Oxford Conference for the Book Celebrates Milestone Year

Event’s 25th edition features readings, panel discussions and lectures

OXFORD, Miss. – For a quarter of a century, poets, novelists, journalists and scholars have gathered at the University of Mississippi to celebrate the written word. This year’s milestone event again brings people together from far and wide to celebrate the 25th annual Oxford Conference for the Book.

The three-day event, hosted March 21-23 by the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture and Oxford business Square Books, is free and open to the public with readings, panel discussions and lectures by notable writers, first-time novelists and celebrated academics.

Events will take place across the Ole Miss campus and at various sites in Oxford, with daily sessions slated for the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics and at Southside Gallery. The closing day’s panels take place in the historic Lafayette County Courthouse.

“The fact that this is the 25th year for the Oxford Conference for the Book proves its longevity and shows how much people really support authors,” said James G. Thomas Jr., conference director. “I’m also excited to include a number of local writers this year, which I think showcases the talent we have at our back door.”

This year, the conference will begin with a pre-conference reading and book signing by Mississippi novelist Michael Farris Smith. His newest book, “The Fighter,” will launch the day before the conference begins, and conferees are encouraged to attend this event at Off Square Books at 5 p.m. March 20.

After 25 years, the conference has become a small gem in Mississippi’s great literary crown, said Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books.

“The conference has a unique and colorful history, having brought so many notable American novelists, poets, editors, publishers, scholars, booksellers, literary agents and children’s authors to a public audience here in the Oxford-University of Mississippi community,” Howorth said. “I’m grateful to have had the pleasure and distinction of working with (conference founder) Ann Abadie and many other active supporters, both on campus and in town.”

Beginning the conference at 11 a.m. March 21, Wayne A. Wiegand and Shirley Wiegand, authors of “The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South: Civil Rights and Local Activism,” will give the keynote lecture on their book after a free luncheon sponsored by the Friends of the Library in the Faulkner Room in the Department of Archives and Special Collections in the J.D. Williams Library. The lunch is free, but reservations are appreciated.

Besides novelists and library historians, this year’s participants include political historians, historians, sociologists and anthropologists, literary critics and cultural studies scholars, poets, essayists and memoirists, literature scholars, editors and publishers, and a wildlife biologist. Conference panels, sessions, and readings will explore a wide range of topics, such as political history, the Latino experience in the South, the Bohemian South, the fight in Tennessee to ratify the constitutional amendment that granted women voting rights, radical foodways, and Affrilachian poets and their legacy.

On Wednesday (March 21) and Friday (March 23), book signings for that day’s authors are at Off Square Books, with Thursday’s (March 22) signing after “Thacker Mountain Radio” at Square Books.

“I’m eager to hear Ann Beattie talk about Memphian Peter Taylor and his short stories because it will be one master of the short story discussing another master of the short story,” Thomas said. “Additionally, world-renowned British writer Martin Amis, who will be on ‘Thacker Mountain Radio’ and at a Friday session at 1:15 p.m., will showcase his talents.”

The conference also hosts a number of special events. Besides the keynote luncheon, Wednesday features Cathy Shropshire, past director of the Mississippi Wildlife Federation, in a biographical performance as Fannye Cook, Mississippi’s pioneering conservationist. The session is at 1:30 p.m. at the Overby Center.

On Thursday, the University Press of Mississippi will engage students in a session on “Could Publishing Be in My Future? Publishing as a Career” at noon in Barnard Observatory. And poets/flash memoirists Beth Ann Fennelly, Marcus Wicker, Jenny Browne and Jennifer Tseng will give a reading at 4:30 p.m. at Southside Gallery.

Fennelly, UM professor of English and Mississippi’s poet laureate, said she is proud to be part of the conference’s 25th year because it adds so much to the literary community of Oxford and provides opportunities for students to interact with our country’s most vital writers.

“I love that the book conference is truly a ‘town and gown’ event and even nudges students off campus to events in our community,” Fennelly said. “For example, this year I’m bringing my grad class in hybrid literature to see Jennifer Tseng read her hybrid flash pieces at the poetry panel at Southside Gallery and to the library to hear Jenny Browne’s lecture.

“I’m bringing my undergrads in my Contemporary American Poetry class to several events, including an informational session the University Press of Mississippi is hosting for students who might choose publishing as a career. Also, the poet Marcus Wicker, a professor at Rhodes, will visit my classroom for a Q-and-A.”

The Book Conference Authors Party, held Wednesday evening at the historic Barksdale-Isom House and cohosted this year by the Friends of the J.D. Williams Library, is a lively fundraiser with food, drinks, music and conversation between fellow conference attendees and guest writers. Tickets are $50, and all reservations can be made online on the conference website or by calling 662-915-3374.

As in years past, “Thacker Mountain Radio” will host a special Oxford Conference for the Book show at Off Square Books. The show, with conference authors and visiting musicians, begins at 6 p.m. Thursday.

At noon Friday, the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library will host a poetry talk and lunch with poet Jenny Browne. Both the lunch and talk are free, but reservations are required. Reservations can be made at the conference website.

The 2018 Children’s Book Festival, held in conjunction with the Oxford Conference for the Book, is set for March 22 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for Performing Arts, with more than 1,200 first- and fifth-graders from the Oxford and Lafayette County schools in attendance. Matt De La Pena will talk to the first-graders about his book “Last Stop on Market Street” at 9 a.m., and with the fifth-graders about his book “A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis” at 10:30 a.m.

The Lafayette County Literacy Council sponsors the first-grade program and the Junior Auxiliary of Oxford sponsors the fifth-grade program. All 1,200 children get their own copy of each book.

The Oxford Conference for the Book is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Square Books, the Lafayette County Literacy Council, J.D. Williams Library, Friends of the J.D. Williams Library, the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, the John and Renée Grisham Visiting Writers Fund, Junior Auxiliary of Oxford and the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library.

The conference is partially funded by the university, a contribution from the R&B Feder Foundation for the Beaux Arts, a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council and promotional support from Visit Oxford.

To learn more about the guest authors, visit http://www.oxfordconferenceforthebook.com and the conference’s Facebook page. Register for special events on the conference website or by contacting conference director James G. Thomas Jr. at 662-915-3374 or by email at jgthomas@olemiss.edu.

Written By Rebecca Lauck Cleary