
John Evans is the owner of Lemuria Books, the independent bookstore in Jackson that has been open since 1975. He is a big supporter of the festival and has long-term goals for the festival’s growth in the state. Evans say, “the Book Fest is the most important thing to happen in Mississippi now, and for the next couple of years. It benefits the tourist business, and will attract out-of-towners. It’s a landmark event. Hopefully, it [the festival] will be an event to mark a literary trail marker in the next couple of years. I think the Mississippi Book Festival proves the need for a literary trail.”
When I asked the director of the Mississippi Book Festival, Holly Lange, what the festival means to her, this is what she said: “What I love most about the book festival is the magic it creates: thousands of Mississippians have the chance to meet their favorite writers, participate in some pretty special national exhibits, and support our local authors and independent bookstores.”
It’s true. It really is magic to pull together the authors and the panels. This year’s lineup is phenomenal. Carla Hayden, the first woman and first African American to lead the Library of Congress, will be there to kickoff the whole event–she was sworn in as the 14th Librarian of Congress on September 14, 2016.
Whatever your preference and taste in books, there is a panel for you. Maybe you are interested in Art in Mississippi, with artists William Dunlap and H.C. Porter Or maybe you’ll join Two Cooks in the Kitchen with John Currence (his restaurant, Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford, has a wait-line of several hours on the weekend) and Vivian Howard, star of the PBS television show A Chef’s Life. If mysteries are your thing, then join Otto Penzler, Mysterious Press president and CEO and owner of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. Discover some amazing debuts with moderator Richard Grant, author of Dispatches from Pluto. Join Mark Bowden in discussion with a Vietnam veteran as he discusses his book Hue 1968 that follows the turning point of the Vietnam War. Ron Rash, Richard Ford, and Greg Iles will also be in attendance, just to name a few.
If you have young kids, then the Kidnote is the way to go, with Candace Fleming, author of over 30 books for children, and illustrator Eric Rohmann, who is also a Caldecott Medalist. Their latest joint project is the adorable picture book Bulldozer Helps Out. Other great events for kids include the big tent of Kids Corner, which will feature an early Saturday morning surprise guest reading of Ezra Jack Keats’ classic–Snowy Day–and a free Popsicle to beat the summer heat. Join a group of star middle grade authors who all have their roots in Mississippi. Meet Angie Thomas, the Jackson native whose book The Hate U Give has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for 22 weeks and counting. Thomas’s young adult novel is a powerful look at race in modern America.
So, what are you waiting for? Rain or shine, the Lemuria crew will be at the Mississippi Book Festival bright and early on Saturday, August 19, slinging books and wearing some custom made shades. Join us, and the rest of Mississippi, for a day in August that is fun for the whole family, free to the public, and all about books. Visit msbookfestival.com for information on author, panel times, and other events.