Book Conference brings author home for statewide fete in her honor
March 18, 2004
By Jennifer Southall
OXFORD, Miss. — Among author readings, book-signing parties, panel discussions and a catfish dinner or two, the University of Mississippis 11th annual Oxford Conference for the Book, April 1-4, includes the celebration of Mildred D. Taylor Day in Mississippi.
A formal proclamation honoring the native Mississippian and Newbery Medal winner is set for April 2 at 10:30 a.m. in UMs Ford Center for the Performing Arts. A panel discussion about Taylors life also is to be part of the program.
Author of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry — winner of the Newbery, the most prestigious award in childrens literature — and eight other novels for young readers, Taylor is scheduled to speak at the event in a rare public appearance.
The states tribute is “long overdue,” said Ethel Young-Minor, UM assistant professor of English and African American studies and panel moderator. “Mildred Taylor has spent her life bringing a positive image to Mississippi. Her books have shown people of all ages the interaction between black and white people in this state and have worked to change how people from other places perceive Mississippi.”
The great-granddaughter of a white plantation owners son and a slave, Taylor grew up in Toledo, Ohio, where her family moved shortly after she was born. She spent her childhood and college years in Ohio, attending Toledos public schools and the University of Toledo. Following two years in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, she enrolled at the University of Colorado, where she earned a master's degree in journalism. Throughout her life, she has returned often to Mississippi, where much of her extended family still lives.
Taylor herself has said that she has “attempted to present a true picture of life in America as older members of my family remember it, and as I remember it in the days before the civil rights movement. I have tried to present not only a history of my family, but the effects of racism, not only to the victims of racism but also to the racists themselves. I have recounted events that were painful to write and painful to read in the hope that they brought more understanding.”
As part of the statewide celebration, some 500 fifth-graders from area schools who recently have read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry will attend the Ford Center event.
“We had been working on the idea of a community-wide book reading,” said Susan Nicholson, director of the Lafayette County Literacy Council. “When we learned Mildred Taylor was coming for the book conference, we wanted to make sure that every fifth-grader in the county got a copy of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. We did that with the help of the Junior Auxiliary of Oxford and the Central Elementary PTA. Were hoping that the kids will not just read the books, but will read them with their families.”
Young-Minor, who said that she first read the book as a sixth-grader and has assigned it to her graduate classes at UM, encourages everyone to read Taylors works and to attend the proclamation ceremony, program and reception.
“In Roll of Thunder you get a true sense of what race relations in Mississippi were like in the 1930s,” Young-Minor said. “Its a truly remarkable work.”
After the 11:30 a.m. reception in her honor, Taylor is scheduled for a 3:30-4 p.m. book signing at Square Books Jr., on the Oxford Square. She will sign Roll of Thunder and her other works. Those who are unable to attend the event can reserve signed copies by calling 662-236-2207.
Besides the 1977 Newbery, Taylor has won four Coretta Scott King Awards, two Christopher Awards, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and the inaugural $25,000 NSK Neustadt Prize for Childrens Literature.
The proclamation of Mildred D. Taylor Day and all other 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).
Continuing Education Units are available to teachers who attend the Oxford Conference for the Book. The cost is $20 for 1.6 CEUs. Teachers should complete CEU registration forms and pay the fee when they check in for the conference.
The 2004 Oxford Conference for the Book is sponsored by UMs Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Junior Auxiliary of Oxford, Lafayette County Literacy Council and Square Books, and is partially funded by the University of Mississippi, a contribution from the R&B Feder Foundation for the Beaux Arts and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tribal State Compact Fund, the Mississippi Humanities Council and the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council.
To register for the conference or for more information, visit www.olemiss.edu/depts/south/. For assistance related to a disability, call 662-915-7236.
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