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Welcome to the Mississippi Writers Page Newsletter for May 17-23, 2002.

In this issue:


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

1884: Historian J. F. H. Claiborne, “the father of Mississippi history” died, less than two months after a fire at his home in Natchez, Mississippi, destroyed the manuscript of what would have been volume two of his history of Mississippi. (May 17)

1899: Economist Earl Hamilton was born in Houlka, Mississippi. (May 17)

1899: Railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman embarked on a scientific expedition to Alaska, which became the subject of Looking Far North: The Harriman Expedition to Alaska, 1899, by Mississippi writer Kay Sloan and William H. Goetzmann. (May 23)

1909: Anne Clark, a former ambassador’s wife and author of several books, was born in Metcalfe, Mississippi. (May 19)

1919: Science writer William C. Harrison was born in Corinth, Mississippi. (May 19)

1919: Novelist and short story writer Berry Morgan was born in Port Gibson, Mississippi. (May 20)

1922: Journalist Bill Minor was born. (May 17)

1925: William Faulkner published “Chance” in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. (May 17)

1925: English professor William Edward Walker was born in Meridian, Mississippi. (May 20)

1936: Poet Glen R. Swetman was born in Biloxi, Mississippi. (May 20)

1937: “A Piece of News” by Eudora Welty was accepted for publication by Southern Review. It appeared later heavily revised in A Curtain of Green. (May 17)

1979: Eudora Welty’s Ida M’Toy was published by the University of Illinois Press in Urbana. (May 20)


Time running out for Oxford American magazine

May 15, 2002

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — What many consider the contemporary creative voice of Southern literature could very well be forced into silence in a few weeks.

Oxford American, the National Magazine Award winner that’s been financially challenged since its inception 10 years ago, is on the brink of folding if a new backer isn’t found soon. Best-selling author John Grisham, the magazine’s publisher, financier and patron saint since 1994, and editor Marc Smirnoff decided a year ago that it was time for the magazine to either break even or cease operations.

In a May 2 e-mail to some 150 contributing writers and friends, Smirnoff said last year’s music issue was a modest financial success, and the follow-up fall issue made even more money, but the winter movie issue was a flop by advertising standards. In the e-mail, which spread quickly in literary circles, Smirnoff said the publication — billed as “The Southern Magazine of Good Writing” — had two weeks to find new ownership.

“As Jeeves told Wooster, where there’s life there’s hope, so we’re still not giving up on finding investors or buyers who want to see the OA continue,” Smirnoff wrote.

In an interview last week with The Associated Press, Smirnoff said he’s had numerous responses from possible backers who want to sustain the magazine, which has featured the works of William F. Buckley Jr., Donna Tartt, Barry Hannah, Roy Blount Jr., Larry Brown and Willie Morris, among others.

“All of a sudden I went from feeling like things were pretty grim to feeling sort of oddly optimistic,” he said. “I think something’s going to happen.”

Smirnoff said he’s received word from Grisham that the author — a former Oxford resident and Mississippi legislator — may extend the two-week deadline.

Over the years, Grisham has devoted not only money but his writing talents to keep Oxford American afloat. The magazine serialized his novel A Painted House in 2000.

Grisham, who’s written such blockbusters as The Client and The Firm and his latest work, The Summons, could not be reached for comment.

Smirnoff said Grisham’s requirements are simple. “John is willing to sell his majority interest if we can find a person, group or company that’s willing to commit to the magazine,” he said. “He’s willing to listen to any proposal that's reasonable.”

Smirnoff made the magazine’s financial difficulties public in last summer’s critically acclaimed music issue, which featured a CD with music from B.B. King, Billy Bob Thornton, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. In a letter to readers, he said the magazine would start publishing quarterly instead of bimonthly, but the subscription price of $19.95 would remain the same. Smirnoff also warned that the number of subscribers needed to grow from 30,000 to 38,000 by year’s end.

The number grew enough to proceed into 2002, he said. But even though the latest issue of the magazine is complete, it is stranded at the printer for lack of money.

Samir Husni, author of the annual Guide to New Consumer Magazines and a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi, said low circulation is largely to blame for Oxford American’s woes. With 100,000 subscribers, the magazine would have a healthy revenue flow and the readership to attract national advertising, Husni said.

To get there, though, “the costs are unbelievable,” he said. “They were never able to get over the hump that this is not a regional magazine” said Husni, who helped Oxford American create a marketing plan two years ago. “Yes, it’s a national magazine of southern good writing, but it was always viewed by the national markets as regional, no matter what,” he said.

The floundering economy and lower ad sales have made things increasingly difficult. This year has already seen the decline of Talk and Homestyle. Several other magazines also have shut down recently, including Mademoiselle and The Industry Standard.

Neither Husni nor Smirnoff would discuss specifics about Oxford American’s finances.

Smirnoff said he’s thankful for Grisham’s patience and money, not bitter over his decision to pull out. “All I know is that he’s put more money into this magazine than he ever thought he would. And he has repeatedly saved us,” Smirnoff said in a March interview from his office in a small house near Oxford Square, best known as one of the haunts of William Faulkner. “This magazine would have died eight or 10 painful deaths if it hadn’t been for his generosity and faith.”

Yazoo City ‘remembers’ hometown writer Willie Morris in holiday weekend festival

May 17, 2002

YAZOO CITY, Miss. — Yazoo City will honor one of their own when they hold the “Remembering Willie” festival over Memorial Day weekend to commemorate the life and literature of Willie Morris.

Most of the celebration will take place at Triangle Cultural Center, Willie Morris’ original grammar school, in Yazoo City.

Other writers who will be paying tribute to Morris include Barry Hannah, Clifton Taulbert, Charles Reagan Wilson, Ted Ownby, and Masaru Inoue.

The event will begin on Friday, May 24, with a reception, an art show, and a one-man show, Willie Remembers, featuring actor Jack Stevens and producer JoAnne Prichard Morris.

Saturday morning, the guest speakers and southern writers will speak on this year’s theme, “The Importance of Place.” Writers will also be available to sign books. The day concludes at Glenwood Cemetery near Willie Morris’gravesite with brief remarks, a performance by gospel singers, and the playing of “Taps” (which happens to be the title of Morris’ last, posthumously published novel).

Sunday will again feature book signings along with tours of the area.

For more details about the celebration, visit the “Remembering Willie” web site at

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

NEW BOOKS by Mississippi Writers

The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians, 1540-1760
Edited by Robbie Ethridge and Charles Hudson
University Press of Mississippi (Hardcover, $50.00, ISBN: 1578063515)
Publication date: February 2002

Description from the publisher:

The most current thought on Native Americans of the colonial South.

With essays by Stephen Davis, Penelope Drooker, Patricia K. Galloway, Steven Hahn, Charles Hudson, Marvin Jeter, Paul Kelton, Timothy Pertulla, Christopher Rodning, Helen Rountree, Marvin T. Smith, and John Worth.

The first two-hundred years of Western civilization in the Americas was a time when fundamental and sometimes catastrophic changes occurred in Native American communities in the South.

In The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians, historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists provide perspectives on how this era shaped American Indian society for later generations and how it even affects these communities today.

This collection of essays presents the most current scholarship on the social history of the South, identifying and examining the historical forces, trends, and events that were attendant to the formation of the Indians of the colonial South.

The essayists discuss how Southeastern Indian culture and society evolved. They focus on such aspects as the introduction of European diseases to the New World, long-distance migration and relocation, the influences of the Spanish mission system, the effects of the English plantation system, the northern fur trade of the English, and the French, Dutch, and English trade of Indian slaves and deerskins in the South.

This book covers the full geographic and social scope of the Southeast, including the indigenous peoples of Florida, Virginia, Maryland, the Appalachian Mountains, the Carolina Piedmont, the Ohio Valley, and the Central and Lower Mississippi Valleys.

Robbie Ethridge is an assistant professor of anthropology and southern studies at the University of Mississippi. Charles Hudson is Franklin Professor of Anthropology and History at the University of Georgia.

Fiction by Willie Morris
Mariner Books (Paperback, $13.00, ISBN: 0618219021)
Publication date: April 2002

Description from Booklist:

Morris died in 1999, and it’s hard to accept that this is his last book. The gritty but poignant writings of the Mississippian who served as editor at Harper’s in the 1960s have included a book about his childhood dog and one about his cat, but most famously, North Toward Home (1967), in which he recalled the South of his childhood. Taps is a summary statement of Morris’ fondness for the Mississippi where he came of age, and as such, the novel reads like a memoir of childhood and youth.

The main character is Swayze Barksdale, who, at age 16, is busy gathering impressions of the adult world at a time when the Korean War is waging. A trumpet player, Swayze has plenty of opportunity to observe those around him when he plays “Taps” at the funerals of deceased hometown GIs. Swayze has a best friend, who teaches him about companionship; he has a girlfriend, who teaches him about early love and sexuality; and he has an adult friend, whose life and death teach Swayze the ultimate lessons in love and loss.

Plotlines are kept to a minimum; this is a novel of characters rather than story, and what delicious, real, and beautifully conceived characters they are. Times were simpler in the 1950s, but this is not a simple novel. It’s a deep and enriching last act for the delightful Willie Morris. —Brad Hooper. Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.

Best of the Oxford AmericanBest of the Oxford American
Edited by Marc Smirnoff and Rick Bragg
Hill Street Press (Paperback, $16.95, ISBN: 1588180816)
Publication date: May 2002


A comprehensive anthology of The Oxford American’s most memorable pieces published during the first decade of the magazine’s existence, these articles prove provocative, opinionated, and irreverent. The Oxford American has served as an incubator and archive for the most promising and most established voices in contemporary Southern writing. It offers up an extraordinary range of perspectives on a multitude of subjects, while always avoiding the hackneyed notion of the South as the exclusive province of the gothic or the sentimental dominion of moonlight and magnolias. Collected here are the magazine’s stellar fiction and poetry offered alongside its best commentary, profiles, photography, comics, and reporting on politics, history, religions, art, books, film, and humor.

AUTHOR EVENTS: Book Signings, Readings, and Appearances

May 17: Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi, 5:00 p.m.

Australian novelist Tim Winton will read and sign copies of his novel Dirt Music. Visit for details.

May 18-19: Lake Tiak-O’Khata, Louisville, Mississippi

The Mississippi Poetry Society, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, will hold its Spring Festival at Lake Tiak-O’Khata, near Louisville, on May 18 and 19. Featured speaker will be Carolyn Elkins, an assistant professor of English at Delta State University since 1989. She has presented poetry and writing workshops at the local, state, and national levels. She has given more than 50 poetry readings in the last several years, is a published poet and short story writer. She is a member of the Mississippi Poetry Society as well as several other writing and poetry groups. Her poems have been published in such periodicals as Asheville Poetry Review, New Delta Review, Earth News, and Tapestry.

Jeanne Kelly, current Poet of the Year, will also be on hand to sign her new collection, published by MPS, From Sunrise to Sunset. Awards will be given for winning poetry in the annual contest.

For more information on the event, contact Brenda Finnegan, MPS president, at or Dr. Emory D. Jones at

May 23: Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi, 5:00 p.m.

M.A. Harper will read from her second novel, The Worst Day of My Life, So Far. Visit for details.

May 24: Lemuria Books, Jackson, Mississippi, 5:00 p.m.

Claire T. Feild, author of Mississippi Delta Women in Prism, will be signing from her book of narrative poems. Visit for details.

May 24-26: Yazoo City, Mississippi

“Remembering Willie: A Yazoo Celebration,” a festival held in honor of famous former Yazoo City resident Willie Morris. Among the authors and speakers are Barry Hannah, Clifton Taulbert, and Claire T. Feild. Online information at

May 25: Ricks Memorial Library in Yazoo City, Mississippi, 10 a.m.-12 noon

Claire T. Feild, author of Mississippi Delta Women in Prism, will be signing from her book of narrative poems.

May 26: Ricks Memorial Library in Yazoo City, Mississippi, 10 a.m.-12 noon

Claire T. Feild, author of Mississippi Delta Women in Prism, will be signing from her book of narrative poems.

July 21-26: 29th Annual Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference
“Faulkner and His Contemporaries”
The University of Mississippi, Oxford

Conference and registration information is now available on the web at the

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.

June 26, 2002

Novelist Joe Kanon will read and sign copies of his historical thriller The Good German, at Square Books in Oxford. Visit for details.

November 11, 2002

Poetry Reading by J. D. McClatchy, Bondurant Hall Auditorium, The University of Mississippi campus, in Oxford.

February 6, 2003

U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2002) Billy Collins reads from his poetry and offers commentary on his work and other matters. Bondurant Hall Auditorium, The University of Mississippi campus in Oxford.

February 17, 2003

A reading by Clifton L. Taulbert on the University of Mississippi campus in Oxford.

April 10-13, 2003

Oxford Conference for the Book, Oxford, Mississippi.

July 20-25, 2003

30th Annual Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference, The University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi

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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