Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Michael Copperman On His Return to Mississippi

The following is a guest post from Michael Copperman. Copperman is the author of the new book Teacher: Two Years in the Mississippi Delta -- a mesmerizing account of the realities of working with Teach For America in one of the country's poorest and most challenged regions. This weekend Copperman will be returning to Mississippi for the first time in 6 years to participate in the Mississippi Book Festival (details below). 

He writes below about  his return and what he's looking forward to

To begin: a return.

To return, experience anew and reflect; to return again.

Which is to say that I am coming to Mississippi, where as the sign says, “It’s Like Coming Home.”

My memoir, Teacher, opens with my return to the Mississippi after some four years away—driving the long straight stretch of 61 out of Memphis, across the Mississippi border, and down into the flats and fields of the Delta after some four years away, and coming back to the town where I taught in the public schools. Back through the long flat furrowed cotton fields, under a depthless sky, to return to the school where I taught fourth grade, and was never the same—not the same naive, idealistic young man, and never without the memory of the kids I taught, as I carry still their foolishness and clamor and bravado, their perilous shine and wonder, their unfilled promise.

Now, it has been another six years, and what I am most looking forward to is seeing them, these kids whose lives I still follow through social media—some still in the town where I taught, grown into adult lives of their own and children and rent and jobs, and some finishing community college in the area, or bound on scholarship to Memphis. Some perhaps who I am not in touch with, but might see on the street, or meet up with at the Sonic where I am fitting to buy all the curly fries and burgers and shakes these kids—no, no, these young adults—whose lives changed me the years I taught them. Who made me into the educator and man I am today.

I am also looking forward to the small things—to the hush puppies and catfish and okra, to live blues undivorced from origins, to seeing old friends, teachers and roommates and mentors, and to the pleasure of returning with a book, and having had the good fortune to have a press as respected as UPM support it with release events.

I cannot wait to be back in Mississippi, and see what has changed, and who the children I taught have become.

Michael Copperman will be speaking on the Schools in Change panel at the Mississippi Book Festival on Saturday, August 20 at the State Capitol. The panel discussion begins at 11:15.

He will be also signing and reading from his new book at Turnrow Books on August 22 at 5:30 p.m.; Square Books on August 23rd at 5:00 p.m.; and at the VIZ Reading Series in Hattiesburg on August 26 at 8:00 pm.

Read more about the book at

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Godfather of Mississippi

Big Jim Eastland: The Godfather of Mississippi is a biography of a powerful Mississippi Senator who was rife with contradictions.

For decades after the Second World War, Senator James O. Eastland (1904-1986) was one of the more intransigent leaders of the Deep South's resistance to what he called "the Second Reconstruction." And yet he developed, late in his life, a very real friendship with state NAACP chair Aaron Henry. Big Jim Eastland provides the life story of this savvy, unpredictable powerhouse.

From 1947 to 1978, Eastland wore that image of resistance proudly, even while recognizing from the beginning his was the losing side. Biographer J. Lee Annis Jr. chronicles such complexities extensively and also delves into many facets lesser known to the general public.

Born in the Mississippi Delta as part of the elite planter class, Eastland was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1941 by Democratic Governor Paul B. Johnson, Sr., following the death of Senator Pat Harrison. Eastland ran for and won the Senate seat in 1942 and served in the Senate from 1943 until his resignation December 27, 1978.

Eastland with Lyndon Johnson
A blunt man of few words and many contradictions, Eastland was an important player on the Washington scene, from his initial 88 day stint in 1941 where he salvaged several local projects from bungling bureaucratic intervention to the 1970s when he shepherded Supreme Court nominees of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford to confirmation by the Senate. Along the way, Annis describes the objections Eastland raised to various civil rights proposals from the 1940s to the 1960s, along with the accommodations Eastland was forced to make to African American interests after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Annis’ research is grounded in scores of interviews as well many previously unpublished stories important to understanding Eastland. Big Jim Eastland: The Godfather of Mississippi not only covers his long fight for the lost cause of preserving a segregated society, but also touches upon his work to create the Marshall Plan, represent Mississippi farmers and others, and create federal projects in Mississippi.

Annis will be discussing his book tomorrow,  August 17, noon–1 p.m. at the William F. Winter Archives and History Building. As part of the History Is Lunch series

Annis will also be participating in the Mississippi Book Festival on Saturday as part of a panel discussion on Mississippi History. He will be joined by fellow UPM authors Anne Webster and Jim Barnett. The panel discussion begins at 1:45 in the state capitol. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


In honor of Willie Morris' dog, Skip, and cat, Spit McGee, we are giving away a UPM tote filled with goodies, including copies of:

  • Willie: The Life of Willie Morris by Teresa Nicholas
  • Conversations with Willie Morris, edited by Jack Bales
  • Delta Dogs by Maude Schuyler Clay
  • Robinson: The Pleasant History of an Unusual Cat by Walter Anderson

We are also including some cat and/or dogs treats for your furry friend, as well as some extra UPM swag.

To be entered to win, post a picture of your cat or dog reading its favorite book on the social media outlet of your choice (Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram). Be sure to use the hashtags #literarylawnpet and #msbookfestival so we will be sure to see them!

The contest is open now and will be ongoing for a week. A winner will be chosen and notified on Thursday, August 18, and will need to be present at the Mississippi Book Festival on Saturday, August 20, from 9:00 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., at the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson to claim the prize.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Cover Story: In Search of an Image from New York to Miami to Paris

The following is a guest post from UPM author José Alaniz. We’ve had the pleasure of working with José now on two books. Below, he writes about the process of choosing a book cover. While many authors have a dream cover in mind, securing rights and permissions, as Alaniz quickly discovered, is a separate and entirely different endeavor.

If one shouldn’t trust a book by its cover, we can say too that every book cover has its own unique story. Having published two books with UPM, I can attest to that fact.

For my first, Komiks: Comic Art in Russia , I simply sent in several color reproductions by the artists I was examining in the text, and the press’ production staff took it from there. They delivered a colorful, striking design.

For my second, Death, Disability and the Superhero: The Silver Ageand Beyond, things started more straightforward but wound up much more convoluted. The study, as clear from the title, scrutinizes the representation of death and disability in mainstream superhero comics from the late 1950s to 1993, a period when numerous series, characters and storylines reflected egalitarian post-war social change in the USA, including the death with dignity movement, the rise of hospice, and the emergence of disability as a civil rights issue.    

I knew right off the bat I wanted an image of the French artist Gilles Barbier’s installation Nursing Home (L’hospice, 2002) for the cover. The study begins with a discussion of that piece, with its aged costumed figures wasting away in an institution, as a wonderful example of the metaphorical use of the superhero body for a national critique. As my University of Washington colleague Kathleen Woodward puts it in an upcoming article, Nursing Home “brilliantly captures this view of America as an exhausted power, its once famed superheroes now old and tired and incapacitated.” Though not a work of comics, the installation struck me as one of the most remarkable pieces I’d found in my research, and the perfect entry point for the very questions regarding mortality, debility and ideology which I wanted to explore.

Nursing Home
So, when the time came to decide on a cover image, I explored the possibility of getting the rights to reproduce Nursing Home. Barbier’s work had made a splashy debut on these shores as part of “The American Effect: Global Perspectives on the United States: 1990-2003,” a 2003 exhibit at New York’s Whitney Museum of international artists’ responses to the USA after 9/11. Since then, I discovered, Barbier had sold the piece to the Collection Martin Z. Margulies in Miami. I reached them, and they agreed to my use of the piece, though they also informed me they did not own the copyright; I would have to contact the artist.

Thereupon I wrote the Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois in Paris, which represents Barbier. When they seemed to be taking too long to respond, I asked an old friend in Paris to call them up. That did they trick: they apologized for misplacing my e-mails and in short order let me know that Barbier agreed to let me reproduce a photograph of the installation. His and the gallery’s only price: copies of the book once it came out. Great news!

But then, another snag: the images the gallery sent me all seemed inadequate in one way or another: too far away, uninteresting angles. After all, they had used these pictures to document the piece, not to fashion attractive visuals that would hold their own in and of themselves. I needed something like the photograph I had seen in “American Cheese,” a 2003 review of the Whitney show by Mark Stevens, published in New York magazine. That article listed the photographer’s name: Tim McAfee.

Nursing Home
One pretty easy internet search later, I had McAfee’s phone number but no e-mail address. So I just cold-called him. I no longer recall if he answered right away or I left a message, but in any case we soon got in touch. He graciously agreed to let me have the rights to reproduce his image of Nursing Home for free.

Voila! I had my dream cover.

Sadly, despite that success, I do need to end this post on a sour note. Due a production error, readers of both the hardcover and paperback versions of Death, Disability and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond will find nowhere a credit as it should have appeared: “Copyright Gilles Barbier. Thanks to Collection Martin Z. Margulies. Photo by Tim McAfee.”

These very accommodating, generous people deserve that credit; this post, I hope, at least sets the record straight. After all, many still compliment my second book’s cover to this day. These generous folks made it happen.

P.S. Instead of Nursing Home, I did at one point muse on Sacha Newley’s portrait of Christopher Reeve (2004), a discussion of which close Death, Disability and the Superhero, for the cover. Those reproduction rights, owned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, I obtained very easily, quickly and for free.     

Monday, July 18, 2016

McRae Intern Achieves Goal of Working in Publishing

The following is a guest post from Lisa McMurtray. Lisa first worked at UPM as a McRae Intern and was eventually hired as a full-time editorial assistant. Below, Lisa writes about her longtime goal of working in publishing and how her experiences as an intern helped her achieve that goal.

The McRae Publishing Internship, supported by the Richard and Selby McRae Foundation, offers a singular educational opportunity to young men and women interested in book publishing to start their careers as interns and gain valuable practical knowledge about the publishing industry.

Having an English degree results in one of two conversations:

  1. "So, you’re going to be a teacher?” or 
  2. Jokes about perpetual unemployment
And while I often participated in the jokes about my future refrigerator box-apartment (and, admittedly, taught for five years while a graduate student), I always knew that I wanted to go into publishing. School, however, offered limited opportunities—literary journals if you were creative, scholarly journals if you were academic, the occasional copyediting or technical writing class. As a student, I read a lot (endlessly and without pause for what seemed like forever) and I wrote a lot (also endlessly and without pause for what seemed like forever) without really talking about how what I read was produced beyond a basic understanding of submitting my work into the void to one day be published.

Despite that, I knew I always wanted to work in publishing. I love writing, so it seemed like a natural extension of that interest to understand more fully how that work is cultivated and disseminated. I worked for literary journals, reading poetry and fiction and nonfiction, finding out how a journal establishes its name and voice, and I knew that I was on the right track. I got my Masters in English, then an MFA in creative writing, and still I wanted to work in publishing. When it came time to come home, back to Mississippi, I didn’t know what to do. I applied for the McRae Publishing Internship at University Press of Mississippi and, luckily, got it. With it, I got a chance to start a career.

As a McRae intern, I worked in almost every part of the acquisitions process: talking to prospective authors and readers, working with contracted authors, reading manuscripts, writing descriptions, documents, and letters. In the process, I asked questions to just about everyone—I learned about marketing and production, worked with the entire editorial team, including the Editor-in-Chief and Director, spoke with authors in comics studies, history, ethnomusicology, film and media studies, African American studies, and art and photography. In two short months, I got an incredible survey of what the acquisitions process is like.

Even more incredible, when a position opened up for a new Editorial Assistant, I got it. My internship allowed me the opportunity to learn directly from my future employers. My new position allowed me to work with our previous director Leila Salisbury and acquisitions editor Vijay Shah in the fields I love most. My experiences as an intern are still helpful today. I still contact readers, talk to authors, work on contracts, and read manuscripts. I still prepare descriptions and find endorsements. I file, organize, and write just as I did when I started. My experience was invaluable to what I do every day.

Now, the McRae Internship has grown to touch every aspect of the publishing process. Our interns work with Acquisitions Editorial, Manuscript Editorial, Business, Marketing, and Production. They do all the things I did and more. They work with a smart, welcoming team of people who are passionate about what they do and do it well. I am so grateful to have had a chance to work (and continue to work) at University Press of Mississippi, and I’m excited to help make this experience as educational, interesting, and fun for the next generation of interns as it was for me.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

UPM in Haiti

Vijay Shah in Haiti
Last month UPM acquisitions editor Vijay Shah attended the Caribbean Studies Association’s annual conference in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This was Shah’s fourth trip to the CSA annual conference, having previously traveled to Grenada, Mexico, and New Orleans. Shah’s travel to the conference each year is made possible through a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation.

Vijay displayed books in our Caribbean Studies Series for over 700 Caribbean scholars. Like him, many had never gone to the island before. Series editors Anton Allahar and Natasha Barnes also attended the conference.

Resisting Paradise: Tourism, Diaspora, and Sexuality in Caribbean Culture by Angelique V. Nixon was honored with the Barbara T. Christian Literary Award. The book prize was established in 2001 to honor the memory of distinguished Caribbean-American black feminist theorist Barbara T. Christian and the award celebrates her intellectual legacy and is given to the best book published over the previous three-year period which explicitly examines the topics of race, gender, sexuality, class and intersectionality. 

Nixon’s book is a study of tourism in the Caribbean and the ways artists and activists resist its great allure. The study explores the relationship between culture and sex within the production of "paradise" and investigates the ways in which Caribbean writers, artists, and activists respond to and powerfully resist this production. Through a unique multidisciplinary approach to comparative literary analysis, interviews, and participant observation, Nixon analyzes the ways Caribbean cultural producers are taking control of representation.
Angelique Nixon (2nd from L) poses with the Christian Awarrd

The Miami Herald wrote an article about the conference, wherein CSA president Carol Boyce Davies explains its import:

“This is a historic meeting,” Boyce Davies said about the Caribbean Studies Association’s 41st annual conference that takes place Monday through Saturday in Port-au-Prince at the Marriott hotel. “First, CSA has been everywhere in the Caribbean for 40 years and it’s never done Haiti. Given that it’s the first black Republic, there has been a real gap in our ability to say that we’re covering the entire Caribbean.”
The article went on to describe the topics at the conference:
“In all, 701 individuals have registered and the scholars hail from universities across the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean and Australia. Discussion topics include titles such as “The Experiences of Jamaican female workers in the Cayman Islands,” “The Emerging Haitian Diaspora in Brazil,” “Migratory roots and routes of music of the Caribbean diaspora,” and “Beyond Hegemony: Haiti and the Ideology of Occupation from U.S. to UN.”  
Dupuy and fellow Haiti-born academic Robert Fatton of the University of Virginia will both discuss one of the conference’s more popular topics, the unequal economic relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola.” 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Rest in Peace, Scotty Moore

Scotty Moore at Lemuria Books in 2013
The staff at UPM were saddened to learn of the death of Scotty Moore last week. Moore, Elvis Presley's longtime guitarist and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, died last Tuesday at his home in Nashville.

Along with bass player Bill Black, Presley and Moore formed a trio that recorded an old blues number called "That's All Right, Mama." It turned out to be Elvis's first single and the defining record of his early style, with a trilling guitar hook that swirled country and blues together and minted a sound with unforgettable appeal.

Moore and Black backed Presley on dozens of legendary rock and roll songs over the next decade, including "Heartbreak Hotel," "Mystery Train," "Blue Suede Shoes," "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock" and "(You're the) Devil in Disguise."

Their immediate success launched a whirlwind of touring, radio appearances, and Elvis's first break into movies. Scotty was there every step of the way as both guitarist, film co-star and even manager.

After parting ways, Moore stayed in the music business and was profoundly influential. Moore went on to work with such artists as Keith Richards, Ringo Starr, Carl Perkins, Jeff Beck, Levon Helm, Ronnie Wood and more. Moore was also named to Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists list.

Even late night host Conan O’Brien took a break from telling jokes to pay a passionate tribute to one of his childhood heroes. In the clip below, O’Brien recalled a moment back in 1998 when the legendary guitar player sat in with the band on "Late Night With Conan O’Brien."

We had the great pleasure to work with Scotty and James L. Dickerson on his autobiography Scotty And Elvis: Aboard the Mystery TrainThe book is Scotty’s true life story of how he helped transformed popular music and created a sound that became a prototype for so many rock guitarists to follow.


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