On the morning of Aug. 22, 2015, the Jackson State University Sonic Boom of the South marching band played as famed attorney-turned-novelist John Grisham followed them down the south lawn of the Mississippi Capitol Building in downtown Jackson, Miss., various state leaders at his side. Grisham, who previously served as a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives during the 1980s, approached a podium that stood before a crowd of nearly 3,000 people.
Grisham had come to the capitol that day as part of an inaugural celebration of Mississippi literature called the Mississippi Book Festival. Following his opening speech at the Capitol Building, Grisham joined other renowned Mississippi authors such as Greg Iles and Ellen Gilchrist at a Hal and Mal’s luncheon in honor of the late Yazoo City, Miss., native and author Willie Morris. Later that day, he spoke again at a packed standing-room-only event at Galloway United Methodist Church. Even though Grisham was not scheduled to sign books at the day’s final event, he decided to do so anyway to cap off the evening.
The Mississippi Book Festival has grown from the initial 3,000 visitors it attracted in 2015. After the 2021 event had to run virtually due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival is returning to its usual live format on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022, at the Mississippi Capitol Building (400 High St.). The event will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
Inspiring ‘The Next Generation’
The Mississippi Book Festival is a nonprofit that a group of literacy advocates originally founded in 2013. Community organizer Holly Lange served as founding director of the group, whose early membership also included Steve Yates of the University Press of Mississippi, Lemuria Books owner John Evans, Tracy Karr of the Mississippi Library Commission and Jackson-native author Jere Nash.
“From the start, our goal was to celebrate one of the most positive and influential aspects of our state, which is the contributions our writers have made to the literary landscape on a statewide, national and international level,” Lange told the Mississippi Free Press. “We want to honor the legacy of great Mississippi writers like Eudora Welty and hopefully inspire the next generation of great writers as well.”
Ahead of the main festival day on Aug. 20, Newberry Award winner Matt de la Peña will speak at Galloway United Methodist Church at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 19, to deliver the “Kidnote Address.” The address is part of a day of children’s programming that organizers host on the Friday before the book festival every year, in which children can meet and participate in activities with children’s book authors. Peña will deliver another speech to the general public at the main festival on Saturday.
Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell and Margaret McMullen, who created the National Book Award-winning series “March” about the late Mississippi Congressman John Lewis’ involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, will be among the first speakers on Saturday. The three will discuss their latest work, “Run: Book One,” which covers Lewis’ actions after the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
More than 170 other authors will take part in the festival, at least 90 of which will also be selling copies of their most recent works in tents along Mississippi Street and N. West Street as part of the event’s Authors Alley.
The festival will also have more than 40 panels taking place at three different venues inside Galloway United Methodist Church throughout the day, as well as book signings and other events.
Highlights: Author Events, Food Trucks, Live Music
Mississippi First Lady Elee Reeves, author of “Mississippi’s Fred the Turtle,” will host a story-time event for children at 9:30 a.m. Rebecca Giles, educator and author of “Coastal Mississippi Alphabet,” will host more children’s activities at 10:45 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
Cree Myles, curator of Penguin Random House’s “All Ways Black,” an Instagram account that celebrates Black literature, will host an in-person “Drop Everything and Read” installation on the south lawn all day.
The Asylum Hill Project, an initiative that examines the history and archaeology of the former Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum to better understand the history of mental-health treatment in the state, will also hold a presentation on the south lawn.
The Mississippi Public Broadcasting Kids Club will provide free books, activities and the chance to meet Molly of Denali from PBS Kids and Ed Said, a program that uses rap music to educate children about the importance of healthy eating. The MPB Kids Club will be on the ground floor of the Capitol Building.
Rocky’s House, a traveling exhibit that the Mississippi Children’s Museum and the Barksdale Reading Institute created, will host “Talk From the Start,” a statewide advocacy campaign that helps children build language and literacy skills through playing, talking and reading, on the south lawn of the Capitol Building.
Books, Bears and Therapy—a company that uses books, stuffed bears and therapy to teach social and emotional well-being—will host a “Build-A-Bear”-style event called “Bearapy” on N. West Street that will include a mobile bear stuffing machine, books and a digital platform to support school-to-home connection.
First Book, an organization that provides books, educational resources and other necessities for children in need, will give out free books for children 18 and under at a tent on the south lawn until supplies run out.
The East Wing on the ground floor of the Capitol Building will house a pop-up exhibition tracing the origins of the Book-of-the-Month Club, a United States subscription-based e-commerce service that offers a selection of five to seven new hardcover books each month to its members. The Capitol Building will also host tours every hour from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Local food trucks will be set up along N. West Street throughout the day. Participating vendors include 2 for 7 Kitchen, Coffee Prose, Crooked Letter Kitchen, CrunchTime Concessions, Fortune’s Kitchen, Green Ghost Tacos, J’s Kettle Corn, Poppy Pies, Scoop Dee Doo, Small Time Hot Dogs & Street Eats, SnoBiz, Street Dough, T&J Concessions, The Frosty Flamingo Italian Ice Cart and TTNB Snowcones. The Sessions Band will also play live throughout the day at the food pavilion.
After the festival concludes at 4 p.m., the newly restored Capri Theater (3023 N. State St.) in Fondren will host a screening of the Emmy-winning documentary, “Walter Anderson: The Extraordinary Life & Art of the Islander,” beginning at 5:30 p.m., followed by a Q&A session with documentary creators Robert St. John and Anthony Thaxton and Anderson’s youngest son, John Anderson.
The day’s festivities will end with the Hot Fest Cool Down at Hal and Mal’s (200 Commerce St.) from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Thacker Mountain Radio host Jim Dees will headline the event together with Helen Ellis, author of “Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light.” The event will also feature live music from Water Seed and Empty Atlas. Admission is $10 at the door.
Browse the full list of panelists participating in the Mississippi Book Festival, a full panel schedule, the full list of Authors Alley vendors, and a full schedule of book-signing opportunities. For more information, visit msbookfestival.com.