Authors gather in Oxford for 11th annual Book Conference April 1-4
March 9, 2004
By Jennifer Southall
OXFORD, Miss. — For anyone who loves a good book — whether poetry, fiction, memoir, polemic or mystery — the University of Mississippi is the place to be April 1-4 for the 2004 Oxford Conference for the Book.
Scheduled to appear at this years conference, which is dedicated to Southern novelist Walker Percy, are humorist Roy Blount Jr., editor Gary Fisketjon, publisher Jonathan Galassi, novelist Kaye Gibbons, journalist Sebastian Junger, poet William Jay Smith, Newbery Award-winner Mildred D. Taylor and American Book Award-winner Janisse Ray, among many others.
“I love public discourse, and I think that book festivals provide a grand forum for the dissemination of ideas through art,” said Ray, UMs 2003-04 John and Renee Grisham Writer-in-Residence and moderator of a conference panel discussion on literature and political activism.
Jamie Kornegay, bookseller at Oxfords Square Books and a conference organizer, said hes pleased that this years conference features more panel discussions moderated by local writers. They include UMs two other writers-in-residence, Tom Franklin and Barry Hannah, as well as the Kelly Gene Cook Sr. Chair of Journalism and Boston Globe columnist Curtis Wilkie.
Besides readings and panel discussions — with topics ranging from “Remembering Walker Percy” to “Readers Today and Tomorrow,” “Submitting Manuscripts” and “Southern Preoccupations” — the 2004 conference also offers a number of events that support Rays “grand forum” for disseminating ideas.
To honor the visiting Newbery Award winner, conference organizers have proclaimed April 2 as Mildred D. Taylor Day in Mississippi. In addition to a reception for Taylor, students from several area middle schools have been invited to discuss Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
Other conference offerings include cocktail parties with session panelists, a catfish dinner, the opening of the Mississippi Mystery Writers Exhibition, and a performance of scenes from William Faulkners As I Lay Dying and other Southern literary classics set to music.
Kornegay pointed to other “interesting new directions” to be taken with this years conference, which include the opening of the conference on Thursday to allow the live radio program Thacker Mountain Radio to be hosted on the UM campus.
As added attractions, conference organizers have scheduled two out-of-town events this year. A literary tour of the Mississippi Delta, featuring sites relevant to Percy, Tennessee Williams, Shelby Foote and others, kicks off in Greenwood March 29 and concludes April 1; programs April 4-5 in Jackson celebrate restoration of the garden at the home where Eudora Welty lived for 76 years.
Aside from the outstanding conference itinerary, Ray said its the attitude of Conference for the Book participants that differentiates this event from other literary festivals.
“One aspect that I really like about the Oxford conference is that the people in attendance seem to understand books not simply as entertainment or business but books as momentous things — as vehicles of epiphany and social change and art,” said Ray. “Books are important at the level of marrow.”
Conference sessions at UM are open to the public without charge; however, preregistration is recommended to ensure seating. Reservations and advance payment are required for three optional conference events: a cocktail buffet with panelists at Isom Place ($50), cocktail party with panelists at Off Square Books ($25) and country dinner at Taylor Catfish ($25).
The Welty event in Jackson is free and open to the public. Reservations and advance payment of $50 are required for a related April 4 dinner at the Old Capitol Inn (price includes cocktails and gratuity). Registration and advance payment of $350 are required for the Delta literary tour.
The 2004 Oxford Conference for the Book is sponsored by UMs Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Square Books, Junior Auxiliary of Oxford, Lafayette Co. Literacy Council and Oxford Tourism Council. The event is partially funded by UM, R&B Feder Foundation for the Beaux Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Tribal State Compact Fund, Mississippi Humanities Council and Yoknapatawpha Arts Council.
The Welty program is sponsored by CSSC and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and is made possible by a grant from NEA. The Delta tour is sponsored by CSSC and Viking Range Corp.
To register for the conference, Welty event or Delta tour, or for more information, visit www.olemiss.edu/depts/south/. For assistance related to a disability, call 662-915-7236.
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