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Welcome to the Mississippi Writers Page Newsletter for March 12-18, 2004

In this issue:


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

1803: The town of Port Gibson, Mississippi, was established. (March 12)

1901: Journalist Turner Catledge was born in Ackerman, Mississippi. (March 17)

1910: Baptist minister James L. Sullivan was born in Silver Creek, Mississippi. (March 12)

1921: Historian David L. Smiley was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi. (March 17)

1933: Civil rights activist Myrlie Evers was born Myrlie Van Dyke in Vicksburg, Mississippi. (March 17)

1935: Civil rights activist and theology professor David Kirk was born in Kirkville, Mississippi. (March 12)

1936: Poet James Whitehead was born in St. Louis, Missouri. (March 15)

1937: Tennessee WilliamsCandles to the Sun premiered in St. Louis, performed by Willard Holland’s Mummers. (March 18)

1946: Baptist minister Thomas Julian Nettles was born in Brandon, Mississippi. (March 16)

1954: Children’s book writer Jim McCafferty was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. (March 12)

1957: William Faulkner arrived in Athens on a two-week mission for the State Department. He accepted the Silver Medal of the Greek Academy while there. (March 18)

1963: Novelist Randall Kenan was born in Brooklyn, New York. (March 12)

1980: First telecast of Barn Burning, based on the short story by William Faulkner, on PBS-TV. The production was directed by Peter Werner with a screenplay by Horton Foote; it starred Tommy Lee Jones as Ab Snopes. Faulkner’s nephew Jimmy Faulkner played the role of Major DeSpain. (March 17)

1982: Actor James Earl Jones married Cecilia Hart. (March 15)


11th Oxford Conference for the Book dedicated to novelist Walker Percy

March 17, 2004

By Jennifer Southall
University of Mississippi News Services

Oxford Conference for the Book poster
The poster for the 11th Oxford Conference for the Book features a portrait of Walker Percy by Baxter Knowlton.

OXFORD, Miss. — The 11th annual Oxford Conference for the Book, April 1-4, examines the life and works of the late Walker Percy, National Book Award winner and one of the most influential American novelists and essayists of the 20th century.

“Percy’s family is very important to Mississippi literary history,” said Kathryn McKee, McMullan Associate Professor of Southern studies and associate professor of English. “On his own, Percy is a writer who commands national respect but at the same time reflects on the particular dimensions of Southernness.”

Percy, who won the National Book Award for his first novel, The Moviegoer, was born in Birmingham, Ala. After his father’s death, Percy moved with his two brothers to the Greenville home of cousin William Alexander Percy, known for the 1941 autobiography Lanterns on the Levee.

Forced to give up his career as a pathologist following a bout with tuberculosis, Walker Percy wrote five more novels and three nonfiction works exploring the human condition.

Attending the Conference for the Book to discuss Percy’s life and legacy are Paul Elie, an editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux and author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own, who also will examine other Southern writers; Lucius Lampton, collector of Percy-related publications; Patricia A. Sullivan, professor of English and director of the Program for Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Colorado at Boulder; Robert Livingston Lobdell, one of Percy’s four grandsons; and Mary Pratt Percy Lobdell, Percy’s daughter.

2004 Conference for the Book poster prints and T-shirts featuring Percy are to be sold during the conference for $10 and $15, respectively. The featured image for both was reproduced from a portrait by Mississippi native and Little Rock resident Baxter Knowlton, courtesy of the painting’s owners. Two other Knowlton paintings of Percy are to be displayed April 2 at UM’s Ford Center for the Performing Arts. (Knowlton’s paintings of William Faulkner, Barry Hannah, Willie Morris and Eudora Welty are on display in Oxford at L&M’s Kitchen and Salumeria. For more information, e-mail

Besides the conference sessions on Percy, an entire day of the Delta Literary Tour, which runs March 29-April 1, is spent in Greenville and dedicated to the life and work of Percy and other authors from that town, such as his close friend Shelby Foote.

“I’m delighted that my son and I have been asked to attend,” said Mary Pratt Percy Lobdell. “(Walker Percy) was always a father first, but the author part was very important. His message to the world — that we’re in a sort of malaise but it’s not terminal and we need to look to a higher power— is very important and as his daughter, I was able to get that before anyone else.”

All conference sessions are open to the public without charge, although 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). The Delta tour requires advance registration of $350.

To register for the conference or Delta tour, or for more information, visit

For senior adults, Elderhostel, an international program of educational travel, offers a special conference package. For $441 per person, everything except the Delta tour is included: the entire conference (including special events), three nights’ lodging at the newly renovated Best Western Downtown Oxford Inn and Suites, all meals from dinner April 1 through lunch April 4, and transportation in Oxford.

To register for the Elderhostel program, call 877-426-8056 and refer to “So You Love Books? Get Between the Pages at the Oxford Conference for the Book,” program number 11183-040104. For Elderhostel information, call Carolyn Vance Smith at 601-446-1208, or e-mail

The 2004 Oxford Conference for the Book is sponsored by UM’s 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, Tribal State Compact Fund, Mississippi Humanities Council and Yoknapatawpha Arts Council. The Delta tour is sponsored by CSSC and Viking Range Corp.

For assistance related to a disability, call 662-915-7236.

Book recounts African-American artist’s pre-integration study at University of Mississippi

March 16, 2004

By Jennifer Southall
University of Mississippi News Services

'Fire Flys' by M. B. Mayfield
Completed in 1989, Fire Flys is among paintings and poems by UM legend M.B. Mayfield, who recently released his autobiography.

OXFORD, Miss. — Folk artist M. B. Mayfield said the idea of an autobiography had been “in (his) mind for a long time.” No doubt the Ecru native had a great deal to say — after all, he got his start decades ago studying art secretly from a broom closet at the then-segregated University of Mississippi.

Fortunately, a friend of Mayfield’s finally persuaded him to record his life’s story, resulting in the book The Baby Who Crawled Backwards, self-published by the artist last fall. The account not only tells of Mayfield’s extraordinary life — including the story of how he crawled backward as a toddler — but it also features his original poetry along with full-color photographs from his artwork spanning more than five decades.

“I wasn’t thinking about money or anything like that when I started writing the book,” said Mayfield. “It was about getting something out that needed to come out and the story coming to maturity.”

Among the things that Mayfield “got out” is the story of his lifelong friendship with Stuart Purser, UM’s first art department chair and the person Mayfield credits with changing the direction of his life.

Purser first met Mayfield in the summer of 1949 when driving to UM from his previous post at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. The art professor was so impressed with the artwork he saw on the front porch of Mayfield’s family farmhouse that he stopped to speak with the artist.

That fall, the 26-year-old Mayfield moved to Oxford to work as a custodian in the art department, where he studied one-on-one with Purser and spent hours in a broom closet listening to class lectures.

“The really fascinating thing about Mayfield is this intersection with the world of fine art that he stumbled into,” said Lisa Howorth, who taught classes on folk art at UM’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture for several years. “He got to look at the art world at Ole Miss but was still marginal to the whole thing.”

After returning to Ecru to attend his ailing mother, then moving to Racine, Wis., where he held a number of odd jobs, Mayfield moved to Memphis in 1969. There he again was drawn into the world of fine art — if only marginally — as custodian at Brooks Memorial Art Gallery. He studied paintings on exhibit in the gallery and displayed his own artwork in the museum’s stairwells and work areas for his fellow employees to see.

The nature of his involvement in the art world has left Mayfield with seemingly no bitterness, although he said he’d rather not speak about his time at Ole Miss because it detracts from the achievements of James Meredith.

“I didn’t accomplish the things he did. He was the one who took the punishment,” Mayfield said of Meredith, who integrated the university in 1962. “I’d really like to meet him one day.”

But Mayfield’s ties to the university remain. A number of his paintings, including a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., hang in the University Museums, and the center hosted one of Mayfield’s first big art exhibits, in 1986.

Following that show, Mayfield’s career flourished, so much so that he has sold almost everything he’s painted since then. He said his eyes are not as good as they once were, so he’s slowed his painting in recent years and turned to writing.

“I always doubted myself and was very self-conscious, but (writing the book) has been a real neat experience,” said Mayfield, who keeps his ideas for a possible second publication in a scrapbook.

Charles Reagan Wilson, director of the center, said he believes Mayfield’s book represents a “parable of the contemporary South.”

“He tells of someone who moved through the rural segregated South to something very different,” Wilson said. “He was a janitor and unable to attend classes, yet he drew from the real strengths of Southern culture to learn and express his creativity.”

The Baby Who Crawled Backwards can be ordered by calling the Town Square Post Office and Museum in Pontotoc at 662-488-0388. Copies are available for $35 plus shipping.

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

AUTHOR EVENTS: Book Signings, Readings, and Appearances

April 1-4: Oxford, Mississippi

The 11th Oxford Conference for the Book, in Oxford, Mississippi. Notable authors, editors, publishers and others in the trade gather with educators, literacy advocates and book lovers for panel discussions, readings and scholarly presentations. The 2003 conference is dedicated to Mississippian and author Walker Percy (1916-90). Sponsored by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Oxford Tourism Council, and Square Books. Free admission; preregistration recommended through the Center for Study of Southern Culture (

If you know of upcoming literary events by or about 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 17-20, 2004

Oxford Film Festival, in Oxford, Mississippi. Oxford’s second annual community-sponsored film festival consists of 4 days of screenings, along with workshops on film-making, screen-writing, etc., for adults and children, juried professional independent and amateur films, presentations and awards. Ticket prices and details are available at

July 25-29, 2004

31st Annual Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference, “Faulkner and Material Culture.” The University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi. More information, including registration fees and online application forms, available at

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 of Mississippi community, see the Ole Miss Community Calendar:

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