Writing stories to pass values from one generation to the next

Mississippi Book Festival: Mississippi Shining

Mississippi Book Festival: Mississippi Shining

For over 49 years, I have called Mississippi home. Both sides of my family go back many generations in this much-maligned state. I have lived in the central, southern, and northern sections of Mississippi. My background as a high school baseball player and coach have led me to most of the cities and towns that dot our state, not to mention the tiny hamlets that serve as sinews to hold the larger cities and towns in place. Mississippi is in my blood. And I love living here.

My head hasn’t been entirely in the sand over the last half-century. I know where Mississippi ranks in education and poverty and obesity and so many other vital statistics. I know our racist past and our present struggles. But I also know that this is the most giving, most hospitable state in the nation. And we have no shortage of Mississippians who write about it all.

Literature is Mississippi’s place to shine. Saturday’s inaugural Mississippi Book Festival on the Capitol grounds in Jackson was evidence of the importance that many Mississippi writers place on their craft. Sure, the world knows Faulkner and Welty and Grisham, but my state’s literary richness runs much deeper than that. Saturday was a day to celebrate, a day to promote, a day for Mississippi to shine.

Mississippi Book Festival

One Writer’s Book Festival Experience

My day began as a volunteer, though there were so many of us that I was told to just help out where needed. I helped for a while, then began one of several tours through the area where self-published authors like me were set up. One of the first people I met was Ken McRaney, like me, a native of Star. Ken went to school with my dad and recently published his first book, North of Natchez, at age 74. This was his first book signing.

Mississippi Book Festival

I stepped back into the Capitol building for the first session I would attend. Though I arrived before the author’s roundtable was set to begin, there was not a seat to be had in the room or even a place along the wall. I thought I would take another lap around the author’s tables outside. First, though, I ran into Governor Phil Bryant. He saw my shirt and wanted to know who Coach Dave was. So I told him.

Mississippi Book Festival

Back to the Author Tables

Next, I met Phil Hardwick, author of the Mississippi Mysteries series. One of his books particularly drew my attention. Volume nine of his series of mysteries from different towns throughout Mississippi is Sixth Inning in Southaven. I pointed to the cover, a photo of one of the multi-purpose buildings of Southaven’s Snowden Grove Park, and told Phil that my promotional video for Coach Dave: Season One was shot mere feet away.

I was enthralled by the cover of Carl Purdon’s Norton Road and talked for some time with this Pontotoc writer about his cover design process. His striking book cover was designed by Damonza, a company with which I am not familiar. I’ll be checking them out.

I ran into old friend Brandi McElhaney, co-author of the Founder’s Force series. And by old, I mean I met Brandi and her husband Kyle at my coffee shop hangout a few weeks ago. They are looking forward to moving back to Mississippi from Kansas in a few months. I love their passion for our country and its founders. I took the Benjamin Franklin: Benji and the Lightning volume to show our elementary librarian. The series would be a great add to our school library.

One of my favorite conversations of the day was with Mississippi writer John Floyd. My mom has heard John speak several times and has highly recommended him to me. He certainly lived up to her hype and was very engaging and helpful to this fledgling writer. I had already read John’s Rainbow’s End and picked up Fifty Mysteries: The Angela Files on Saturday on Saturday. Fifty Mysteries is a collection of short mystery stories that the reader tries to solve from subtle hints woven into the tales. My English classes have already tried their hand at a few.

My favorite moderated discussion of the day came with the sportswriters panel. Just like with its writers, Mississippi has produced more than its share of world-class athletes about whom to write and sources of hunting and fishing stories galore. The writers on the panel–Rick Cleveland, Sid Salter, Don Jackson, Mike Christensen, and Billy Watkins–were mostly journalists who have managed to write a book or two on the side. They were articulate, colorful, and passionate about their craft. Many of them sat under the tutelage of Willie Morris. No wonder.

But the best part of the Mississippi Book Festival?

I spent the better part of the day with person who gave me a love for reading in the first place and has for years encouraged me to write. Mom and I enjoyed the first annual Mississippi Book Festival, and we’re already looking forward to the next one. (Just announced: August 20, 2016)

Shine on, Mississippi!


About Al Ainsworth

Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell.

Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel, Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and the Coach Dave series. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.

What do you think?