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.”