The Mississippi Book Festival: Connecting to the Magnolia State’s Roots
By Brandi Perry
It is no secret that Mississippi has some of the strongest literary roots of any state in the country. With names like William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, John Grisham, Greg Iles and more hailing from the Magnolia State, it is easy to see why there was a desperate need to have a book festival not only to pay homage to the ones that have come before but to help pave the way for the literary legends of the future. The Mississippi Book Festival is held in one of the most iconic and beautiful scenes in the state, complete with shade trees and streets full of stories, a perfect setting for storytellers, writers and readers.
The Mississippi Book Festival was founded in 2015 and launched that August on the grounds of the State Capitol in Jackson. Nicknamed the “literary lawn party,” it is not uncommon for nearly 10,000 people from around the country to converge. By the fifth year of the festival, they drew 9,300 visitors with 47 official panel discussions, in addition to activities at 10 different locations. The music, food and social scene give visitors a nice vibe as they wander through the grounds, meeting some of the top authors in the country. Hundreds of authors from around the country, state and locally converge on Jackson to meet with fans and new readers and are given chances to explore a more in-depth look into the themes and characters in their books through panels. But the contemporary authors are not the only ones involved in these spectacular events. Authors Alley is the hub for self-published and small press authors.
The growth of this incredible event can only be attributed to how well organized the event is. For example, in the first year, the event launched with John Grisham and Jackson State’s “Sonic Boom of the South” marching band. Over 100 authors, including Greg Iles and Curtis Wilke, and 3,750 people attended. Since then, the event has grown exponentially every year and has included nationally known authors such as John Meacham, Jesmyn Ward, Rick Bragg, Charles Frazier and Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Even with COVID-19 closing the in-person portion of the event in 2020, it did not stop the festival from happening. Instead, they took the event online through one-on-one interviews, group conversations and Reader Features with community guests from across the state. The result was staggering, with 2,500 online sessions and 27 authors on 28 panels. Their dedication to the event during one of the most difficult years proves just how special the Mississippi Book Festival is to everyone.
This event is full of family-friendly activities, making it the perfect place to spend the entire day with the family. Young readers will have a ball in the Kid’s Corner. The focus of books and authors here is to ignite the imagination of young readers and encourage a lifelong love of books. Additionally, capitol tours are available that day as well as a variety of delicious culinary offerings from food trucks throughout the southeast.
The 2022 Mississippi Book Festival will be held on August 20. The event is free to attend, and the official panelists for this year’s event are going to be some of the most popular to ever attend. Alice Walker, an internationally celebrated author and poet, will be an official panelist this year. Author of “The Color Purple,” the novel was first published in 1982 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year. Walker was the first African American woman to win this award. In 1983, she won the National Book Award. “The Color Purple” is commemorating its 40th-anniversary release this year.
Other official panelists include Matt de la Pena, who is a Newberry Medal-winning author of seven books, Jennifer Eagan, who won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction for her 2017 novel, “Manhattan Beach,” and Robert St. John, who is the author of 11 books and the owners of Crescent City Grill, Mahogany Bar, Tabella, Ed’s Burger Joint, The Midtowners and El Rayo Tex-Mex. This is just a sampling of the 26 authors that will make up these spectacular panels.
Additionally, booksellers from across the state will be joining in on the fun and assisting authors and visitors alike with books. Having them in attendance also gives self-published and small press published authors an opportunity to introduce themselves to the bookstore owners and staff and maybe land an event or signing at their respective stores.
There are so many ways you can make a difference in this special event. Without contributions from around the state from businesses and individuals, this event would not survive. If you are passionate about books and the people who write them, head over to the Mississippi Book Festival website (msbookfestival.com) and contribute. They are a 501c3 nonprofit organization.
The Mississippi Book Festival also would not be successful without its contingency of volunteers that help every year! If that is something you are interested in, you can sign up on their website as well. From there you can choose a day to help, an available task and a time slot. All the work begins on Wednesday, August 17, and wraps up Saturday, August 20. The options for you to help include the pre-event, author hospitality, the kick-off event, Kidnote, special events, set-up, information tent, check-in, book signing tent or cleanup.
Finally, if you want to join the Mississippi Book Festival as an exhibitor, they offer an incredible opportunity for individuals, retailers, organizations and vendors to sell or distribute books, goods or information. The directions on how to sign up are also on the website.
If you are planning to attend the Literary Lawn Party, get there early and plan to spend all day! The Mississippi State Capitol is located at 400 High Street in Jackson, Mississippi, and the event will start at 9 am and end at 5 pm. It is free to the public so prepare to have one of the best times of your life. It will be an event you return to year after year.