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JACK WEATHERLY — Book festival brings together thousands for solitary passions

JACK WEATHERLY

The Mississippi Book Festival is held a week before the thunder of college football season just about drowns out everything else that is good in the state.

Thousands packed the rooms of the state Capitol on Saturday for the third annual event celebrating the solitary passions of writing and reading.

The sounds of music and smells of cooking emanating from the encampment of white pavilions where authors signed and sold their creations were spread by a breeze suggesting that rain was again in the offing.

But the showers held off and nature served to promote the “literary lawn party” with its 41 indoor events – up from 32 last year – mostly panel discussions, not including those for children.

Organizers said in an email that “a little more than 6,400 people attended the . . . panels and activities on Saturday.  Another 2,000 students participated in festival events on Friday with children and teen authors, with more than 1,100 books given away.”

John Evans, owner of Lemuria Books in Jackson, which stocked books by panelists and about whom they were discussing, said the festival had a broader draw this year – with families and cyclists and “a lot of people just checking it out” beneath the large trees of the Capitol lawn.

The event again proved you can’t get to one of these venues too early.

The line to the “Conversation With Richard Ford” had stretched from the room on the east end of the Capitol to beyond the Rotunda as time was at hand.

Asked if he thought he would be able to squeeze in, a young man toward the end of the long line said he hoped so with a smile.

Later, he was asked if he had made it to hear the Jackson native and Pulitzer prize-winning novelist. He said he had, even though he hadn’t read any of his books. “I just wanted to hear him.”

You know you’re in Mississippi when you see a man wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the North American Sniper Championship, held in Southaven.

And you realize Mississippi when you enter the world of Larry Brown, the Oxford fire captain whose gritty fictional portrayal of everyday people gained him international fame before his untimely death at 53.

Brown encouraged aspiring writers by telling of the endless rejections he endured.

One writer, Jerry File Jr., who can’t yet pack a room, packed his small satchel with copies of his first novel, “Meet John Black,” and said he had an appointment with someone about a second book.

Plans have already been set for the second edition of “The Mississippi Encyclopedia,” which was published in May after 14 years in the making.

The massive book, with more than 1,400 entries, will be published online next year, said Ted Ownby, senior co-editor with Charles Reagan Wilson.

Which means, for example, that a Confederate general who was left out when push came to shove will be restored, Ownby said.

Mississippi is, of course, celebrating its 200th anniversary of statehood this year, making the tome timely.

History married to fiction always stands to be timely.

And so I chose Historical Fiction over Richard Ford, both of which occurred at the same time, a factor that makes festivalgoers’ pick all the more important.

One of the Historical Fiction panelists was Steve Yates, assistant director and marketing director for the University Press of Mississippi.

His latest novel is “The Legend of the Albino Farm” set in his native Missouri Ozarks. He said that fiction can “fill in the blanks” in history.

Sometimes surprisingly so, he suggested. A descendant of the family on whom the book is based confirmed that its story line was pretty much matched the historical facts.

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

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