The gathering I'm referring to is one I attended two weeks ago, on Saturday, August 19: the third annual Mississippi Book Festival, held here in Jackson on the grounds of the State Capitol. A plot of several thousand writers (and readers) gathered there from nine a.m. until five p.m., in the blazing sun and stifling humidity of a southern summer, to attend author panels and signings and to buy books and--as our Baptist brethren like to say--to "fellowship." And fellowship we did, all day long and into the night, when our annual "literary lawn party" moved to another site several miles north.
The only official indication we have of this year's total crowd-size is the number of people who attended the forty-or-so panels held in several indoor and air-conditioned venues on and around the grounds, and I'm told that was around 6500--though there were certainly many other folks who came to the event and did not choose to attend a panel. As for me, I was stationed for most of the day at an outdoor and un-air-conditioned venue: the twelve-by-twelve-foot tent assigned to my publisher (Joe Lee, of Dogwood Press) and his four authors--Randy Pierce, Valerie Winn, Susan Cushman, and myself--along with stacks and boxes of our books. A couple of us played hooky long enough to participate in signings and panels throughout the day, but it was still a little crowded there. And really, really hot. But we saw a lot of old friends, met some new ones, and sold a few books as well.
My panel was one of the very last of the day, at four p.m., and although we four panelists and our moderator were sweaty and exhausted by then, so was our audience, so we all managed to get through the hour and have a good time. The panel, called "Voices of Home," was held in one of the rooms inside the Capitol, and--a quick plug, here--it's an impressive building, as are the grounds surrounding it. Especially this year, since we've had such a wet summer and everything is, for a change, as lush and green as a rainforest.
We who took part in the festival were extremely fortunate to have several nationally-known authors and publishers in attendance--Ron Rash, Greg Iles, Otto Penzler, Tom Franklin, Richard Ford, etc.--and even though Saturday's schedule was too hectic to allow much visiting, there were a couple of pre-event functions on Friday night that gave everybody time to get together and chat and catch up a bit. These were held at the home of Eudora Welty and at the historic Old Capitol Museum, and included panelists, sponsors, and guests.
I asked Otto Penzler if he had expected it to be this hot down here. Gracious as always, he said, "Sure--I love the south." And then gulped about a gallon of water.
Excuse me while I go turn up the A/C.