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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Conference for the Book Celebrates Memoir and Biography Writing

Event set for March 22-24, preceded by Delta Literary Tour March 18-21

OXFORD, Miss. – Memoir, publishing and online writing will be examined at the 19th annual Oxford Conference of the Book, set for March 22-24.

The 2012 conference opens with a lunch and lecture on the history of the book in the United States by scholar David D. Hall. That afternoon, Beth Ann Fennelly, associate professor of English and director of the MFA program at the University of Mississippi, will host a celebration of National Poetry Month.

Immediately following will be a Writers Conversation between author Richard Ford and Josh Weil, the university’s John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence. A special “Thacker Mountain Radio” show at Off Square Books, 160 Courthouse Square, will feature author and musician Bobby Keys with Charlie Winton at 6 p.m.

“The unique things about the Oxford Conference for the Book are how it offers discussions on so many aspects of literature and literacy, and also how it treats all authors and speakers equally, without big sessions for big-name authors and little rooms for the rest of us,” said Ted Ownby, director of the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture. “This year will be special in lots of ways, including the emphasis several panels have on writing memoir and biography.”

Each year, two Friday morning sessions are devoted to educational programming and the celebration of literature for young people. All Oxford-area fifth- and ninth-grade students (nearly 1,000 readers) receive their own copies of books by the visitors and go to the conference to hear the authors speak about writing and reading. Elise Broach will discuss her book “Masterpiece” (Square Fish, 2010) with fifth-graders, and James Dashner will speak to ninth-graders about “The Maze Runner” (Delacorte Books, 2009).

Saturday panels include commentary on the future of reading and literacy, followed by a panel on “The Urge Toward Memoir,” which will be moderated by Bill Dunlap and include Randy Fertel, Julia Reed and Norma Watkins. Blogging, online publishing and food writing will also be discussed that afternoon.

“We are so excited to build on the conference’s long legacy of bringing book-lovers to Oxford, said Becca Walton, associate director of projects at CSSC.

The conference will come to a close with an afternoon panel on the future of publishing, followed by a reading moderated by Tom Franklin including Michael Downs and Jennifer Dubois.

There will also be a special announcement announcing the creation of an endowment to support the OCB in honor of Ann Abadie, associate director emerita of the CSSC, on her retirement this year.

“So far that endowment has over $125,000 and it will help secure the conference for the future,” Ownby said.

The Mississippi Delta Literary Tour, set for March 18–21, will once again traverse the Delta countryside, exploring the region’s rich literary, culinary and musical heritage. The tour will be based at the Alluvian Hotel in downtown Greenwood and will explore the towns of Clarksdale, Greenville, Indianola and Cleveland, making stops along the way in Money, Tutwiler and Winterville.

This year promises to be the best tour yet, said Jimmy Thomas, CSSC associate director of publications.

“We’re visiting a number of new places and people, including the Cotesworth Cultural and Heritage Center in North Carrollton and Carolyn Norris’s Art Shop in Cleveland, and in Greenwood we’ll have what promises to be a stimulating panel conversation on themes found in Kathryn Stockett’s book, ‘The Help,’” said Thomas, who leads the tour. “I’m kind of blown away by all the great artists and scholars who are joining us to help guide this tour across Mississippi’s most storied region.”

The university and Square Books sponsor the conference in association with the Junior Auxiliary of Oxford, Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library, Lafayette County Literacy Council, LOFT: Lafayette/Oxford Foundation for Tomorrow, Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance and Southern Literary Trail. The 2012 conference is partially funded by UM, a contribution from the R&B Feder Foundation for the Beaux Arts and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Mississippi Humanities Council, the Oxford Tourism Council and the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council.

A full list of conference events is at