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Welcome to the Mississippi Writers Page Newsletter for Feb. 1-7, 2002.

In this issue:


The following events all happened during this week in Mississippi history.


1907: Hodding Carter born in Hammond, Louisiana. (Feb. 3)

1932: William Faulkner published “Once Aboard the Lugger” in the Saturday Evening Post. (Feb. 1)

1933: William Faulkner began taking flying lessons. (Feb. 2)

1936: John Stone was born in Jackson, Mississippi. (Feb. 7)

1942: Harper’s Magazine accepts Eudora Welty’s story “The Wide Net” for publication. It was previously rejected by the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, Red Book, Country Gentleman, Ladies Home Journal, and Atlantic, among others. (Feb. 6)

1951: Tennessee WilliamsThe Rose Tattoo opened at the Martin Beck Theatre on Broadway in New York, starring Maureen Stapleton and Eli Wallach. (Feb. 3)

1954: Author and poet Maxwell Bodenheim was fatally shot by Harold Weinberg while on a drinking spree. Weinberg then stabed Bodenheim’s wife Ruth to death, as well. (Feb. 7)

1994: A jury in Hinds County, Mississippi, convicted Byron de la Beckwith for the 1963 murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers. This was the Beckwith’s third trial; the first two in the 1960s ended in hung juries. (Feb. 5)



Oxford American cuts back publication schedule to four issues per year

February 1, 2002

OXFORD, Miss. — Oxford American, an independent “Southern magazine of good writing,” has been forced to cut back its publication schedule from six to four issues per year, according to the magazine’s associate editor, Lisa Dixon.

The reduction in publication schedule comes in response to the magazine’s shortage of subscribers. Letters published in issues last year appealed to readers to support the magazine by becoming subscribers or to give subscriptions as gifts to others.

The magazine was founded in 1992 under the leadership of Marc Smirnoff, who is now editor. In 1995, novelist John Grisham became publisher of the magazine. In 2000, Grisham published A Painted House, a novel set in his childhood home state of Arkansas, in serial form over the course of the year’s six issues.

In addition to the Grisham novel, which has now been published as a single volume and continues to top the bestseller lists, the magazine has scored a number of other literary coups, including the publication in 1995 of “Rose of Lebanon,” a previously unpublished short story by the Nobel Prize-winning novelist William Faulkner, who lived just a few blocks away from the Oxford American’s business office in Oxford. Previously unpublished stories by Walker Percy and Zora Neale Hurston have likewise first appeared in the Oxford American.

Other acclaimed writers whose work has appeared in the magazine include William Styron, Florence King, Donna Tartt, Steve Martin, Willie Morris, Wendell Berry, Rosanne Cash, Peter Guralnick, and Tony Earley.

The magazine has also featured a number of theme issues, including its annual “Southern Music” issue, which includes a free music CD with recordings by the artists featured.

Now on newsstands is the Winter 2002 issue, a themed issue on Southern movies which features articles by Allen Gurganus, Joseph McBride, and Gary Hawkins, and scenes from an unpublished and unfilmed screenplay by William Faulkner.

For more information on the Oxford American, including subscription rates and past issues, visit the magazine’s web site at

Do you have a news item about a Mississippi writer? Please send your information to


The following articles were recently added to the Writer Listings:

NEW BOOKS from or about Mississippi

The Summons
By John Grisham
Doubleday (Hardcover, $27.95, ISBN: 0385503822)
Publication Date: February 2002

Review by Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post

You could not call me a John Grisham fan. Some years ago, I read his first novel, A Time to Kill, the one that numerous publishers rejected, and thought it an overwritten but honest and heartfelt look at race and justice in the deep South. Later, I picked up one of his bestsellers — it may have been The Pelican Brief — and thought it too dumb to finish. That is where things stood with me and Grisham when his latest, The Summons, arrived (it will be available in stores on Feb. 5). Now, having read it more or less overnight, I must report that either Grisham’s writing skills have improved or my critical standards have declined, because I found The Summons a pleasure to read and, considered all in all, a model of what good commercial fiction can be.

Grisham's hero, Ray Atlee, is 43 and teaches law at the University of Virginia. His wife has recently left him for a rotund, 64-year-old billionaire, one of those rich Yankees who have bought up the fine antebellum mansions around Charlottesville in recent decades. Ray is lonely, but in general life is okay until, one day, he receives a letter from his ailing father to come home to Clanton, Miss., to discuss the father’s will. Ray must obey — this is the “summons” of the title — but he dreads the trip. His widowed father, although a highly respected judge, has long been estranged from his two sons. Nor is Ray in any hurry to see his brother, a onetime high school football star who has spent the past 20 years either stoned or in rehab.

When Ray arrives at the now-decaying mansion where he grew up, he finds his father dead and $3 million in cash hidden in his study. Ray makes a quick decision to tell no one about the money, because 1) his father's good name might be disgraced, 2) the IRS would want half of it and 3) his brother, if given his share, would surely embark on a terminal binge. A fourth reason occurs to the reader, if not to Ray: The prospect of sudden wealth is not entirely unpleasant. The rest of the novel is devoted to answering two questions: Where did the money come from, and can Ray stay one jump ahead of the person or persons he soon learns are hot on his trail?

It’s a good yarn, and most readers will simply climb aboard and enjoy the ride, but for writers and would-be writers, The Summons can serve as a veritable handbook on how to write a bestseller. First off, Grisham abides by the hoary rule to write what you know, for he clearly knows a great deal about lawyers and about Mississippi. Moreover, he is careful about what he does not put in the book, which contains virtually no dirty talk, sex or violence. You can give this novel to your maiden aunt without fear of offending. Nor does Grisham have anything to say about race relations, although calling the home town Clanton can be taken as a not-too-subtle nod to Mississippi’s unhappy past.

If The Summons does not challenge your mind, neither does it insult your intelligence. Grisham starts with a surefire plot: A man finds millions of dollars in cash. It is an appealing fantasy, and if it happened to us, we might well behave as recklessly as Ray does. (If he behaves sensibly, there is no novel.) Grisham keeps us in suspense as Ray zigzags about the South with the cash stuffed in three garbage bags in the trunk of his car and persons unknown in pursuit. He weaves in the classic themes of father-son conflict and sibling rivalry, and he also touches a couple of trendy bases when Ray checks out one of Mississippi’s new gambling casinos and when he boards a yacht to dine with one of those Southern lawyers who have become obscenely rich by winning class-action suits.

Grisham entertains us with larger-than-life characters — the old judge himself, the billionaire in Charlottesville, Ray’s 300-pound sister-in-law. He relates all this in prose that is unobtrusive but punctuated with deft touches, as when Ray stops in a diner and gives his order to an elderly waitress: “One glass of ice tea, one sandwich, and she wrote it all down in great detail.” We know that waitress.

Suspense, big bucks, a gripping plot, outsized characters, two brothers in conflict — all these will help The Summons become a bestseller.

But there is another factor more important than any of them, one they don’t teach in writing class, and that is Grisham’s exceptional skill as a storyteller. That is the X factor. Any editor can toss out a recipe for a bestseller, but not one writer in 10,000 has the magic to cook up a seamless story with near-universal appeal. If you think it’s easy, try it sometime.

2002 The Washington Post Company

AUTHOR EVENTS: Book Signings, Readings, and Appearances

Feb. 4: Bondurant Auditorium, The University of Mississippi Campus, Oxford, Mississippi, 7:00 p.m.
National Book Award winning poet Lucille Clifton will give a reading at 7:00 p.m. Her most recent book of poetry is Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000. Square Books will host a reception in her honor at 4:00 p.m. at Off Square Books.

Feb. 5: Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi, 5:00 p.m.
Jim O’Neal, co-founding publisher and editor of Living Blues magazine, will discuss his book The Voice of the Blues: Classic Interviews From Living Blues Magazine. The event will feature special music.

Feb. 7: Lemuria, 202 Banner Hall, Jackson, Mississippi, 5:30 p.m.
Ken Murphy will sign copies of his book My South Coast Home: Photos of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. For more info, call (601) 366-7619.

Feb. 7: Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi, 5:30 p.m.
Bernice McFadden will return to Square Books and Thacker Mountain radio to read from This Bitter Earth, a sequel to her best-selling novel Sugar. Broadcast starts at 5:30PM at Off Square Books.

Feb. 7-9: Magnolia Independent Film Festival
Starkville Cinema, Starkville, Mississippi. For more information on ticket prices and feature schedule, visit the film festival web site at or call (662) 494-5836.

Feb. 9: Lemuria, 202 Banner Hall, Jackson, Mississippi, 1:00 p.m.
Jim Fraiser and West Freeman will sign copies of The Majesty of the Mississippi Delta. For more info, call (601) 366-7619.

Feb. 9: Gin Mill Mall, 109 Pershing Ave., Indianola, Mississippi, 2:00 p.m.
Stephen Kirkpatrick will sign copies of his book of photographs, Wilder Mississippi. For more info, call (662) 887-3209.

Feb. 12: Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi, 9:00 a.m.
John Grisham will return to Oxford to sign copies of his novel The Summons. Please read the rules below carefully and be sure to contact us if you have any questions. At 9 a.m. on the morning of the 12th, we’ll pass out numbered tickets to the first 200 people in line. If you receive a ticket you will be able to return that afternoon and have John Grisham sign two copies of The Summons for you. Your ticket will tell you what time to return. He will only sign copies of The Summons purchased from Square Books. No other items or previous books will be allowed to be signed.

If you know of upcoming readings and appearances by Mississippi writers, please let us know by writing us at


The following events are planned for the coming weeks and months. You may wish to begin planning now to attend or participate.

March 1, 2002
David Galef, University of Mississippi professor of English and creative writing, will sign and read from his new story collection, Laugh Track, at Square Books in Oxford.

March 8, 2002
Jim Fraiser will sign and talk about Majesty of the Mississippi Delta at Square Books in Oxford. From historic Port Gibson up the river to Memphis, Fraiser details the architectural features of homes, churches, and stores dating back as far as the early 19th century.

March 21, 2002
Clinton, Mississippi, resident Nevada Barr will return to Square Books in Oxford this time on Thacker Mountain Radio, with her newest novel, Hunting Season. It’s the tenth book in the Anna Pigeon series. Anna investigates the murder of a man at a Natchez Trace tourist spot. The show starts at 5:30 p.m.

March 27, 2002
Edward Cohen returns to Square Books in Oxford to read from his book The Peddler’s Grandson: Growing Up in Jewish in Mississippi. 5 p.m.

April 5, 2002
Richard Ford returns to Square Books in Oxford with a new collection of short stories, A Multitude of Sins. 5 p.m.

The Ninth Oxford Conference for the Book
April 11-14, 2002
The University of Mississippi and Oxford, Mississippi

Check back for registration information.

Interhostel: “Views from the South: Literature, History, and Art”
April 21-26, 2002
E. F. Yerby Conference Center, University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi
Short-term academic program for individuals 50 and older (with accompanying spouses or adult companions of any age). Sponsored by the Institute for Continuing Studies. Fee: $845 (includes five nights hotel accommodations, meals, classes and extracurricular activities). Sponsored by: UM Institute for Continuing Studies. For more information, please contact: Lynne Geller at 662-915-7282; or email:

April 27, 2002
Children’s book writer Laurie Parker will give a reading at Square Books in Oxford from her new book, The Turtle Saver. It’s the story of a man who stops on the Natchez Trace to move a turtle off the pavement and ends up setting off a hilarious chain of events.

The 29th Annual Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference:
“Faulkner and His Contemporaries”

July 21-26, 2002
The University of Mississippi, Oxford

Information on registration is forthcoming.

If you know of additional news items for this newsletter or if you have suggestions, please write us at

For more information about events in the Oxford and University, Mississippi Community, see the Ole Miss Community Calendar:

The Mississippi Writers Page is online at

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