The Mississippi Encyclopedia to Be Published in May
Work on a Center project that began in 2003 is at long last winding up. The Mississippi Encyclopedia—a mammoth collaboration that includes over 1,600 entries, 1,451 pages, and features more than 700 scholars who wrote entries on every county, every governor, and numerous musicians, writers, artists, and activists—will be in print and for sale this May. This is the first encyclopedic treatment of the state since 1907.
The volume will appeal to anyone who wants to know more about Mississippi and the people who call it home. It will be especially helpful to students, teachers, and scholars researching, writing about, or otherwise discovering the state, past and present.
The Mississippi Encyclopedia is the successful result of numerous collaborations—between the University Press of Mississippi and the Center for the Southern Culture, among the numerous supporters who contributed to or helped organize the project, among the thirty topic editors from around the state and far beyond it, and among the authors, an intriguing mixture of scholars. The Mississippi Humanities Council and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History helped a great deal, and the University of Mississippi History Department and Law School joined the Southern Studies program in encouraging advanced students to write for the project. Early support came from the University of Mississippi and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Each entry in The Mississippi Encyclopedia provides an authoritative but accessible introduction to the topic discussed. It also features long essays on agriculture, archaeology, the civil rights movement, the Civil War, contemporary issues, drama, education, the environment, ethnicity, fiction, folklife, foodways, geography, industry and industrial workers, law, medicine, music, myths and representations, Native Americans, nonfiction, poetry, politics and government, the press, religion, social and economic history, sports, and visual art.
The Mississippi Encyclopedia includes solid, clear information contained in a single volume, offering with clarity and scholarship a breadth of topics unavailable anywhere else. “We hope everyone who picks up the book will find surprises,” said coeditor Ted Ownby. “Any good encyclopedia, and we think this one is exceptionally good, has detailed, thorough, smart information on topics people want to find. So, from a journalist or traveler to a scholar or teacher to a kid doing a school project, everyone should find ways to use the book. But holding it in their hands, they should find all sorts of things they hadn’t thought to look up. We think it’s revealing that the work starts with ‘Abdul-Rauf, Mahmoud (Chris Jackson)’ and ends with ‘Ziglar, Zig,’ and both of those entries seem likely to surprise a lot of readers.”
Senior editors Ted Ownby and Charles Reagan Wilson, and associate editor Ann Abadie, began work on the project when Wilson was Center director. “Seetha Srinivasan, then the director of the University Press of Mississippi, approached the Center about editing a state encyclopedia as other states were beginning to do,” said Wilson. “The Center’s advisory committee was supportive, and we began this long effort, which is now coming to fruition.”
Odie Lindsey, who now teaches at Vanderbilt University and is the author of We Come to Our Senses and other works of fiction, began working on the project as managing editor in 2006. James G. Thomas, Jr., the Center’s associate director for publications, was managing editor of the Center’s New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture from 2003 to 2013. Before that project ended, he began helping The Mississippi Encyclopedia project.
Now that editorial work on The Mississippi Encyclopedia has wrapped up, the Center is working with the University Press of Mississippi to plan a number of events to publicize and discuss the book. Events will commence in Oxford in May, with local bookstore Square Books hosting. Other already-planned events include a special celebration just prior to the Mississippi Book Festival weekend in Jackson and visits to independent bookstores across the state. Those wanting to make suggestions or extend invitations can write to Ted Ownby via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.