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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Oxford Conference for the Book Begins Thursday, March 24

A group of University of Mississippi English students are looking to steal the show for the Oxford Conference for the Book this weekend.

The conference, which is in its 19th year, starts Thursday and runs through Saturday.

“It turns out that this year, 2011, is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible,” said Ann Abadie, associate director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and coordinator of the conference.

There will be a panel discussion on Saturday at 11 a.m. titled “The King James Bible at 400.” Sitting on the panel will be noted author on southern religion Charles Reagan Wilson, and coeditor of the book “The King James Bible after 400 Years,” Norman W. Jones.

Also on Saturday, English students will take the stage at 10 a.m. at the Overby Center with a presentation of “Text and Technologies.”

With the help of Gregory Heyworth, associate professor of the English Department, the students are using state-of-the-art technology, which includes a high-powered digital camera used to recover and restore two of the libraries most valuable collections. One is called the Skipwith Papers, Revolutionary War correspondence between General Nathanael Greene and a series of other Revolutionary War luminaries including George Washington. The second is the Wynn-Faulkner collection that contains literary works from Oxford native William Faulkner.

“The collection contains letters of Faulkner but it also contains some poems which have never been published and basically no scholar has never seen before,” Heyworth said. “They were damaged in the 40s by fire in the attic of Phil Stone, who was Faulkner’s good friend.”

One poem Heyworth and his group have found might have something very special hidden on its pages.

“What we are looking at is a couple of poems, one in particular is called Michael, and the students are going to be talking about various aspects of a possible collaboration or commentary on not just the poem but the writing in the margins,” Heyworth said.

Marie Wicks, a senior at UM has been working very hard on the project for quite some time.

“This past summer I got to travel with Dr. Heyworth to Dresden, Germany with two other students and we were initially exposed to this project and using this technology to unveil ancient manuscripts, so it’s really neat to bring it back to Mississippi and see what possibilities there are for this technology.” Wicks said.

For Devon Emig, another senior working on the project, this is her first experience with the technology.

“I love that we are able to take things from Special Archives and do things with them to try and bring out aspects that really haven’t been looked at because they are such old manuscripts.” Emig said.

Another major event at the conference this year will be the Literature for Young Readers sessions. The sessions originated from the Junior Auxiliary of Oxford who started bringing in authors to speak to fifth-grade students in Oxford.

They approached Abadie to incorporate their author visits into the conference.

“When the Ford Center was built, we finally had a space large enough for all the fifth graders in the county,” Abadie said.

To enhance the experience for the students, the Junior Auxiliary purchased each student a copy of the author’s book.

“It was so wonderful because some of the students had never owned a book of their own, let alone met an author,” Abadie said.

A few years after the incorporation of the fifth-grade reading, a reading for ninth-grade students was added as well.

This year authors Jon and Pamela Voelkel will be speaking to the fifth-graders about their book “Middleworld,” and Ally Condie will be speaking to the ninth-graders about her book “Matched.”

This year will also host a session on graphic books — a first for the convention. Moderated by Jack Pendarvis, the session will feature Joyce Farmer, Michael Kupperman and Joe Matt.

Joyce Farmer is the author of a book “Special Exits,” a graphic novel about the care of her elderly parents and is now a finalist for the Graphic Novel of the Year award.

The “Comic Book Auteurs” will be Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.

A session called “Writing about Sports” Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. will be moderated by Tom Oliphant and will feature journalists Rick Cleveland of the Clarion-Ledger, Wil Haygood of the Washington Post and Wright Thompson of ESPN.

Abadie encouraged all students to attend the conference.

The Oxford Conference for the Book begins this Thursday with a luncheon at the J.D. Williams Library at 11:30 a.m. with the official welcome by Chancellor Dan Jones at the Overby Center at 1:30 p.m.

Abadie said the original idea for the Oxford Conference for the Book came from Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books, in the late 1980s.

After the renovation of Barnard Observatory in 1992, home of the Southern studies department, the first conference was planned.

“We charged people to attend (the first conference), but we didn’t want to do that,” Abadie said. “So we started writing grants.”

The original intent for the conference was to provide a venue to discuss topics such as freedom of speech, the publishing process and other writing/book related topics.

“Then in 1999 Eudora Welty had her 90th birthday, and we decided we would dedicate the conference to her at 90,” Abadie said.

The next year Willie Morris died, and it was decided to dedicate the conference to him.

This is the first year since 1999 that the conference has not been dedicated to an individual.

“Last year was the first time we dedicated it to someone who was still alive – Barry Hannah,” Abadie said. “Then, the Monday before the conference, he died.”

from DM by Taylor Smith and Jake Thompson