Tomorrow’s the big day! In preparation for the 2018 Mississippi Book Festival, we asked our authors to answer some 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. For a full list of panelists attending the Festival and the schedule of events, click here.
Why is it important that the state have a book festival? What are your thoughts about Mississippi’s literary and cultural legacy? Why does literature and engagement with the arts matter?
William Dunlap, author of Dunlap: “Language is a birthright for Mississippians. The infinitely quotable William Faulkner once said, ‘Mississippians don’t read books, they write them.’ I hope for the sake of Robert St. John, Wyatt Waters, and moi (amongst others) that that is not all together true. As for Mississippi’s literary and cultural legacy, the record speaks for itself.”
Pearl Amelia McHaney, editor of Occasions: Selected Writings, Eudora Welty as Photographer, and A Writer's Eye: Collected Book Reviews, and author of A Tyrannous Eye: Eudora Welty's Nonfiction and Photographs: “Reading opens windows and doors to other worlds, other people, to the past and the future. Mississippi has an abundance of talent in the arts and humanities, and the Mississippi Book Festival puts this on display in ways that offer experiences to learn about ideas new and/or different from our own. I believe that literature—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama—and art begin conversations that can lead to developing empathy so that we can understand others’ points of view. Hearing an author or seeing an artist at work within a community gathered just for those moments creates auditory and visual memories that can be taken ‘home’ and brought back to life at another time and place.”
Malcolm White, author of The Artful Evolution of Hal & Mal’s: “Mississippi commands a significant position at the American cultural landscape. Writers and literary figures play an important role in Mississippi identity and in our collective story. Engagement in the arts is both our path forward and our greatest asset. The Mississippi Story is our ticket to success and identity—to not embrace and engage is cultural and economic self-elimination.”
Ginger Williams Cook, illustrator of The Artful Evolution of Hal & Mal’s: “The Mississippi Book Festival has been instrumental in showing the world that our state isn’t just known for its literary history because our literary present is on fire. We are a powerhouse for contemporary authors snagging National Book Awards and earning ranks on the New York Times Bestsellers Lists, not to mention how many bestselling authors are finishing a book tour and turning around to sign Hollywood movie rights. The book festival is giving well-deserved ‘rock star status’ to our beloved authors working and living in Mississippi and those that still call it ‘home.’”
Lisa M. Corrigan, author of Prison Power: How Prison Influenced the Movement for Black Liberation: “The literary arts matter because art is our heritage. It is what we reveal about ourselves and about others as a way of building culture. It creates the tapestry of our national vision. And it certainly doesn't hurt that art is a strong and smart public investment that pays back dividends through jobs and revitalizations programs and hobbies that help sustain healthy communities from infants through the elderly, especially in the South.”
Timothy T. Isbell, author of The Mississippi Gulf Coast, Gettysburg: Sentinels of Stone, Shiloh and Corinth: Sentinels of Stone, and Vicksburg: Sentinels of Stone: “For me, there is no greater fraternity in which to be a member than to call one’s self a Mississippi author. For one state to claim such literary giants as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Willie Morris, Jesmyn Ward, Shelby Foote and others, is just awe inspiring. I’m extremely honored to be a small part of the Mississippi author fraternity. The festival is so important because it allows authors to connect with readers and fellow authors and to serve as positive examples of some of the best Mississippi has to offer. The giants in literature and the arts should be celebrated and promoted. The book festival serves as a great vehicle to promote authors, their work, and the state of Mississippi to the world.”
Ellen B. Meacham, author of Delta Epiphany: Robert F. Kennedy in Mississippi: “I had an editor who said routinely that, if it’s done right, a newspaper is a conversation a community has with itself. Along those lines, I think, at their best, arts and letters are also a kind of conversation, one that a community or place has with its past and its imagination. It’s how we know we are not alone.”
David G. Sansing, author of A History of the Mississippi Governor's Mansion, Making Haste Slowly: The Troubled History of Higher Education in Mississippi, and The University of Mississippi: A Sesquicentennial History: “The Mississippi Book Festival illuminates the fact that Mississippi has one of the highest rates of illiteracy in America but has more Pulitzer Prize winners per square acre than any other state in the Union. Books matter because they tell us about The Other Mississippi.”
Anne Farris Rosen, editor of Deep South Dispatch: Memoir of a Civil Rights Journalist: “There are few other places more significant and appropriate than Mississippi to be hosting a book festival. The culture and history of storytelling in Mississippi is unique, and the state has produced a litany of great writers who have captured the quixotic nature of its people and landscape.”
Susan Cushman, editor of Southern Writers on Writing: “Because it has birthed more successful authors than any other state in the country! And it's an opportunity to show off our literary treasury to the rest of the country.
Because it's the soul of the community, even the nation. As Madeleine L'engle said, ‘The first people a dictator puts in jail after a coup are the writers, the teachers, the librarians—because these people are dangerous. They have enough vocabulary to recognize injustice and to speak out loudly about it. Let us have the courage to go on being dangerous people.’”
Catherine Egley Waggoner, coauthor of Realizing Our Place: Real Southern Women in a Mythologized Land: “Mississippi has such a rich literary and cultural legacy, born, I think, from her place as a land of extremes. There's no better way to understand the best (and worst) of the South than to see it through the eyes of our writers, photographers, and artists. And, to raise the stakes, one cannot really understand the United States without first ‘getting’ the South. So, having a book festival in Mississippi does more than just provide good P.R. for our often-misunderstood state; it also contributes to our understanding of our national identity as ‘Americans.’”