Walter Anderson’s Enchanting Works Celebrated At Oxford Conference for the Book March 26-28

Free event also includes sessions with schoolchildren, readings, panels and more

OXFORD, Miss. – The life and works of Mississippi native Walter Anderson, one of America’s greatest artists, are to be celebrated during the 16th annual Oxford Conference for the Book, scheduled March 26-28 at the
University of Mississippi.

A renowned painter, writer and naturalist, Anderson (1903-1965) constantly sought to understand life’s meaning. Besides thousands of paintings, sculptures, block prints, figurines, pottery and murals, he produced more than 10,000 pen-and-ink illustrations. His writings include poems, stories, journals and letters, many of which interpreted the natural world of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where he spent his life. An extensive reader, he was greatly interested in books of poetry, art history and natural science.

“There are many artists who explored a story but few who fused with it,” said Patricia Pinson, curator of exhibitions at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs. “The book to Anderson was a way of life, part of the quest to find realization and meaning. It was the distillation of the timeless epics that gave him the grasp of the significance of the moment. Great books and great art are about insight, and Anderson
gives us insight into both.”

The conference also includes sessions with authors of books for young readers involving some 1,000 local schoolchildren, a panel on how a disaster – such as Hurricane Katrina – affects writing, a presentation on book and author promotion, a fiction and poetry jam, a marathon book signing, a program commemorating the 100th birthday of writer Eudora Welty, a conference edition of “Thacker Mountain Radio,” and various other addresses, readings and panels.

Presented in conjunction with the conference is a theatre performance celebrating Anderson’s work. Three performances are scheduled at no charge but tickets are required. Optional offerings preceding the actual conference and calling for pre-registration and fee payment are a Mississippi Delta literary tour and a daylong workshop for writers.

The conference kicks off at 11:30 a.m. Thursday with a program and luncheon at UM’s J.D. Williams Library, opening the exhibition “Walter Anderson and World Literature.” Curator for the exhibit is the artist’s son John Anderson of Ocean Springs, who along with Pinson will offer comments.

Two panel presentations are scheduled Thursday afternoon. “Bringing Walter Anderson to the World,” moderated by artist William Dunlap, will feature Pinson, publisher Seetha Srinivasan and authors Patti Carr Black and Christopher Maurer. “Living With Walter Anderson: His Children Speak Out,” moderated by Anne Prichard Morris, features Anderson’s children as panelists. They are Bill Anderson, John Anderson, Leif Anderson and Mary Anderson Pickard.

Dunlap, a landscape painter who lives in McLean, Va., said he is honored to be involved with the book conference for the seventh year.

“I think it’s courageous and innovative of the book conference to take on a painter who is far more than just an illustrator,” Dunlap said. “I’m fascinated by Walter Anderson because all he is doing with a brush and a pen is telling stories in a different language.”

A panel discussion is planned Friday to celebrate April’s distinction as National Poetry Month. Moderator is Ann Fisher-Wirth, UM professor of English, and panelists are poets Jimmy Kimbrell, UM’s John and Renee Grisham Writer in Residence; and Camille Dungy, associate professor of creative writing at San Francisco State University.

Also on Friday, literary scholar Peggy Whitman Prenshaw will present an address commemorating the 100th anniversary of Eudora Welty’s birth. “I plan to talk about the whole range of Welty’s career – the writings, the life and the interviews,” Prenshaw said.

For the sixth year, two sessions with young authors are scheduled. On Friday morning, Trenton Lee Stewart, author of “The Mysterious Benedict Society,” will speak to Oxford-area fifth-graders. Stewart’s book is winner of the 2008 E. B. White Read Aloud Award. The second session, on Saturday morning, features Jay Asher, author of “Thirteen Reasons Why,” who will speak to students from Mississippi high schools. These two sessions are sponsored in collaboration with the Junior Auxiliary of Oxford, the Lafayette County Literary Council and Square Books Jr.

On Friday, following the sessions with the fifth-graders, programming includes the annual panel presentation “The Endangered Species: Readers Today and Tomorrow.” Moderator is educator Elaine H. Scott and panelists are Claiborne Barksdale of the Barksdale Reading Institute, Hattiesburg librarian Pamela Pridgen, and authors Asher and Stewart.

Ted Ownby, director of UM’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, moderates a panel Saturday on “Writing After Katrina.” Panelists Emily Clark, a historian at Tulane University; Jerry Ward, a poet; and Joyce Zonana, a memoirist and literary critic, will discuss the challenges and processes of being a writer in the years after the storm.

“The session is not about writing about the hurricane, but instead it is about how the process of writing is affected by a disaster,” Ownby said.

The second annual daylong workshop for writers, scheduled March 25, is to be directed by fiction writer Margaret Love-Denman, an Ole Miss alumnus and former Oxford resident. The workshop fee of $250 includes evaluation of a manuscript and a private session with Denman.

Conference sessions Thursday afternoon, as well as Thacker Mountain Radio that evening, take place at the Lyric Theatre, located at 1006 Van Buren Ave. Friday morning sessions are at UM’s Fulton Chapel, with Friday afternoon sessions at the Lyric Theatre, with book signings and open mike Poetry and Fiction Jam that evening at Square Books. Saturday’s sessions are scheduled at UM’s Nutt Auditorium in the Music Building.

Preceding the conference for the sixth year is the Mississippi Delta Literary Tour , based in Greenwood, with visits to Indianola, Tutwiler, Clarksdale, Merigold and Greenville. Scheduled March 22-26, the tour costs $575 per person for program activities, eight meals and local transportation. Group accommodations are available at the Alluvian Hotel at a discounted rate of $170 by calling 1-866-600-2501 and requesting the literary tour rate. Rooms also are available in Greenwood at the Best Western, 662-455-5777, and Hampton Inn, 662-455-7985.

The conference is co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Square Books, Junior Auxiliary of Oxford, Lafayette County-Oxford Public Library, Lafayette County Literacy Council, Oxford Middle School PTA, Mississippi Library Commission and Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance. It is funded in part by a contribution from the R&B Feder Foundation for the Beaux Arts and grants from the Mississippi Humanities Council, National Endowment for the Arts, Mississippi Arts Commission, Oxford Tourism Council and Yoknapatawpha Arts Council.

For more information, a complete schedule or to register, call 662-915-5993 or visit . For assistance related to a disability, call 662-915-5993.