Literary programs in Jackson, Delta bookend Oxford Book Conference
March 10, 2004
By Jennifer Southall
OXFORD, Miss. — With appearances by such diverse writers as Roy Blount Jr., Kaye Gibbons, William Jay Smith, Mildred D. Taylor and Sebastian Junger, the 2004 Oxford Conference for the Book is sure to delight literary enthusiasts of all stripes.
But for those who want more, conference organizers have scheduled two additional offerings on days immediately before and after the April 1-4 conference at the University of Mississippi: a literary tour of the Mississippi Delta March 29-April 1 and several events in Jackson April 4-5 related to Eudora Welty.
To register for the conference, Welty events and Delta tour, or for more information, visit www.olemiss.edu/depts/south/ or call 662-915-5993.
“The Delta has a rich history of music and food,” said Jimmy Thomas, a Delta native and guide for part of the tour, which includes stops in Greenwood, Greenville and Clarksdale. “But just as important — perhaps even more important — is its rich literary history.”
An abundance of literary culture also can be found at 119 Pinehurst in Jackson, the address of Eudora Weltys home. Although the house where Welty spent more than 76 years is not open to the public, the newly restored gardens that Welty maintained with her mother open in early April and are on the Jackson itinerary.
“To see the garden itself — the flowers and plants evokes passages and imagery that Eudora wrote about in her stories,” said Mary Alice Welty White, Weltys niece and the home's curator.
The Delta literary tour, organized by UMs Center for the Study of Southern Culture and the Viking Range Corp., begins in Greenwood, home base for the tour. The first leg of the trip offers participants the opportunity to explore the town where legendary bluesman Robert Johnson was put to rest and where playwright Endesha Ida Mae Holland spent her youth.
The second day of the tour is spent exploring Greenville, home of novelist Beverly Lowry and Vogue senior writer Julia Reed, as well as writers William Alexander Percy, Walker Percy and Shelby Foote. On hand for the tour, Lowry and Reed are scheduled to read from their works at Greenvilles McCormick Book End. Also, Kenneth Holditch, professor emeritus at the University of New Orleans, gives a talk on Walker Percy and his circle of literary friends.
Greenville, in the heart of the Delta, has produced more writers per capita than any other city in the United States, according to Thomas, managing editor for the new edition of the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, scheduled to be published by CSSC in 2005.
Holditch speaks again on the third day of the tour in Clarksdale, where Tennessee Williams spent much of his early childhood and where Williams grandfather served for 16 years as rector of St. Georges Episcopal Church. In addition to Holditchs talk on Williams relation to Mississippi, visits to significant Williams-related sites are on the Clarksdale itinerary.
Besides the literary treats in the three towns, the tour includes breaks for barbecue and other favorite Delta foods. Also scheduled along the way, of course, are attending live blues performances and visiting such places as the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale.
The Deltas heritage is one that its people are happy to share, Thomas said. “The people of the Delta are very proud of what comes from there, and theyre also very inviting and appreciative of anyone who visits to admire or take part in the abundance of literary culture.”
Jackson events include a walk through the Welty garden with archival gardener Susan Halton, tour of the Welty Archives and reading of “Petrified Man” by actor John Maxwell, as well as talks on Weltys life and work. The events are sponsored by CSSC and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and made possible by a National Endowment for the Arts grant.
Weltys fiction alludes to more than 150 varieties of plant species, many of which grew in the garden created by Weltys mother. The garden has been restored to its 1940s look, based on documentation found in the Welty home, which is to be opened to the public in 2005.
“With the garden and Eudoras correspondence, awards and other papers, Eudoras home will be one of the most complete literary home museums in the country once its restored. Everything is right there,” White said.
All the Welty events related to the Book Conference are free and open to the public except an April 4 dinner at the Old Capitol Inn, which requires reservations and advance payment of $50 (price includes cocktails and gratuity). Old Capitol is offering a special $99 rate (plus tax) for Welty program participants. Reservations can be made through March 22 by calling 888-359-9001.
Registration and advance payment of $350 are required for the Delta literary tour and include all program activities, five meals and local transportation. Lodging is not included, but group accommodations at a discounted rate of $135 per night are available at the Alluvian, Vikings boutique hotel in Greenwood. Reservations can be made by calling 866-600-5201 and asking for the “literary tour” rate.
For assistance related to a disability, call 662-915-7236.
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