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Lemuria celebrating 30 years of great readings

Jackson literary landmark landing A-list authors

Jackson — Next week, the Capital City will be abuzz when General Tommy Franks, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Central Command from 2000 to 2003, and author of the best-selling autobiography “American Soldier,” signs books at Lemuria Bookstore (September 21, 4:30 p.m.)

Franks is among the A-list celebrities that have made John Evan’s independent bookstore’s famous “fanny seat” a must-stop place on their whirlwind book tours. This month, Lemuria, located west of Interstate 55 between Meadowbrook Road and Northside Drive, celebrates its 30th anniversary, a feat that few booksellers not affiliated with major chains have accomplished.

“It’s amazing,” said Evans. “But we keep plugging along.”

Over the years, Evans has endeared himself to writers like John Grisham by helping sell their works of art when others shunned them. As a courtesy, Grisham, now the best-selling author of 16 books, many of which have been made into movies, always drops by Lemuria when a new book debuts. Last February when “The King of Torts” debuted, Lemuria sold more than 2,000 copies. At 1 p.m. the day before the signing, the first autograph-seeker started the line that snaked around Banner Hall.

“It was an incredible event,” said Bill Kehoe, public relations director for Lemuria, “but then so are many others. For example, we’re now seeing a growing number of sweet potato queen wannabes drop by our store to see Jill Connor Brown (author of ‘The Sweet Potato Queens’).”

Last month, Lemuria hosted the “Blue Moon Café” national kickoff event celebrating the third installment of a series edited by Sonny Brewer, owner of an Alabama bookstore and director of the annual literary event Southern Writers Reading. More than 30 writers participated in the “Literary Woodstock” weekend, reading works from the eclectic collection of short stories, poetry and nonfiction.

“It was a terrific experience,” said Kehoe. “The ‘Blue Moon’ event is growing to be one of the biggest annual literary events in the south.”

Four years ago, Evans expanded Lemuria’s retail space by 1,300 square feet. Last year, he acquired the building north of Banner Hall, previously occupied by the Mississippi Restaurant Association, to use as a lounge for literary events. He renovated the building to complement Lemuria’s design, lined the walls with first edition books, and added a deck before opening last April.

“We used to hold our literary readings in the beer bar upstairs, which was part of MusiQuarium Lounge, but the bar closed,” explained Kehoe. “We still had signings in the store, and we tried to have readings in the store, but it was too crowded and we didn’t have a good enough sound system.

“Developing this virtual retail space is the most significant thing Lemuria has done lately. To keep in line with what we had going on at MusiQuarium, we have a beer license so customers and readers can enjoy a literary event and a $1 beer on the deck.”

The first event held in the LemuriaBooks.com building was an hour-long nationally televised round table discussion featuring Mississippi writers Nevada Barr, Greg Isles and Grisham, and hosted by Gene Edwards for Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

“That program recently won a regional Emmy award,” said Kehoe. “Since then, Mississippi ETV has filmed several other programs in the literary series at our place.”

Evans has expanded the roles of key personnel. Kehoe, for example, is focusing on community outreach efforts by calling on schools, businesses and government entities, reading organizations and teacher groups to increase the awareness of the independent bookstore in the community.

“We’re reaching out for that local support and asking that local expenditures for literature be kept here so that Mississippi’s money stays in Mississippi,” said Kehoe. “We’re ready to go at least another 30 years.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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