Thursday, October 19, 2017

Diwali: Hindu Festival of Lights



The following is an excerpt from A YEAR IN MISSISSIPPI edited by Charline R. McCord and Judy H. Tucker


Diwali: Hindu Festival of Lights
Seetha Srinivasan

In November 2003 President George W. Bush inaugurated the tradition of marking at the White House Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, with the aim of respecting the faiths of all U.S. citizens while also acknowledging the growing presence of Indian Americans (most of whom are Hindus). President Obama has continued the practice, and, in fact, he, First Lady Michelle Obama, or Vice President Joe Biden has attended the annual White House celebrations of Diwali.

Diwali is the one festival that is celebrated across the length and breadth of India, and migrants inevitably mark the festival in their new lands. The calendar of India’s major faith, Hinduism, is marked by a plethora of festivals. While people may immediately associate each festival with rituals and special foods, the festivals are an important way of teaching and transmitting the tenets of Hinduism. Behind each festival is a morality tale that illustrates one or more aspects of Hinduism and reminds celebrants of the values and truths they are to embody in their daily lives. Different festivals are celebrated with differing degrees of enthusiasm, but all Hindus venerate Diwali almost equally.

The festival is rooted in the epic Ramayana, and stories from it are in the very DNA of Hindus and integral to Indian culture. Diwali marks the triumphant return of Lord Rama, an incarnation of the Divine, to his kingdom after being unfairly banished from it for fourteen years. The story of Rama’s trials and tribulations in exile, the many ways in which his faith was tested, his conquest of these, and his triumphant return to his kingdom to take his rightful place on the throne, are the subject of the Ramayana. The scripture exerts significant theological and ethical influence on the Hindu tradition. The personages in the Ramayana exemplify such attributes as faith, love, compassion, friendship, fidelity, filial piety, courage, and forgiveness, and from a very young age Hindu children are told stories from the epic to inculcate in them these values and teachings of Hinduism.

All of India commemorates the story of the Ramayana when it celebrates Diwali with special sweets and foods, gifts of new clothes, fireworks, and oil lamps that illuminate dwellings, the last symbolizing the victory of light over darkness, good over evil. (The festival is also called Deepavali, which means “row of lights.”) Diwali falls between late October and early November, the precise date determined by the lunar calendar that guides Hindu religious activities.

As one travels in India from north to south and east to west one encounters different languages, cuisines, and cultural traditions. The tie that binds is the religion of the majority, Hinduism, notwithstanding variations in how it is practiced. So it is no surprise that while Diwali is important in uniting Hindus, there are differences among communities of what each may consider of particular importance. For instance for some groups in western India, Diwali marks the start of a new financial year and prayers to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, play a more important role than in other communities. In some south Indian communities the first Diwali that a married couple spends together is considered particularly auspicious, and the couple is feted by both families. In parts of north India the burning in effigy of Ravana and other demon figures in the Ramayana marks the culmination of the Diwali festivities. Diwali celebrations are further evidence of Hinduism’s remarkable unity and its ability to absorb a diversity of practices.

Hence it is almost a given that of the many festivals on the Hindu calendar the one that all Indian migrants would choose to celebrate in their adopted homeland is Diwali. In the country they had left, Diwali was very much a celebration restricted to family and close friends. A festive spirit, however, permeated the air, and it was as if everyone was agog with anticipation and all of India was rejoicing. In a distant land with just a few Indians scattered in towns and cities, the festive air had to be re-created by families coming together. Among the earliest celebrations that I know of were from the early 1960s in university communities where the mostly male graduate students marked the day by preparing special foods as best as they knew and, bravely, inviting fellow students and mentors to partake of it.

Whatever the size of the community, memories of celebrations back home served as a common bond, and members tried to keep fond traditions alive to the extent possible, from gatherings in homes to larger venues as communities expanded.

When my husband, Asoka, and I moved to Jackson in 1969, there were only about eight Indian families, but we still marked Diwali in different homes by preparing special foods and having “fireworks” by giving children sparklers that were saved from July Fourth celebrations. India’s diversity was represented in microcosm in the families, and it was evident in the cuisine that is particular to the regions of the country from which the families came. We received gifts of clothes from parents or relatives in India (new clothes are a must for Diwali), and as we reveled in our finery and good food we invariably reflected on the grander celebrations (and better prepared food!) we had all left behind. And what memories they were: the aroma of the dishes and snacks particular to Diwali, newspaper and store advertisements for Diwali fashions and sweetmeats, buildings illuminated for the occasion, the sounds and smell of fireworks that signaled the holiday, and on the day of Diwali the excitement of wearing new outfits to visit family and close friends. We also knew that Diwali in India would be celebrated on the date designated in the calendar and not, as we did, on the closest Saturday to accommodate the U.S. work week.

As the Indian community in Jackson grew, it began celebrating Diwali in spaces around the city and with more formal programs. An elder would tell the story of the reason for the celebration, and young artists would share their talents. Some families chose to have a celebration in their homes as well as participate in the broader festivities. In our home the nature of gifts also began to change as our sons grew less than eager to receive clothes. So we adapted traditions, and the first year we did so the Walkman players were a big hit!

Diwali celebrations also began to be an opportunity for Indian Americans to share their traditions with the larger community, and members began inviting their other American friends. Some already knew about Diwali; others welcomed the chance to experience a different culture and cuisine. Reports grew of the exuberantly enjoyable evenings, of delicious food, of women in clothes with iridescent colors, and soon people began to ask if they could attend Diwali celebrations.

Inevitably the celebration of Diwali evolved to ensure its relevance to the ever-expanding Indian community. In the early years the participation of youngsters was usually confined to piano or violin recitals. With the growth of the community, there was the opportunity to learn Indian music and dance, talents that were then showcased during Diwali. Performances of folk dances, parades of various styles of Indian dress, enactments of the story of Rama, all began to be popular features. Varieties of music and dance, including Bollywood styles, began to manifest themselves and had wide appeal. Visitors from India might be surprised to see how the rituals of Diwali are practiced in a new land, but it is just this realization that traditions must evolve that keeps them relevant to people growing up outside of India and ensures that centuries-old beliefs are transmitted in a vital way. Diwali celebrations will doubtless continue to evolve, but what is important is that the reasons for them endure.

Soon Diwali celebrations included invitations to Jackson community leaders and elected officials, and the narrative was raised to a whole new level. Neither the Indian hosts nor the visitors lost the chance to make remarks, and they did so even as the audience grew increasingly restless and wanted to return to the festivities and the food. With larger numbers came more resources, and the community graduated to catered food. The dresses of performers and the set-up became more elaborate, and everything began to have less of a downhome, impromptu feel. Longtime Jackson residents were relieved they no longer had to prepare food and then stand in serving lines with aprons donned over their beautiful saris, relieved also that the responsibilities for the evening’s festivities were shared among a larger group. Yet a small part of them regretted the cohesion and simplicity of past Diwalis.

In 1999 the Hindu community in Jackson built a temple in Flowood, and Diwali festivities had a permanent home, another twist in the new world since in India Diwali is not celebrated in temples. The temple, however, allowed the community the assurance of having a space that was its own and no longer did it have to consider each year where the Diwali celebration would be held. The temple also made it possible to add activities that could not occur elsewhere, like burning in effigy the demons in the Ramayana.

Jackson’s Diwali celebrations begin with a Lakshmi puja, worship of the goddess of prosperity. The temple priests lead the attendees through the prescribed rituals ending with the aarti and the distribution of prasad. Aarti is the placing of an oil lamp on a platter and moving it in a clockwise direction in front of the temple’s representation of Lakshmi. Some attendees take turns with the platter before Goddess Lakshmi, while others are content to put their palms over the flame and touch it to their eyes and over their foreheads, symbolizing their reverence and adoration. In front of the goddess are plates of sweets and savories prepared by devotees in their homes. This is prasad and is offered at the end of the service. Devotees accept the prasad with gratitude for it symbolizes the grace of God.

Since the evening is as much about fellowship as it is about worship, the puja is followed by, in Indian parlance, a cultural program that allows community members to display their talents. Elements of the program may vary from one year to another, but performances of dance and music in a multiplicity of styles are a staple. Then comes dinner, whose tempting aromas have been wafting forth, and finally a fireworks display far, far removed from the meager sparklers of yore.

The Indian community in Jackson is now so big that there are some who choose not to attend the festivities at the temple, preferring to have their own at home. Regional differences inevitably have reared their head, and people may squabble about the best way to do one thing or another. But the celebration of Diwali itself endures, as will the somewhat fractious land from which it comes. The Ramayana plays such a foundational role in the religious and moral education of all Indians that they will take the desire to celebrate this festival wherever they may go.

Between January 1987 and July 1988, India’s national television network broadcast on Sunday mornings in a series of 78, 35-minute episodes the story of the Ramayana. On those mornings it was as if time stood still as the entire subcontinent clustered around television screens. Anybody familiar with Indian streets will marvel at the phenomenon of life slowing down as Indians were transfixed by the dramatization of an epic that is in the fiber of their very being. In fact the stories told to illustrate the grip of the serialization are the stuff of urban legend. Is it any wonder then that the people of this land take with them to wherever they find themselves this story and its celebration?

So each year in the fall, before the holiday season of the larger community, Indian Americans have a festival that they can call their own, that brings their community together, and reminds them of their roots. Diwali celebrations play an important part in the efforts of immigrant parents to keep alive the values of their faith and to ensure that the teachings of their traditions are passed on to succeeding generations. And even as the celebration passes on to future generations an important part of what defines them as Indian Americans, it also allows them to share something of great value to them with the larger community. For all these reasons and desires the Hindu festival of lights will be a part of Indian communities wherever in the world they may be. With its unique yet universally resonant Diwali celebration, Jackson, Mississippi, is no exception

Friday, August 18, 2017

Mississippi’s Literary and Cultural Legacy: Part 3


 Tomorrow’s the big day! In preparation for the 2017 Mississippi Book Festival, we asked our authors to answer a few questions about our state’s literary and cultural legacy. This is the third of three blogs posts in which we share their responses. Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2. Below, you’ll find our authors’ thoughts on the Mississippi Book Festival in light of our state’s bicentennial. For a full list of panelists attending the Festival and the schedule of events, click here.

It’s the state’s bicentennial. Reflecting on the past 200 years, what are your thoughts about Mississippi’s literary and cultural legacy? Why is it important that the state have a book festival? Why does literature and engagement with the arts matter?

Lorie Watkins, editor of A Literary History of Mississippi: “Mississippi has such an amazing literary history, richer than any other state’s, and it should be celebrated. What better time to do that than in honor of the state’s bicentennial?”

 James F. Barnett Jr., author of The Natchez Indians: A History to 1735Mississippi’s American Indians, and Beyond Control: The Mississippi River’s New Channel to the Gulf of Mexico: “Mississippi’s literary legacy has been recognized internationally. The state’s book festival gives Mississippians the opportunity to meet the authors and attend their presentations about this world-class literature.”

Norma Watkins, author of The Last Resort: Taking the Mississippi Cure: “Reflecting on my experience of Mississippi (during thirty of those two-hundred years), I say: Thank god for the arts! Thank the good heaven for stories and the people who write them down!”

W. Ralph Eubanks, author of The House at the End of the Road: The Story of Three Generations of an Interracial Family in the American South: “I tend to think about Mississippi’s literary future more, which I believe is directly linked to its literary and cultural legacy. I’ve been lucky to work with some young writers in my classes at Millsaps last year as well as with Katy Simpson Smith’s Write for Mississippi project. So, in my work I’ve met some promising young writers. One important reason for the book festival is that it is a way for the young people of this state to have a direct connection with a Mississippi writer, as well as writers from around the country.
                As a writer, I am always interested in exploring topics that are elusive or overlooked. It’s my life-long interest in literature and the arts that have driven my need to find different shades of meaning and nuances both in my work and the way I look at the world. And I don’t think I would have that curiosity without my engagement with the arts. So, I think the arts enhance the way we experience and engage with both the world around us and the people we encounter along the way.”

Leif Anderson, author of Dancing with my Father: “This one makes me hearken back to the first question. When I think of Mississippi’s literary, artistic, and musical heritage—and the idea of narrowing it down—I become overwhelmed. I will say that much of this heritage has been somewhat invisible to the rest of the world, overshadowed by the negative side of our history and the ongoing perceptions people outside Mississippi still cling to. This is why the festival has the potential for being a healing and positive force. Let us not keep the good of our beloved state a secret.”

Carolyn J. Brown, author of A Daring Life: A Biography of Eudora Welty, Song of My Life: A Biography of Margaret Walker, and The Artist’s Sketch: A Biography of Painter Kate Freeman Clark: “I have always thought Mississippi should have a book festival and am so glad that we now do! I have been to festivals in other states that don’t have the literary legacy of which Mississippi can boast. I have only lived here eleven years, but I am proud to have contributed to this legacy, bringing attention to women writers and artists of which we can be proud. A book festival legitimizes this legacy and gives us an annual occasion to celebrate past and present writers and artists.”

Curtis Wilkie, author of Assassins, Eccentrics, Politicians, and Other Persons of Interest: Fifty Pieces from the Road: “Glad the book festival got started; it’s an area where our state can take pride.”

Panny Mayfield, author of Live from the Mississippi Delta: “During this bicentennial year, our Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival is staging an innovative ‘Walking into Clarksdale’ tour October 13–14 with lectures in historic churches and sites from the Civil Rights Era; the New World District where blues, ragtime, jazz flourished; and performances of scenes from the playwright’s great Delta plays in their original settings. The tour title is ‘borrowed’ from an album recorded by Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.” 

Ted Ownby, senior editor of The Mississippi Encyclopedia: “I like the democratic combination of fiction, poetry, art, photography, scholarship, foodways, memoir, politics, children's books, y/a books, and others, all in the same event, and I like that most of it takes place at the Old Capitol, suggesting that books and state government both belong to all of us.”

William R. Ferris, author of Mule Trader: Ray Lum's Tales of Horses, Mules, and Men, editor of Afro-American Folk Art and Crafts, and coeditor of Folk Music and Modern Sound: “Literature and music are Mississippi’s great contributions to our nation and to the world. We will never fully understand why and how our state produced so much sheer creative genius. When all the world turns to our state in awe of our literary achievements, the Mississippi Book Festival is a long overdue recognition of our state’s unique achievements in literature. Literature and the arts are, in William Faulkner’s worlds, how we leave ‘our mark on the face of oblivion.’ When we are all gone, our literature and art will be remembered and cherished. They are the heart of life, and we strengthen and enrich our experience immeasurably when we embrace and cherish them.”



Limited edition prints available at the #mississippibookfestival. Only $10 for a Mississippi original!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mississippi’s Literary and Cultural Legacy: Part 2


In preparation for the 2017 Mississippi Book Festival, we asked our authors to answer a few questions about our state’s literary and cultural legacy. This is the second of three blogs posts in which we share their responses. Click here to read Part 1. Below, you’ll find our authors guide to the Festival, including which events they are most excited about, who they would cast in their dream panels, and where are their favorite spots to visit in Jackson. For a full list of panelists attending the Festival and the schedule of events, click here.

What events (besides your own) are you most excited about at the Book Festival? Whose autograph are you hoping to get?

Lorie Watkins, editor of A Literary History of Mississippi: “I'm so excited about the panels with Greg Iles, Richard Ford, and Ron Rash. I hope that I can get into at least one of them!”

Carter Dalton Lyon, author of Sanctuaries of Segregation: The Story of the Jackson Church Visit Campaign: “It’s going to be tough to do everything I want and still make it to my own panel! I’ll definitely be checking out the panels on The Mississippi Encyclopedia, the Mississippi Heritage Series, and the one on Larry Brown. I'm really looking forward to reuniting with all my mentors and friends who will be there from my days in Oxford. And with two young daughters, I’m very excited to see the Ezra Jack Keats exhibit at the Capitol.”

W. Ralph Eubanks, author of The House at the End of the Road: The Story of Three Generations of an Interracial Family in the American South: “I’m looking forward to the poetry panel, since the lineup—Beth Ann Fennelly, Jill Biaosky, Derrick Harriel, Catherine Pierce, and Ron Rash—includes such a diverse group of poets. I also think we don’t pay as much attention to poetry as we should. The Larry Brown panel also interests me, and I hope it helps make some publisher out there reissue Brown’s memoir On Fire. And I’m hoping to catch the North Mississippi All-Stars since Shake Hands with Shorty is my go-to road trip album.” 

Susan Cushman, author of the forthcoming Southern Writers on Writing: “The panels all look wonderful, and it will be hard to choose just one during each time slot. In the 9:30 slot, I’m torn between the poetry panel—moderated by my good friend
Beth Ann Fennelly, Poet Laureate of Mississippi—and the panel called ‘Things Like the Truth,’ because I’d love to hear Ellen Gilchrist (never met her), and I love Jim Dees, who contributed an essay to the anthology I’m currently editing for University Press of Mississippi. And at the same time there’s the Eudora Welty panel, which includes another contributor to the anthology, W. Ralph Eubanks. Wish I could clone myself and visit all three!
At 10:45 I’ll probably sit in on ‘A Conversation With Richard Ford,’ whom I’ve never met. I’m moderating a panel at 12:00 and will be signing books from 1:45 – 2:15, so I’m sad to miss the 1:30 panel with Greg Iles. At 2:45 I’ll be at the Southern Fiction panel, where I’m especially anxious to hear and meet Kevin Wilson, author of Perfect Little World, which is on my ‘to buy’ list.
At 4:00 I’m on the ‘Voices of Home’ panel for my novel, Cherry Bomb, so I’ll miss several great sessions, including the one celebrating The Mississippi Encyclopedia, which I would have very much enjoyed. Such a great line-up. Can’t wait! Oh, and I want autographs (actually inscriptions in their books) from Kevin Wilson, Richard Ford, and Richard Grant.”

Leif Anderson, author of Dancing with My Father: “I found the Festival online and began to peruse the amazing variety of events and the quantity of authors, known and unknown, participating in the Festival. It was a bit like standing in the art store in front of a huge selection of paints; the colors swim together into a veritable rainbow of confusion. How can one choose?”

Carolyn J. Brown, author of A Daring Life: A Biography of Eudora Welty, Song of My Life: A Biography of Margaret Walker, and The Artist’s Sketch: A Biography of Painter Kate Freeman Clark: “I am looking forward to hearing Richard Ford and Bill Ferris. I have only heard Richard Ford once before, and I count Bill as a personal friend. He contributed several photos to my book, Song of My Life: A Biography of Margaret Walker and was one of the first readers of my first book, A Daring Life: A Biography of Eudora Welty.”

Curtis Wilkie, author of Assassins, Eccentrics, Politicians, and Other Persons of Interest: Fifty Pieces from the Road: “So many good discussions. Unfortunately, several I would especially like to hear conflict with the one I’m on.”

Panny Mayfield, author of Live from the Mississippi Delta: “Other authors I especially would like to visit: Leif Anderson (to discuss Ocean Springs, art, and Walter Anderson); Katie Blount (Mississippi's wonderful museums nearing completion); Richard Ford (who wrote part of The Sportswriter in Clarksdale's Carnegie Public Library); Ellen Gilchrist; Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress; Jerry Mitchell, investigative reporter; and Otis Sanford.”

Ted Ownby, senior editor of The Mississippi Encyclopedia: “I think there are 21 Mississippi Encyclopedia contributors and eight or ten subjects of entries on the Book Festival program, and I'm looking forward to seeing lots of friends and making some new ones.”

William R. Ferris, author of Mule Trader: Ray Lum's Tales of Horses, Mules, and Men, editor of Afro-American Folk Art and Crafts, and coeditor of Folk Music and Modern Sound: “Carla Hayden, Jessica Harris, and Richard Ford.”

Odie Lindsey, associate editor of The Mississippi Encyclopedia: “Ellen Gilchrist—kerpow!”

Design your dream book festival panel, with authors and artists, living or dead.

Lorie Watkins: “Well, if I could design one with all of the authors in my volume, A Literary History of Mississippi, that would be pretty awesome!”

W. Ralph Eubanks: “Eudora Welty would be on my dream book festival panel. This is an event I wish she had lived to see. I’d love to finally see Miss Welty discuss literature with William Faulkner, but I fear the two of them might be far too polite to each other for that conversation to take flight.”

Susan Cushman: “This is a fun question, and I had a good time playing with my answers. So here are a few highlights of my dream book festival:
Keynote: Pat Conroy (rest in peace, Pat!)
Memoir panel (moderated by Pat Conroy): Mary Karr, Haven Kimmel, Augusten Burroughs, and Harrison Scott Key
Fiction panel (moderated by Michael Cunningham): Joshilyn Jackson, Michael Farris Smith, Julie Cantrell, and Katherine Clark
Photography panel (moderated by Annie Leibovitz): Maude Schuyler-Clay, Ed Croom, and Clyde Edgerton
Poetry panel (moderated by Emily Dickinson): Beth Ann Fennelly, Corey Mesler, Jennifer Horne, Jacqueline Trimble, and Scott Cairns 
I know this isn’t a complete festival, but I’m not in touch with children’s literature, short stories, mystery, and other genres that should be represented.”


Charline R. McCord, coeditor of A Year in MississippiComing Home to Mississippi, Christmas Memories from MississippiGrowing Up in Mississippi and Christmas Stories from Mississippi: “Willie Morris, Eudora Welty, Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, Ellen Douglas, and Tennessee Williams.”

Ted Ownby: “Part of what's so great about the Mississippi Book Festival is the chance to see authors you know right next to authors you haven't discovered yet. So, a dream panel would have Richard Wright and Eudora Welty, talking and listening to two young novelists I haven't heard of yet.”

Leif Anderson: “Let us imagine a panel entitled ‘Writers and The Environment.’ Included in this panel are Henry David Thoreau, Barbara Kingsolver, Walter Anderson (since I know him well), and Edna Ferber (because I just finished reading her novel, So Big). The moderator might be Patti Carr Black. I think she could handle it with a sense of humor.”

James G. Thomas, Jr. associate editor of The Mississippi Encyclopedia and coeditor of Conversations with Barry Hannah, Faulkner and History, Faulkner and Print Culture, and Faulkner and the Black Literatures of the Americas: “Probably Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, but there are infinite combinations of great writers—living and dead—who would make up incredible panels. Sartre, Camus, and Foucault would be another, and Faulkner, Shelby Foote, and Walker Percy would be yet another. I’d really like to see Percival Everett, Paul Beatty, W. E. B. Du Bois, and James Weldon Johnson on the same panel. I could go on . . .”

Carolyn J. Brown: “My dream panel would be the three women who are the subjects of my books: Eudora Welty, Margaret Walker, and painter Kate Freeman Clark.”

Curtis Wilke: “I’d bring back from the dead two friends, Barry Hannah and Willie Morris, both smart, colorful, and loquacious. A rivalry existed between the two, which would make it more interesting.”

Mary Lindsay Dickinson, widow of Jim Dickinson, author of I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone: “Here's my dream book festival panel of my favorite Mississippi authors and artists: Jim Dickinson, Jim Dees, Larry Brown, John Grisham, William Faulkner and Walter Anderson.”

William R. Ferris: “William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Tennessee Williams, and Eudora Welty—‘Why Do You Write?’”

Odie Lindsey: “Toni Morrison, and whomever Toni Morrison chooses”

If you’re visiting Jackson for the Festival, what is something you look forward to doing while you’re here? If you live in Jackson, where are some of your favorite spots?

Lorie Watkins: “I always like to visit Lemuria and eat at some of the more historic restaurants downtown like The Mayflower or The Elite.”

Norma Watkins, author of The Last Resort: Taking the Mississippi Cure: “I am visiting Jackson for the Festival. I grew up in Jackson, and when I come back I search out my old landmarks: During Elementary, Bailey Junior High, Central High School—all of which are something else today.”

W. Ralph Eubanks: “Two things: lunch at Bully’s (if I go, I have to skip dinner, since lunch exceeds my normal caloric intake) and an Uncle Val’s gin and tonic at the Library Bar in the Fairview Inn.”

Charline R. McCord: “I live in Clinton, but my favorite Jackson place to be is inside New Stage Theatre. I would happily sit through every rehearsal and every production if they would let me.”

Leif Anderson: “Been there countless times and lived there for a year. Favorite places: Lemuria Books and the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science.”

Carolyn J. Brown: “I think visitors to the Festival should have a drink at The Library in the Fairview Inn, where there are drinks named for famous Mississippi writers like Eudora Welty and Margaret Walker, and photographs of famous Mississippi writers grace the walls. I also hope visitors stop by the Mississippi Museum of Art and take in the Kate Freeman Clark exhibition which opens on Thursday, August 17, right in time for the Festival. And, of course, you can’t come to Jackson without visiting Lemuria, Jackson’s amazing independent bookstore!”

Curtis Wilkie: “Visiting with friends and dining on redfish at The Mayflower”

Panny Mayfield: “I live in the Mississippi Delta, an hour from Memphis, Tennessee, and do not visit Jackson often (three-hour drive), although my daughter, Julia, and her family live there. When my grandsons were small, the Museum of Natural History was a favorite place to visit. Mississippi's Museum of Art and the Old Capitol Museum are others. Also, Hal and Mal's and The Mayflower.”

William R. Ferris: “Having a meal at The Mayflower and checking out books at Lemuria”

Odie Lindsey: “I’m sticking near the Festival. Just too many good panels to attend.”


Friday, August 11, 2017

Mississippi’s Literary and Cultural Legacy: Part I


 In preparation for the 2017 Mississippi Book Festival, we asked our authors to answer a few questions about our state’s literary and cultural legacy. This is the first of three blogs posts in which we share their responses. Keep reading to find out their book recommendations, organizational tips, and which books they think should be required by every citizen in the state. For a full list of panelists attending the Festival and the schedule of events, click here.

What are you reading right now?

Lorie Watkins, editor of A Literary History of Mississippi: “I read several books at once. Right now, I’m re-reading William Faulkner’s The Town—it’s my favorite Faulkner. I’m also reading the final book in Greg Iles’s trilogy and A Man Called Ove before I watch the movie.”

Carter Dalton Lyon, author of Sanctuaries of Segregation: The Story of the Jackson Church Visit Campaign: “Since I inhabit the world of nonfiction so much during the school year, I tend to stick to fiction in the summer. So, I've been reading a lot of Graham Greene and going through Jack Kerouac’s canon.”

James F. Barnett Jr., author of The Natchez Indians: A History to 1735Mississippi’s American Indians, and Beyond Control: The Mississippi River’s New Channel to the Gulf of Mexico: “I’m reading two books published in the 1850s: Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The next book in my stack is Kafka by Robert Crumb and David Zane Mairowitz.”

Norma Watkins, author of The Last Resort: Taking the Mississippi Cure: “What am I reading? A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles: the story of a Russian aristocrat, sentenced after the revolution to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel. The message—and very much my own philosophy—is making the best of what life presents.”

W. Ralph Eubanks, author of The House at the End of the Road: The Story of Three Generations of an Interracial Family in the American South: “My mother died last month, which has led me to read Edwidge Danticat’s The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story. This book has made me think about the ways writers deal with death both in their work and from a personal perspective, since Danticat writes movingly about the life and death of her mother. I’m also reading Renata Adler’s Speedboat, which I started in my twenties but never finished. I’m loving reading its stream of consciousness first-person narrative, plus it has led me back to one of my favorite 1980s albums, Rattlesnakes by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. There is a song on the album called ‘Speedboat’ that I now realize is based on a scene from Adler’s novel.”

Susan Cushman, editor of the forthcoming Southern Writers on Writing:A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline and The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth-Century French Novels by Anka Muhlstein (I usually read more than one book at a time). Next up in the queue: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson and Thelonius Rising by Judith Richards. And you didn’t ask, but I just finished a wonderful book: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate.”

Charline R. McCord, coeditor of A Year in MississippiComing Home to Mississippi, Christmas Memories from MississippiGrowing Up in Mississippi, and Christmas Stories from Mississippi: “I just finished Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith and Camino Island by John Grisham. Just started The Angel Answer Book by Robert J. Morgan.”

Leif Anderson, author of Dancing with my Father: “Having just finished Edna Ferber’s engrossing novel, So Big, I have turned to lighter fare: British mystery writer Patricia Wentworth’s The Ivory Dagger.”

James G. Thomas, Jr., associate editor of The Mississippi Encyclopedia and coeditor of Conversations with Barry Hannah, Faulkner and History, Faulkner and Print Culture, and Faulkner and the Black Literatures of the Americas: “Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones and Eric Bleam’s The Last Season, a nonfiction book about a backcountry park ranger who goes missing in the High Sierra in California. Two very different books.”

Carolyn J. Brown, author of A Daring Life: A Biography of Eudora Welty, Song of My Life: A Biography of Margaret Walker, and The Artist’s Sketch: A Biography of Painter Kate Freeman Clark: “I just finished the two ‘hot’ summer books: John Grisham’s Camino Island and J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.”

Curtis Wilkie, author of Assassins, Eccentrics, Politicians, and Other Persons of Interest: Fifty Pieces from the Road: Hue by Mark Bowden and Miss Jane by Brad Watson”

Panny Mayfield, author of Live from the Mississippi Delta: “The tall bookshelf in my 1894-era house with 15-foot ceilings needs organization. It includes Gabriel Garcia Marquez to James Lee Burke and Tony Hillerman. Currently, I am reading Daniel Silva's latest book, House of Spies.”

William R. Ferris, author of Mule Trader: Ray Lum's Tales of Horses, Mules, and Men, editor of Afro-American Folk Art and Crafts, and coeditor of Folk Music and Modern Sound:Life Below Sea Level by Alice Owens Johnson”

Odie Lindsey, associate editor of The Mississippi Encyclopedia: Immigrant Model by Mihaela Moscaliuc and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. I’m also re-reading Brad Watson’s extraordinary Miss Jane.”

How do you organize your bookshelf?

Lorie Watkins: “I don’t have one. I lost my entire library in the January tornado that hit the campus of William Carey in Hattiesburg. It was organized alphabetically by author and title once, and I’m hopeful that it will be again.”

James F. Barnett Jr.: “My bookshelves are not organized. I have a lot of books and somehow manage to find what I’m looking for.”

Norma Watkins: “I began organizing my bookshelves with alphabetization by author, but books overwhelmed their shelves, and my present system can best be described as stacks.”

W. Ralph Eubanks: “I generally organize my bookshelf by genre, but as an itinerant professor these days—I’ll be teaching at Ole Miss this fall and spring—the books I have with me are either related to my classes or my writing, so there is no real organization to the books I keep with me while I am in Mississippi.”

Susan Cushman: “I have many bookshelves. The two largest ones, with four shelves, each, are organized by genre: spirituality, poetry, memoir, fiction, art, books on the craft of writing, self-help, etc. The others throughout our house are not organized. At. All. So many books, so little room!”

Charline R. McCord: “Bookshelf? Do closets also count? I organize alphabetically by author last name. Signed books have their very own closet space.”

Leif Anderson: “Minimally. . . . Art books are mostly together, as are books on writing and on dance. Books on France or novels taking place in France are together. The others are rather scattered about, but I can usually find what I want.”

James G. Thomas, Jr.: “I don’t. To me, it’s more fun to peruse my library that way. I never know what I’ll end up reading next.”

Carolyn J. Brown: “I wish my books were better organized. Hardbacks are in the living room, and paperbacks are in my bedroom. Nothing is alphabetized. I would love to alphabetize and put first editions and signed books all together, but my collection is large and the task overwhelms me!”

Curtis Wilkie: “My bookshelves are disorganized.”

William R. Ferris: “By author”

Odie Lindsey: “I place books beside each other until the shelf is full, then stack the rest on top.”
                                                                                                                                                                                       
What book should be required reading for everyone in the state of Mississippi?

Lorie Watkins: “Well, my A Literary History of Mississippi, of course, haha! The Mississippi books that changed my life were Faulkner’s works and Richard Wright’s Black Boy. I also recently read and really connected to J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy—even though it’s not about the state, it resonated. Finally, I think every Mississippian should read Natasha Trethewey’s poetry. Native Guard changed my life.”

Carter Dalton Lyon: “I've been assigning Anne Moody's Coming of Age in Mississippi to my students in Memphis for years, and I certainly think it's worthy of being on any required reading list for Mississippians. It's eye-opening, it's heartbreaking, and it's timely.”

James F. Barnett Jr.:A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America by James Meredith and William Doyle”

W. Ralph Eubanks: “That’s a tough one. I’m not sure there is one book, but I do think that every Mississippian should read the work of Richard Wright. While some may think his brand of social realism is dated, after teaching Black Boy and Native Son I still find real power in his work, particularly today.”

Susan Cushman: “This is a difficult one. There are books of significant historical importance (and popularity) like To Kill a Mockingbird, of course. And, more contemporary but equally important ones like A Time to Kill. These are both important for their impact on our continuing struggle with racial equality. More currently, my first cousin (aren’t we all related here in Mississippi?) John Jones edited a wonderful book (published by University Press of Mississippi) about the fallout following the forced integration in the Jackson public schools in 1970, called Lines Were Drawn. This happened to the classes immediately following mine (Murrah High School class of 1969), and the results changed the landscape of public education in Jackson forever. Jones and others who worked with him on the book interviewed many students and a few teachers about what happened and their response to it. I think it’s an important read.”

Charline R. McCord: “Willie Morris’s very eloquent North Toward Home, and after that anything else by Morris. He is our finest nonfiction writer to date.”

Leif Anderson: “What came instantly to mind was Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Perhaps this is somewhat unrealistic. Everyone? So I think I will put my mother’s book here as well: Approaching the Magic Hour.”

James G. Thomas, Jr.: “Why, The Mississippi Encyclopedia, of course.”

Carolyn J. Brown: “Great question! I cannot pick just one, but if forced I would say Eudora Welty’s first collection of short stories, A Curtain of Green.”

Curtis Wilkie: Mississippi: The Closed Society, James Silver’s timeless account of how bad we were and political forces we still should fear.”

Panny Mayfield: “Every Mississippian should read the plays of Tennessee Williams. They are still being performed globally. Hundreds of Mississippi high school students are familiar with his works via the festival’s elite acting competition, where they perform monologues and entire scenes from his plays, and winners earn cash prizes for their school drama departments.”

William R. Ferris:Black Boy by Richard Wright”

Odie Lindsey:The Mississippi Encyclopedia, of course!”







Tuesday, August 1, 2017

BOOKFRIENDS Book Raffle


In honor of the Mississippi Book Festival and the state Bicentennial, BOOKFRIENDS of the University Press of Mississippi is sponsoring a book raffle!

Purchase a $20 ticket for a chance to win a grand prize of fifty books from the University Press of Mississippi. The prize includes The Mississippi Encyclopedia, the complete Heritage of Mississippi Series, and such special items as limited edition copies of Dunlap by William Dunlap; Birds by Walter Anderson; and My Mississippi by Willie Morris, with photographs by David Rae Morris, as well as autographed copies of Witnessing by Ellen Douglas; One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place by Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown, with photographs by Langdon Clay; and more—with a total value of over $2,000!

Tickets will be sold through BOOKFRIENDS board members; on Thursday, August 17 from 5:30-8:00 pm at the Mississippi Bicentennial Celebration; and until 4:00 pm at the BOOKFRIENDS tent at the Mississippi Book Festival on Saturday, August 19. 

Pro tip: If you purchase or renew a BOOKFRIENDS membership at the Mississippi Bicentennial Celebration or at the BOOKFRIENDS tent at the Mississippi Book Festival, you are automatically entered into the raffle for a single chance to win!

See below for the official rules and the complete list of books included in the prize. For more information on purchasing a ticket, see your local Bookfriend or contact University Press of Mississippi at 601-432-6205 or press@ihl.state.ms.us.


This raffle is conducted according to the rules of the state of Mississippi.

All raffle proceeds will support BOOKFRIENDS of the University Press of Mississippi, a 501(c)(3) organization.

Entrants will purchase a $20 ticket for a single chance to win. Entrants may enter as many times as they wish.

Entries will be placed into a drum and blindly drawn at random. The winner will be announced at the close of the Mississippi Encyclopedia panel, 4–5 p.m. on Saturday, August 19, 2017, at the Mississippi Book Festival in Jackson, Mississippi.

One winner will be selected.

The winner is not required to be present at the drawing to win. The winner must arrange to pick up the prize from the University Press of Mississippi offices in Jackson, Mississippi.

Tickets will be sold through BOOKFRIENDS board members; on Thursday, August 17, from 5:30–8:00 p.m. at the Mississippi Bicentennial Celebration; and until 4 p.m. at the BOOKFRIENDS tent at the Mississippi Book Festival in Jackson, Mississippi, on Saturday, August 19.

Anyone who purchases a BOOKFRIENDS membership on Thursday, August 17, at the Mississippi Bicentennial Celebration or prior to 4 p.m. on Saturday, August 19, at the BOOKFRIENDS tent at the Mississippi Book Festival will be entered automatically into the raffle for a single chance to win.

The single prize includes fifty books from the University Press of Mississippi, including The Mississippi Encyclopedia, the complete Heritage of Mississippi Series, and such special items as limited edition copies of Dunlap by William Dunlap; Birds by Walter Anderson; and My Mississippi by Willie Morris, with photographs by David Rae Morris, as well as autographed copies of Witnessing by Ellen Douglas; One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place by Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown, with photographs by Langdon Clay; and more! A complete list of the books included in the prize is below:



         1.      The Mississippi Encyclopedia
Ted Ownby and Charles Reagan Wilson, senior editors
Ann J. Abadie, Odie Lindsey, and James G. Thomas, Jr., associate editors
2.      Dunlap (limited edition, numbered, signed)
William Dunlap
Essay by J. Richard Gruber
Foreword by Julia Reed
3.      Birds (limited edition, numbered)
Walter Anderson
Introductory Essay by Mary Anderson Pickard
4.      My Mississippi (limited edition, numbered)
Willie Morris
Photographs by David Rae Morris
5.      Witnessing (signed)
Ellen Douglas
6.      One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place (signed)
Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown
Photographs by Langdon Clay
7.      Great Houses of Mississippi (signed)
Text by Mary Carol Miller
Photographs by Mary Rose Carter
8.      Fortune’s Favorite Child: The Uneasy 
      Life of Walter Anderson (signed)
Christopher Maurer
9.      The Artist’s Sketch: A Biography 
       of Painter Kate Freeman Clark (signed)
Carolyn J. Brown
10.  A Daring Life: A Biography of Eudora Welty (signed)
Carolyn J. Brown
11.  Song of My Life: A Biography of Margaret 
      Walker (signed)
Carolyn J. Brown
12.  Myself and the World: A Biography 
      of William Faulkner (signed)
Robert W. Hamblin
13.  The Mississippi Cookbook
Compiled and edited by the Home Economics Division of the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service
With a new foreword by Martha Hall Foose
14.  George Ohr: Sophisticate and Rube
Ellen J. Lippert
15.  A Year in Mississippi
Edited by Charline R. McCord and Judy H. Tucker
Foreword by Malcolm White
16.  Christmas Stories from Mississippi
Edited by Judy H. Tucker and Charline R. McCord
Illustrations by Wyatt Waters
17.  Growing Up in Mississippi
Edited by Judy H. Tucker and Charline R. McCord
Foreword by Richard Ford
18.  Willie: The Life of Willie Morris
Teresa Nicholas
19.  The Land of Rowan Oak: An Exploration of Faulkner’s Natural World
Ed Croom
Afterword by Donald M. Kartiganer
20.  Last Barriers: Photographs of Wilderness in the Gulf Islands National Seashore
Photographs by Donald Muir Bradburn
21.  Wildflowers of Mississippi
Stephen L. Timme
22.  Live from the Mississippi Delta
Panny Flautt Mayfield
23.  Juke Joint: Photographs
Birney Imes
Introductory Essay by Richard Ford
24.  Mississippi John Hurt: His Life, His Times, His Blues
Philip R. Ratcliffe
Foreword by Mary Frances Hurt Wright
25.  Mississippi Fiddle Tunes and Songs from the 1930s
Harry Bolick and Stephen T. Austin
26.  Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues, Third Edition
Steve Cheseborough
27.  Touring Literary Mississippi
Patti Carr Black and Marion Barnwell
28.  David L. Jordan: From the Mississippi Cotton Fields to the State Senate, A Memoir
David L. Jordan with Robert L. Jenkins
Foreword by Mike Espy
29.  William F. Winter and the New Mississippi: A Biography
Charles C. Bolton
30.  Once in a Lifetime: Reflections of a Mississippi First Lady
Elise Varner Winter
Edited by JoAnne Prichard Morris
31.  America’s Great Storm: Leading through Hurricane Katrina
Haley Barbour with Jere Nash
Foreword by Ricky Mathews
32.  Katrina: Mississippi Women Remember
Photography by Melody Golding
Edited by Sally Pfister
33.  The Courting of Marcus Dupree
Willie Morris
34.  Photographs
Eudora Welty
35.  Delta Land
Photographs by Maude Schuyler Clay
36.  A New History of Mississippi
Dennis J. Mitchell
37.  Mississippi: A Documentary History
Edited by Bradley G. Bond
38.  A Place Called Mississippi: Collective Narratives
Edited by Marion Barnwell
39.  The Geology of Mississippi
David T. Dockery III and David E. Thompson
Foreword by Governor Phil Bryant
40.  Mississippi Archaeology Q & A
Evan Peacock
41.  Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power, 1976–2008, Second Edition
Jere Nash and Andy Taggart
Foreword by John Grisham
42.  Mississippi Entrepreneurs
Polly Dement
43.  Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement
Devery S. Anderson
Foreword by Julian Bond
With a new preface by the author


Heritage of Mississippi Series
44.  A Literary History of Mississippi
Edited by Lorie Watkins
45.  Mississippi’s American Indians
James F. Barnett Jr.
46.  The Civil War in Mississippi: Major Campaigns and Battles
Michael B. Ballard
47.  Mississippi in the Civil War: The Home Front
Timothy B. Smith
48.  Rednecks, Redeemers, and Race: Mississippi after Reconstruction, 1877–1917
Stephen Cresswell
49.  Religion in Mississippi
Randy J. Sparks
50.  Art in Mississippi, 1720–1980
Patti Carr Black

Prize value is $2,156


Be sure to follow us on social media here <https://www.facebook.com/upmiss/> and here <https://twitter.com/upmiss?lang=en> for updates and news leading up to the Bicentennial Celebration. We can’t wait to see you there!




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