This was my second Mississippi Book Festival (also the second) and my first time as a participant. Last year at the first annual festival, I volunteered in the morning and then went to panels in the afternoon. This year, I read in the morning (11:15) and went to panels in the afternoon. Both experiences were great, and I’m planning to go again next year one way or another!
If you’ve never been, then it may be hard to imagine thousands of people milling around outdoors on the Capitol lawn in Jackson, Mississippi on a hot August day. But that’s what happens. Fortunately, there are tents for the vendors and much of the action happens in the shade. Readings are held indoors — either in the Capitol itself or at Galloway Methodist Church, right across the street. Capitol tours are also available. And there are plenty of things to do indoors or out all day long.
For participants, the festival started with a reception on Friday night. This was supposed to be at Eudora Welty’s Home in the garden, but this year the threat of rain drove us indoors to the Old Capitol Museum, which was also very pleasant. Participants also had a breakfast on Saturday morning to start off our day at the Dept. of Archives and History, and we had an Author Lounge room in the Capitol where we could cool off, get registered, and hang out between sessions.
For me, these were some of the best moments of the Festival. I got a chance talk with (and meet) some of the authors who will be returning to Mississippi for the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium in October, such as Brad Watson, Paulette Boudreaux, Becky Hagenston, James Kimberly, and Patricia Boyett.
I also got to chat with old friends, see former students and a few of our MFA students or other current W students who live in Jackson or came down for the day, stroll through the aisles of Lemuria Books and Turnrow Books and talk to them about possibly doing a reading soon, wander by the small press and self-published author tables in Author Alley and meet folks, including Faith Garbin who is a friend of a friend that has a great-looking book of poems out called How We Bury Our Dead, see the good folks at the University Press of Mississippi, and talk to the Mississippi Library Commission, Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters, and other exhibitors.
Of course, the highlight was to give a reading with 4 other poets and poet/moderator Derrick Harriell to a packed room. It was a fantastic crowd, and I enjoyed listening to everyone else on the panel that included James Kimbrell, whose work I’ve followed for a long time, and poets I’m only just getting to know like Caroline Randall Williams and R. Flowers Rivera. Though perhaps the most surprising ‘new’ voice on the panel was Bee Donley, who is still writing poems and publishing her third book from the nursing home. Her vitality and humor, along with her precise language and imagery, were a revelation. The panel had a wide range of poems and poets that represented Mississippi well. The only issue we had was that we ran a little long and didn’t have time for Q&A. Maybe next year there need to be 2 poetry panels…
After the reading, we headed to the book signing tent on the Capitol lawn, where I got to meet authors from different panels sitting to either side of me. I signed quite a few books and had a chance to talk to people one-on-one, making this large festival still seem like a very personal space. Even after the signing, when I had the chance to go to some of the other panels or walk the Capitol halls, it was nice when people came up to me to say they enjoyed my reading or to ask about my book. Everyone seemed to be having a great time.
Even though a rain shower did come through as my time in the signing tent was ending, it didn’t seem to bother anyone for long. Plastic tarps went over the books in the tents, umbrellas went up, and people found someplace dry to hang out. The rain didn’t last too long, and it cooled us off. Soon everything was back to normal, and the festival continued as planned. I was able to relax and enjoy the afternoon panels, and then head to Hal and Mal’s for a little dinner and the afterparty with Thacker Mountain Radio.