Monday, July 4, 2022

Oxford Conference for the Book Returns as In-Person Event

Staff Report

University of Mississippi

Marcela Sulak is set to read from her book of poetry ‘City of Skyscrapers’ at 4:30 p.m. March 31 at Southside Gallery on the Oxford Square as part of the Oxford Conference for the Book. Submitted photo

The Oxford Conference for the Book returns to Oxford and the University of Mississippi March 30-April 1 as an in-person event. Conference sessions will be held on the Ole Miss campus and in downtown Oxford.

“I’m so pleased to hold this conference in person this year,” said Jimmy Thomas, conference director. “We’ve put together an amazing lineup of authors, and I’m looking forward to meeting them and hearing each of them read and discuss their work.”

The conference includes several special events, including an opening reception at Memory House, a lecture lunch in the Faulkner Room of the J.D. Williams Library, a poetry talk and lunch at the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library, and a book signing and closing reception at Off Square Books.

In its 28th year, the conference is partnering with two distinguished awards institutions this year, the Willie Morris Awards for Southern Writing and the National Book Foundation.

The Willie Morris Awards are given each year in the categories of fiction and poetry, and this year’s awards – honoring author Nathan Harris and poet Monica Weatherly – will be presented April 1, during the final afternoon of the conference. The Willie Morris Awards also are sponsoring the conference’s closing reception that afternoon at Off Square Books.

“This is the second year of our amazing partnership with the Oxford Conference for the Book, but our first year to host a face-to-face event,” said Susan Nicholas, coordinator for the Willie Morris Awards. “We are so excited to see book lovers return to Oxford and join with us in celebrating the winners of the Willie Morris Awards for Southern Writing.”

The National Book Foundation is the administrator of the National Book Awards, presented each year in categories of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature and young adult literature.

This year, the foundation is sponsoring a conference session with the National Book Award winner in fiction, Jason Mott, and the shortlist-nominated fiction author Robert Jones Jr. The session will be moderated by W. Ralph Eubanks, UM alumnus and visiting professor of Southern studies and English.

“The National Book Foundation is thrilled to celebrate 2021 National Book Award-honored authors Robert Jones Jr. and Jason Mott with the Oxford Conference for the Book,” said Ruth Dickey, the foundation’s executive director. “This NBF Presents event will be the culmination of two years of thoughtful planning and partnership with the conference, and we’re so excited pay tribute to groundbreaking contemporary Southern literature.”

Besides these two special sessions, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture will partner with the book conference to bring Imani Perry, Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, to campus for its Future of the South Lecture at 6:30 p.m. March 30 in Nutt Auditorium. The center annually invites a leading scholar and writer to think about the region’s future in a lecture supported by the Phil Hardin Foundation.

“Dr. Perry’s new book caught our attention from its title: ‘South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation,'” said Katie McKee, the center’s director. “Her travels are particular – she moves through a series of highly individualized locations – at the same time that they gesture always toward the national backdrop.

“At the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, we see the ‘future of the South’ in just the same way: particular to place, but revelatory about patterns and problems at the root of our American identities.”

Eubanks will present a “Reflecting Mississippi” lecture on his recent book, “A Place Like Mississippi,” sponsored by the Mississippi Humanities Council. Eubanks is a recent recipient of the council’s Reflecting Mississippi Award for his work as a memoirist and literary scholar who has helped revise the state’s narratives to reflect Mississippi more honestly and accurately.

Other confirmed participants include biographer Kate Clifford Larson (“Walk with Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer”), poets Marcus Amaker (“The Birth of All Things”) and Marcella Sulak (“City of Skypapers”), and novelist Raven Lalani (“Luster”). Additional authors and panelists will be announced soon.

The Children’s Book Festival is set for March 31 at the Gertrude C Ford Center for Performing Arts. Rajani LaRocca will speak to area first-graders at 9 a.m. about her book “Where Three Oceans Meet” and to area fifth-graders at 10:30 a.m. about her book “Midsummer’s Mayhem.”

The conference will strictly follow the university’s and Oxford’s guidelines, adhering to health recommendations in place at the time of the conference, Thomas says.

“While we all want to ‘return to normal,’ we still need to make sure our authors and audience are safe and feel confident about attending sessions in person,” he said.

The Twenty-Eighth Oxford Conference for the Book is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Square Books, the College of Liberal Arts, the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, the Department of English, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, the Department of History, the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, the African American Studies Program, the Sherman L. Muths Jr. Lecture Series in Law Endowment, the Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement, the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, the Department of Writing and Rhetoric, Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, and “Thacker Mountain Radio” 

The conference is partially funded by the university, the Willie Morris Awards for Southern Writing, the National Book Foundation, the R&B Feder Charitable Foundation for the Beaux Arts, the Phil Hardin Foundation, and a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council. 

A block of discounted rooms is being held at the Inn at Ole Miss. The conference website, https://www.oxfordconferenceforthebook.com/, will have information on special events, news and updates on authors.


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