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!