By Makayla Steede
University of Mississippi Journalism Student
The Mississippi Book Festival returns to an in-person event at the State Capitol today for the first time since COVID-19 forced it to become a virtual event for two years.
“The MS Book Festival highlights the very best of Mississippi,” Ellen Daniel, the festival’s executive director, said. “Mississippi gets plenty of bad PR, but for one day a year, a really bright light shines on Mississippi, and we get to celebrate our literary legacy.”
The festival will take place at the Mississippi State Capitol building and grounds from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and it will feature more than 170 authors and 40 panels. C-SPAN will cover the event.
“We bring authors from all over the country here, and we celebrate books, book lovers and authors,” Daniels said.
Some of the authors in attendance will be Alice Walker, Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Kiese Laymon, Tiffany D. Jackson and Lauren Groff.
The festival staff works closely with event director Hillary Taylor at Lemuria Books in Jackson to plan the festival and stock books by authors who are attending.
“A lot of the authors who are chosen for the Mississippi Book Festival panels are authors we have worked with at the store before,” Taylor said. “We know their books, our community knows their books, so it’s a lot of fun to get people excited about them visiting on a large scale. We also order in and stock every book by every author that will be attending the festival.”
Festival-goers will also be able to buy books and meet the authors to have their books signed.
Lemuria is the official bookseller for the festival.
“We like to say that the Mississippi Book Festival is like Christmas in one day at Lemuria, so it’s a big deal,” Taylor said. “It’s an important day for us, but it’s also an important day for our state.”
Several other independent bookstores from across Mississippi, including Bay Books, Square Books and Violet Valley Books, will also set up shop on the grounds of the capitol to sell books and store merchandise.
Some of this year’s panel titles include, “Grisham Writers in Residence,” “The Great Migration,” “Catalysts for Change,” “The Art of Book Making,” “Decidedly Southern,” “Debut” and “Book Club Picks.”
Author and poet Melissa Ginsburg will be a panelist on the “Poetry” panel, moderated by Adam Clay, with other poets Katie Pierce, Joshua Nguyen, Saddiq Dzukogi and James Dickson.
“I love all of these poets’ work, and it’s so different,” Ginsburg said. “It should be a really fun conversation and introduction to some exciting new poems. I’ll be reading from my new book, “Doll Apollo,” which deals with paper dolls, the Apollo moon landing, gender and desire, woven through with images of Mississippi’s landscape.”
Ginsburg has attended the festival several times over the years and looks forward to it each year- not just for the opportunity to discuss her own work.
“The book festival is so much fun; it’s so well-organized and really does feel like a party,” Ginsburg said “It’s a pleasure to meet and spend time with other authors, and to talk to new readers from all over the state and beyond. Also to shop. It’s hard to resist buying everybody’s books.”
Everyone is welcome to attend the free event.
“It’s important that it’s free and open to the public because the joy and love of reading needs to be accessible everyone,” Daniels said. “We are staunch in that belief, and this event will always be free and open to the public. Not to knock other festivals, but many festivals across the country, you know, are ticketed, and they charge.”
The festival website advises attendees to plan ahead and prioritize the events that sound the most appealing to them.