/Authors open the books on reality and fantasy at Mississippi festival

Authors open the books on reality and fantasy at Mississippi festival

The Mississippi Book Festival quickly illustrated its wide range of authors and books, from socially challenging fiction to stories that are geared towards children. Kate DiCamillo (author of Because of Winn-Dixie, and other young adult and children’s fiction) opened the festival on Saturday. She charmed her audience by asking them questions in Galloway United Methodist Church Sanctuary. Children and adults asked DiCamillo questions about craft and character. She replied in typical dryness. She answered questions about Flora & Ulysses by saying, “The story is about a squirrel who gets sucked into a vacuum cleaner, and comes out with superpowers and poetry.” Carlie Jones, described as DiCamillo’s biggest fan, drove from Trophy Club in Texas to hear DiCamillo speak. Jones, 11 years old, said that “The Miraculous Journey to Edward Tulane changed the course of my life!” “Her writing — she just really believes she is amazing.” Jesmyn Ward moderated at the Mississippi State Capitol a panel that featured contributors to The Fire This Time. This new collection examines contemporary race in America. This panel was one of 32 presented by the festival throughout that day. Ward, who is from DeLisle, Miss. and was the author of the opening chapter, spoke about how recent conflicts are changing the United States. Jones acknowledged the psychological trauma of following the protests in Ferguson and Baltimore on social media. However, Jones wanted to be there to witness these historic events. These images can stay with people long after they log off. She said that even after closing our browsers and laptops, we still need to get out into the world and navigate it. Kiese Laymon is a Jackson native who is a professor at the University of Mississippi. She said that it was important to discuss the book and its themes in both the Mississippi Capitol, and the former state Supreme Court chamber next to the Mississippi state state flag. Because the flag bears a Confederate symbol on its canton, it has been controversial for a long time. In 2015, the killings of African American churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. led to renewed criticism of Confederate iconography, including that of the Mississippi flag. Laymon stated, “Being a Jackson-born black artist, it is easy to talk about how messed-up that flag is.” Trent Lott, former U.S. Senate Majority leader, said that “everything I thought I understood about politics has been thrown out of the window this year.” This brought laughter from the audience. Lott was joined by Jon Meacham (a Pulitzer-prize winner author and executive editor at Random House), who co-hosted the panel “The Presidential Year”. Meacham wrote a biography about former President George H.W. Bush. Stuart Stevens, a Jackson native who was a political consultant and was a key aide to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. He served as moderator. (Meacham is a member the Mississippi Today Advisory Board. This much political star power attracted large crowds. A line of attendees gathered under the Capitol Rotunda about 20 minutes before the session began. Several hundred people couldn’t squeeze into the Old Supreme Court Room. Panelists spoke out about the perceived problems in the current presidential campaign, and the widespread lack of trust among the public toward Donald J. Trump or Hillary Clinton. Meacham compared Trump’s campaign to George H. W. Bush’s presidential campaign, and his time in office. He related a story about Bush entering a leukemia unit at a Polish children’s hospital and getting emotional. Instead of turning his back and letting the media capture the emotion, he decided to compose himself before turning to face the unsuspecting media. Meachem stated, “There are very few American politicians who wouldn’t have turned around at that moment.” Lott, referring to his own career experience, asked rhetorically: “What the hell are we really here for anymore, Republicans or Democrats?” Lott, clearly frustrated by the presidential election cycle, offered a solution. Lott stated, “To change it, it doesn’t take only one thing: One person that is willing to lead and step up.” “Whether it is a congressman like Paul Ryan, whom I have a lot faith in, or president. Bill Clinton is someone I admire and worked with all my life. … We spoke all the time and worked through many things. Were we able to agree? No. We pressed each other a lot. But we worked together.” The Foundry at Galloway was a standing room-only meeting where novelists explored the current state of Southern literature. Paulette Boudreaux, a Southern fiction author, said that “the real storyteller, which I am,” was born in Mississippi. “There’s a way we experience reality in the South in a remarkably different way,” Ed Tarkington, author of Southern literature, said that novels labeled Southern literature often have a following and support in South. Tarkenton stated that there is a cultural mafia made up of Southern literature. Willie Morris from Mississippi, whose seminal work North Toward Home was a bestseller, was one of the South’s most popular authors. Galloway United Methodist Church panelists — which included family members and friends — shared their memories of the famous writer, who was also a well-known prankster. JoAnne Morris, JoAnne’s widow, said that her husband always wrote about current politics. However, he always managed to write about sports. He wrote about Mississippi and its people. All of it was based on extensive research. He was a journalist and did many interviews. There was always irony.” Teresa Nicholas recently published Willie: A Life of Willie Morris. Jack Bales wrote Willie Morris. Bales stated that Willie’s essays are often under-appreciated. “Some of his greatest writing was in essays.” The authors sought to analyze nuance in Mississippi’s racial history and then reconcile that history with current events in the first of two afternoon sessions about Mississippi civil-rights history. W. Ralph Eubanks, Moderator, prompted authors discuss the “Mississippi Burning”, a theory that states that civil rights progress was only possible because of shadowy Klansmen wearing white robes and burning crosses. Crystal Sanders, author of A Chance for Change. Head Start & Mississippi’s Black Freedom Struggle said that resistance came from not only hard-line conservative senators like James Eastland and Theodore Bilbo, but also from people like U.S. Senator John Stennis who was more moderate than his contemporaries. Sanders’ criticism of Stennis was met with disapproval. He said that while the senator did not use racial-charged language, but he quietly opposed programs like Head Start, which is a pre-kindergarten program designed for low-income children. Jason Morgan Ward’s book Hanging Bridge: Racial Violence in America’s Civil Rights Century explores the history and lynchings in Mississippi. He said that the murders of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice, both black teens, were an echo of white mobs that lynched boys throughout the South. Ward stated that violence was always on the agenda during the 20th-century civil-rights era. He also spoke out about the current climate, saying, “Violence is still on our table.” Richard Grant, author of Dispatches From Pluto, shared his thoughts during the session on memoirs. Grant stated that he started writing memoir after he realized he didn’t know how to use a lot of the material he had. Barry Moser, an internationally acclaimed illustrator, turned to prose to write his memoir, We Were Brothers. This was because he wanted to explore the personal. Moser felt that the book’s meditation on race helped him to better understand himself as an artist. The panelists were asked to respond to being written about. Harrison Scott Key, author The World’s Largest Man, said that it was important to write with love. My students are taught to write the first draft with passion. The next should be written gracefully. You just have to learn as you go. Are you willing to sit at the Thanksgiving table with that person? That is the question I ask myself, and I often write it anyway.” Why write on the South? This was the question that panelists at Mississippi Book Festival’s closing session wrestled with. Many of them believe the Mississippi story is the answer. Richard Grant, a Brit, wrote a book about Holmes County and said that stories and experiences are infused with a Mississippiness. Grant stated, “I’m in story business and I’ve never seen stories quite like these stories. They never stop coming.” Rheta Grimsley, author of The Dogs Buried Under the Bridge recalled her experience as a journalist and how she appreciated growing up in the South’s storytelling region. She said, “We don’t rush whether it’s buying tires or telling stories.” Last year’s Mississippi Book Festival attracted more than 3500 people. With 150 authors and 32 panel discussions organizers hope to reach 5,000 this year. Saturday’s festival featured panels and interviews with authors. It also featured exhibits from the Library of Congress and Center for the Book and Talking Books as well as exhibits from the Smithsonian Learning Lab and 3-D Printer Experience. Authors Alley featured dozens of authors greeting readers and selling their books, though many were forced to leave by a storm in the afternoon. Contributing: R.L. R.L. 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