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How local independent bookstores are shaping Mississippi's historic literary culture

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makayla steed

University of Mississippi Journalism Student

Mississippi has a long literary history with authors such as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Jesmine Ward, Keith Lamon, Angie Thomas and John Grisham.

But not only are many Mississippi-based writers responsible for the state’s literary history, so are the state’s independent bookstores.

said Hillary Taylor, event director at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi. “They bring in writers and give readers an experience in a place they call home.”

In Lyn Roberts’ experience as manager of Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, one of the many roles of independent bookstores is to recognize and nurture talent.

Initially, authors often rely on and rely on local independent bookstores to promote their work. Such was the case with Jesmine Ward at the beginning of her career.

The first book she wrote was a paperback original. It was a small publisher,” she says Roberts. “Now she has her two National Book Awards. I wanted to ask him to sign the book and help me promote the book.”

Another Mississippi author and poet, Melissa Ginsburg, also said Square Books and other independent bookstores were important to her writing career.

“Square Books cares about the author and the city,” says Ginsburg. “This is really the heart of this vibrant community. Bookstores hand-deliver my books, support me, host events. It was one of the most fun and well-attended.”

Lemuria Books also hosts author events and book signings, and has helped many authors launch their careers.

“We want to be the launching pad for national debut writers, not just local writers,” Taylor said. It’s a great place to host a book signing. It’s kind of a gathering place for our community.”

In addition to supporting authors, independent bookstores serve their communities in ways Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, or Amazon rarely do.

“The ‘Buy Local’ movement re-emphasized the importance of supporting people in our communities. Because it’s a place where you can,” says Jamie Harker. The owner of his Violet Valley bookstore in Water Valley, Mississippi, said: “A chain bookstore that prioritizes orders nationally and has bookstores that may not have read or invested in the books they have on hand will not be able to offer the same experience.”

Because of their fixed standing within the community, independent bookstores are able to develop personal relationships with their customers and prioritize books that are most likely to interest the community.

“We are responsive to the community,” says Taylor. “We’ve spent time learning what the community wants and needs when it comes to books, and we want to make sure it’s in stock in our store.” We love recommending real books – our bookstores want to talk about books with you and we want to share them with our readers. can’t find it.”

Square Books shows a similar dedication to its community. So not only do we have a large selection of books, but we also stock books by William Faulkner and other Southern authors, as well as books you need to read at the University of Mississippi.

The Violet Valley Bookstore is unique among other independent bookstores in the state in being the only “Queer Feminist Trans-Inclusive Bookstore” in Mississippi serving LGBTQIA+ authors and readers.

As a non-profit bookstore, core to Violet Valley’s mission is to ensure that its books are accessible and affordable to the public. For example, Violet Valley Books’ Scott Crone Fund sets aside funds to provide books to young members of the LGBTQIA+ community who can’t afford to buy their own.

In addition to providing books by and for marginalized people, Harker also hopes to represent all of Mississippi’s literary culture.

“Mississippi, and the South as a whole, certainly has a rich literary history,” says Harker, author of “Lesbian South.” Said. “There is also a rich history of queer literature. One of his areas of expertise as a scholar is the queer literary culture of the South, and Violet his Valley his bookstore always showcases this widely.”

Promoting authors, serving readers, and offering books that may not be available in your local library are just some of the ways independent bookstores in Mississippi influence the state’s literary history. .

“By investing in new literary voices and investing in our state’s audience, we will help advance Mississippi’s literary culture,” Taylor said. We want to help you share your love of storytelling with others. We know that Mississippi has a rich literary history and a rich future in the literary world, and we are a part of that growth. I am happy.”

Courtesy of Violet Valley Bookstore
Photo by Makeira Steed
Photo by Makeira Steed
Independent bookstores in Mississippi, according to the American Bookseller Association directory by Makayla Steede