We’ve had so much going on here at the public library this week! Not only are we gearing up for our Summer Reading Program, but we’ve also hosted three children’s programs, two books and lunches, and two book clubs. Not to mention the tea party this Sunday with Pete the Cat! Kudos to Head Librarian Laura Beth Walker, Children’s Librarian Nancy Opalko, and Youth Specialist Meridith Wulff for making this week happen. And of course we wouldn’t be here if it were’t for the constant guidance of library cats Scout and Atticus.
I was personally involved in hosting our teen comic book club yesterday evening and
Alison Pelegrin demonstrates origami poetry
facilitating today’s books and lunch in conjunction with the Oxford Conference for the Book. Teen comic book club was a smash as we had a record attendance of fourteen people! Teens discussed the first volume of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and enjoyed pizza and snacks. (We’ve also had some interest from our younger crowd, so stay tuned for our upcoming kid comic book club.) This morning’s books and lunch poetry reading was equally exciting, although much more low key! Poet Alison Pelegrin read from her 2016 collection, Waterlines. Her gentle presence and strong voice carried her words like the origami poems she sets to sail in the shapes of owls, foxes, and other Louisiana creatures on the Bogue Falaya River.
We hope to continue to engage our community with programs like these for countless years to come. Sadly, public libraries and many other cultural and educational institutions are at risk now more than ever of losing government funding. To find out how you can help (it’s so easy, I promise!), please visit the American Library Association’s Legislative Action Center at http://cqrcengage.com/ala/. Thank you for your patronage, our community means everything to us.
Louis Bourgeois joined us this afternoon for Books and Lunch to discuss the Prison Writers Initiative which he began as a way to help Mississippi inmates connect with the outside world, cope with their lives in prison, and have their work published. Bourgeois read from inmate’s memoirs and poetry, pointing out that many of these men never received high school educations or had ever put pen to paper before. The result is impressive. Their stories are honest and vulnerable, and many of them, as Bourgeois pointed out, had their own distinct literary voice. Inmates write about daily life in prison, interacting with the men on death row, and finding personal identity in a harsh world and with the weight of a disreputable past.
Bourgeois began teaching creative writing to male inmates at Parchman and has expanded the program to include death row inmates, female inmates at Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, and is currently planning outreach to young people in juvenile detention centers as well as for children whose families are incarcerated. You can learn more about the Prison Writers Initiative (PWI) and purchase In Our Own Words: Writing from Parchman Prison and Unit 30 at the PWI website.
Jake Keiser joined us today for a fabulous and furry Books and Lunch. Special guest Ellie (she’s the one with the horns) worked the crowd while Keiser delivered a surprisingly moving talk. Author of the hugely popular blog, Gucci to Goats, Keiser left her city life in Tampa behind for a more rural existence here in Oxford, Mississippi. But if anyone came expecting some fashionable farm talk, they left with a whole lot more. Keiser’s genuineness is apparent, and she opened up about what it means to be a single woman living a truly self-reliant lifestyle. She shared with us the obstacles she faced not only as a city girl learning to live off the land, but also the personal struggles and societal expectations that she continues to overcome.
If she was a hapless city dweller before, almost five years later Jake Keiser has mastered sustainable living and writing from the heart. Ellie is a therapy goat in training and will eventually work with special needs children and adults who Keiser welcomes to her farm for education and a little R&R. Hearing Keiser speak about finding purpose in life was inspirational. We wish her luck on future ventures, and we’re waiting with baited breath for a memoir!
I feel February is a good month for poetry so I’m following my last post on Derrick Harriell’s reading with some thoughts on Morgan Parker’s 2017 poetry collection, There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé. First things first, this book rocks an excellent title with excellent cover art by Mickalene Thomas. Sometimes it’s okay to judge a book by its cover — but the enticing marketing on this one can’t even touch what’s inside. If I was looking for poems about Beyoncé, I found them and a lot more. Many of the poems speak to black women but hold imporant truths and lyrical beauty for anyone with a soul. Yes, there are more beautiful things than Beyoncé. This book is one of them.
I was born this way: unsatisfied
My color is a bridge with no other side
In a second life my voice is a drum kit
Reigning over green hills like weather
I am king & anthem
I know how to relax
— from Rebirth of Slick by Morgan Parker
Poet and MFA Director Derrick Harriell delivered a powerful reading this afternoon at Books and Lunch. Reading from his poetry collection, Ropes, Harriell assumed the
voices of Black American boxers from Joe Louis to Mike Tyson. The dialect and cadence of each poem changes according to the boxer who is speaking and the era he inhabited. Harriell’s rendering was so believable that hearing him was like taking a cruise through history. Everyone was enthralled, especially our Oxford High School attendees! Thank you to everyone who attended, we hope to have Mr. Harriell back again.
And please join us for our upcoming Books and Lunch with Jake Keiser, author of the blog From Gucci to Goats, on Thursday March 16th at noon. I hear there may be a special four-legged guest!
Coming soon to the Oxford Public Library, one of the best thrillers you’ll get your hands on this year. Acclaimed Argentinian author Samantha Schweblin delivers a haunting, edge-of-your-seat masterpiece in less than two-hundred pages. Beautiful prose moves readers through dreamlike, sun-dappled afternoons to nightmarish and unexpected turns.
When Amanda takes her small daughter, Flora, to the Argentinian countryside for a brief respite from the city, she finds herself mortally entwined with a mysterious woman named Carla and her son David, who Carla believes is possessed by a malevolent spirit.
Author and former federal prosecutor, Charlie Spillers, recalled his remarkable ten-year career as an undercover agent with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics during
today’s Books and Lunch. His 2016 book, Confessions of an Undercover Agent: Adventures, Close Calls, and the Toll of a Double Life, was named the #1 new release nationwide in law enforcement memoirs by Amazon. Spillers began his career in law enforcement at the Baton Rouge Police department, and after a decade in undercover narcotics became a career federal prosecutor. He also served three tours in Iraq and was recognized by the FBI Director, the
Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General, the Italian Embassy, the British Ambassador, and and Britain’s Minister of State for the Armed Forces. Not surprisingly, his story is a gripping one marked with heart pounding suspense and narrow escapes. He is currently writing a novel, Whirlwind: An Agent Frank Marsh Novel, a thriller inspired by his life experiences.
Grab your copy of Confessions of an Undercover Agent — we have them here! — and look forward to an upcoming audio documentary about Spiller’s unusual career at eisradio.org.