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JACK WEATHERLY — Mississippi Book Festival spills over in its second year

JACK WEATHERLY

JACK WEATHERLY

Questions or complaints about the second annual Mississippi Book Festival?

Few, most likely, except from those who arrived to find that one of 32 sessions was full. Or two, in my case.

Which is not surprising with a turnout of about 6,400, compared with 3,700 last year in the marbled political halls of the state Capitol and the sanctified places of Galloway Memorial Methodist Church next door.

Those are the kind of problems that arise from the success of the event, which spilled out across the lovely, expansive tree-shaded grounds of the Capitol – hence Mississippi’s Literary Lawn Party.

Something for everyone, so to speak, but sometimes you had to make hard choices.

My wife and I had to part ways for the first session – she chose Southern Cooking and came back with with a report long on ripostes from Robert St. John and Julia Reed rather than recipes.

Mine was Historical Fiction, from which I came away wondering if such writing is a limitation or an opportunity. Or exactly what it is, which may be a good way to approach it.

Our first joint session was about Southern Culture.

What could go better with panel discussion among creative Southerners than a Possum Cocktail?

Such was the case in the sanctuary of Galloway Memorial Methodist Church.

Thank God it was a Saturday, not a Sunday.

And this particular symposium – a classical term meaning that people are drinking from the same pitcher and more or less talking about the same topic – was on what sets us apart from the rest of the world.

Some people are worried that the South is losing its identity. Others hope it will become the Midwest as the ultimate punishment of Reconstruction.

But Southerners talking about the South perpetuates the South, a tale told by an idiot (humanity) who never knows when to stop, as Lord Faulkner said.

The moderator of this particular session was the Southern Hostess with the Mostest (the Nathan Bedford Forrest of soirees!), Miss Julia.

She is the daughter of the founder of the modern Republican Party in Mississippi, Clark Reed.

Julia is the Leader of the Cocktail Party.

Her latest book is “Julia Reed’s South: Spirited Entertaining and High-Style Fun All Year Long.”

She and humorist Roy Blount Jr. and acclaimed artist Bill Dunlap were sipping the aforementioned drink as they examined the marsupial, which rivals the warthog as the world’s ugliest animal.

Seems there are possum beauty contests, but Blount says there is no talent competition, only inherent pulchritude enhanced by a mere pre-contest shampoo.

Other than that, “a well-bred possum knows how to act,” said the Georgia native, whose latest book is “Save Room for Pie.”

And in case you haven’t tasted possum, Dunlap, who has ventured into writing fiction with a thin volume called “Short, Mean Fiction,” likened it to raccoon.

* * *

White-haired bibliophiles munched on energy bars as they awaited the memoirs session in the much smaller Galloway Foundery, whose openness, fortunately, allows for overflowing.

Ellen Gilchrist, Mississippi native and writer of prize-winning fiction, whose latest book, “Things Like the Truth: Out of My Later Years” (University Press of Mississippi), a collection of reminiscences, was not able to attend.

But the panel took up the slack, thank you.

Richard Grant, the British transplant to Jackson – whose “Dispatches From Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta,” a New York Times and Clarion-Ledger best seller and winner of the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize for its hilarious and riveting spot-on portraits and vignettes — more than held  his own in the humor department.

Harrison Scott Key ripped the audience with his stand-up delivery (though he was seated) when he wasn’t getting the same result from reading his memoir, “The World’s Largest Man.”

Moderator Carolyn Brown – who has written biographies of Eudora Welty and Margaret Alexander – announced for the first time publicly that “Largest Man” is a finalist in the Thurber Prize for American Humor.

Chris Offutt, a memoirist, novelist and screenwriter, chose his “My Father, the Pornographer” to discuss. (By the way, the cover on one of his other books shows him holding an apparently living possum.)

Not to be outdone by wunderkind Key, who grew up in Mississippi, Offutt, who teaches at Ole Miss, dials up his mom on his smart phone, holds it to the microphone and asks her what it was like to be married to the King of Smut.

It appeared that the two men were getting into a good-natured top-this mode. All to the benefit of the listeners, who were hanging on every hook.

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Jack Weatherly at jack.weatherly@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.

 

 

About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.

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