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Celebrating Writers and Writing in Mississippi’s Literary Capital

Among literature enthusiasts, it’s no secret that Oxford, Mississippi, has long been a magnet for writers. This spring, their numbers will multiply as more than thirty of the nation’s leading and emerging authors, poets, scholars, and artists gather for the annual Oxford Conference for the Book. Across the University of Mississippi campus and the city’s historic downtown Square, three days of panels, discussions, and events will transform Faulkner’s hometown into a literary playground of cutting-edge conversation. Mark your calendars: March 29–31, 2023, promises a book conference you won’t want to miss.

The twenty-ninth iteration of the conference is more expansive than ever, with help from national sponsors and partners across town and campus, including the National Book Foundation, the Willie Morris Awards for Southern Writing, and University of Mississippi. After Covid-19 and weather warnings interrupted the conference over the past three years, the conference is thrilled to partner with a broad spectrum of local organizations and communities in new, engaging ways. Art and music events add to this year’s already diverse lineup of book discussions and scholarly panels, all of which are free and open to the public. All venues—from the J. D. Williams Library, to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, to the Lafayette County Courthouse—are within walking distance and make for a widely accessible event.

“This year’s conference might just be the most wide-ranging Oxford Conference for the Book yet,” said Jimmy Thomas, conference director. “We’ve broadened our vision to include cultural and historic tours, visual arts, and music performances, along with readings and conversations on the written word. We’ll hold sessions in a number of new venues in downtown Oxford and across the university campus. This is really is a community event with nationwide appeal.”

In addition to the three-day affair, an OCB co-sponsored, pre-conference event will honor a new edition of Hubert Creekmore’s The Welcome in the author’s nearby hometown of Water Valley on Friday, March 24. Philip Gordon, author of the edition’s introduction will speak at Violet Valley Books, Mississippi’s only LGBTQ+ bookstore, with a reception at Bozart’s Gallery to follow.

S. A. Cosby

Also new this year, the University of Mississippi Museum and the Campus Slavery Research Group will kick off the conference with historical and cultural context by guiding free tours on Wednesday, March 29. The tours precede the annual Author’s Welcome Party at Memory House, one of few ticketed events, for which tickets can now be purchased on the conference website.

Free live music concludes each evening, beginning with author and Southern Folkways singer-songwriter Charlie Parr at Proud Larry’s on Wednesday. Parr will perform music from his album Last of the Better Days Ahead, inspired by his novel of the same name. The annual Thacker Mountain Radio show is always a highlight on Thursday, and this year will feature author Nic Brown (Bang, Bang, Crash) at the Lyric. Friday, “Noir at the Bar” will have you on the edge of your booth at Ajax, as Ace Atkins discusses crime fiction with S. A. Cosby (Razorblade Tears, Blacktop Wasteland, and My Darkest Prayer), Megan Abbott (The Turnout), and Eli Cranor (Ozark Dogs and Don’t Know Tough), ending with a show by local musicians.

The themes of movement and identity take one of the front-row seats this year. Thursday, March 30, begins with a discussion on “Family, Migration, and Home” between author Anjali Enjeti (Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change, and The Parted Earth) and Sheila Sundar (Habitations). Friday afternoon, Robert Rea (editor of The Southwest Review) hosts “Books on the Border,” featuring Mexican authors including Juliàn Herbert (Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino) and Yuri Herrera (Ten Planets).

Among the more anticipated panels is “The National Book Foundation Presents” session in which National Book Award–honored authors Jonathan Escoffery (If I Survive You) and Deesha Philyaw (The Secret Lives of Church Ladies) will join podcaster moderator Jerid P. Woods (a.k.a. Akili Nzuri, @ablackmanreading) on Thursday morning. Philyaw, also a Grisham Writer-in-Residence and visiting professor at University of Mississippi, will later assume the moderator’s chair in a genre-spanning panel with poet Khalisa Rae (Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat), nonfiction author Danté Stewart (Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle), and novelist Chantal James (None but the Righteous) in conversation Friday morning.

Poetry writers and fans will enjoy the event located at the Southside Gallery, hosted by University of Mississippi professor, poet, and writer Beth Ann Fennelly. Fennelly, the past Poet Laureate of Mississippi, will moderate a panel with poets Tarfia Faizullah (Registers of Illuminated Villages and Seam), James Hoch (Last Pawn Shop in New Jersey), and Mahogany L. Browne (Chrome Valley and I Remember Death by Its Proximity to What I Love) in the gallery Thursday afternoon. On exhibit, Cathy Fussell’s literature-inspired quilts in the exhibition Southern Lit 101 will fill the walls surrounding the panel with scenes familiar to conference patrons.

The Center for the Study of Southern Culture is excited to welcome Celia Naylor whose book, Unsilencing Slavery: Telling Truths about Rose Hall Plantation, Jamaica, is gaining national attention. Naylor will be in conversation with UM associate professor of anthropology and Southern Studies Jodi Skipper (Behind the Big House: Reconciling Slavery, Race, and Heritage in the US South). The Willie Morris Awards brings together Wayne Flynt (Afternoons with Harper Lee) and David Rae Morris (Love, Daddy: Letters from My Father) for “Conversations with Friends and Family,” which will, no doubt, be a memorable and intimate discussion. The weekend concludes with a book signing and ceremony for the Willie Morris Awards for Southern Writing, who will announce the 2023 winners in fiction, poetry, and—new to the roster—nonfiction at Off Square Books.

Also, the Children’s Book Festival is set for Friday, March 31, at the Ford Center for Performing Arts. The first-grade author is Pat Zietlow Miller (In Our Garden), and the fifth-grade author is Shelia Turnage (Three Times Lucky). The goal of the Children’s Book Festival is to give each child a book of their own, which they will read along with classmates and their teacher during the school year. The Children’s Book Festival serves more than 1,200 area first-graders and fifth-graders from schools in Lafayette County and Oxford.

Works by conference authors will be available for purchase via Square Books, the historic Oxford bookstore and longtime sponsor of the event. Discounted hotel rooms for those traveling to Oxford are available at the Inn at Ole Miss and the Graduate Hotel, both of which are convenient to the conference events. With additional authors added to the lineup daily, you’ll want to check for updates on the conference’s website and Instagram @oxford_book_conference. For questions, contact conference director Jimmy Thomas at