A literary renaissance, deep in the heart of Dixie
March 10, 1998
Web posted at: 4:04 p.m. EST (2104 GMT)
OXFORD, Mississippi (CNN) -- To a lot of folks, Mississippi conjures up images of sprawling plantations, southern belles and mint juleps. But Oxford is also a hotbed of literary culture. The city, along with the University of Mississippi, hosts a highly respected book conference every year, attracting writers such as Stephen King and John Grisham.
Richard Howorth, co-founder and organizer for the Oxford Conference for the Book, says the event grew out of the prestigious Faulkner Conference, held for the past 23 years at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Ole Miss. But the Faulkner conference always occurred in the last month of July, which is not the most pleasant time of year in Mississippi, unless you are a mosquito.
"People would say, 'This is more Faulkner than I'm interested in, and it's really hot' so the (Oxford Conference) was hatched out of that," Howorth says. The first book conference was held in 1992.
Held in March (a much more temperate month), the conference includes established authors, new authors, and academic lecturers. There are panels, talks by non-fiction writers, and readings by fiction authors. Howorth says it is also a chance for writers to find out about the business of getting an agent, as well as getting books written, edited, published and sold.
Howorth, who owns a thriving bookstore, Square Books, uses his contacts from his 20 years in the book business to attract authors and other speakers to the conference. He has known John Grisham for years and used his connection with the Mississippi native to rope in Stephen King for the conference a couple of years ago.
Howorth related an amusing panel with King and Grisham that was moderated by Ole Miss literature professor Barry Hannah. The firebrand of a professor poked fun at the two authors' success. "Hannah said to Grisham, 'I was over in Tupelo accepting an award from the Tupelo Word Society, when your jet flew over. It made me hate you even more. Can you tell me what color your jet is so that I can hate you with more distinction?'"
The conference starts Friday.
Where: Center for the Study of Southern Culture
on University of Mississippi campus
Institute for Continuing Studies: 601-232-7282
Oxford Tourism Council: 800-758-9177
Clair Bradley Ong
Elaine H. Scott
The Sincere Ramblers
Thomas P. Slaughter
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