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Troy

The Mississippi Book Festival — “Where are my people at?”

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I had the pleasure of attending the Mississippi Book Festival, which is held each August in the state's largest city, Jackson. I was able to see a wide variety of interesting authors including Jon Meacham, Rick Bragg, and the author of one of my favorite books, Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier.

 

Jackson is a city that is over 80% Black, so I expected to see a significant number of Black authors. While the number of Black authors showcased were in the minority numerically; there were plenty in attendance. I saw writers like; children's book author and actress, Quvenzhané Wallis; social justice activist, Janet Dewart Bell; former Editor in Chief of the NAACP’s flagship publication, The Crisis, Jabari Asim; and Jackson native and #1 New York Times Bestseller author, Angie Thomas. I even had dinner with award winning children’s book author and illustrator Don Tate. Indie authors were well represented too, and I captured video of a few including, K. Reshay and Regena Hoye.

 

Given the number and variety of Black authors present, I was really surprised by the lack of Black attendees. If anyone can explain why this would be the case, I'm all ears, or eyes as  is the case here.

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This was the most thoughtful response I received in reaction to my question to my question:

 

Dear Troy,

 

I really enjoy your book posts and look forward to each.  You asked if anyone from MS could tell you why the festival is poorly attended bt Black people here.  I'm going to attempt an answer but you will have a hard time believing it.

 

My husband and I moved here in late April and it has been an eye opening experience.  There is very little in the way of publicity here and that is the case for most social events even the statewide ones.  For instance, the state fair is this month and there have been no tv ads and very little in the way of print.  If you don't already know about the goings on in your area of the state, there is almost no way of finding out as folks don't tell you what is going on.  They are not particularly friendly that way.

 

There are few book stores here.  Each county or town might have one library.  I told my local librarians about the book festival and also the annual writers conference neither of which they attend or were aware of.  I told some folks about both and they were amazed to know MS had a writers guild.  Imagine my surprise because these are lifelong Mississippians.

 

I had a rude awakening when I attended a Black business meeting (3 people have been attending) and found out that Black people here do not support Black businesses.  I was told by more than one Black business owner to not let on that the business is Black owned.  Now I never expect White folks to support Black businesses but I do expect Black people.  Apparently the crap/slave mentality is alive and very well here.  If Black folks find out you own a business, they make comments about not wanting to make you rich or some other comment to that effect.  The word gets spread and your business goes belly up.  I've heard some of this and seen it first hand.  My husband told me this (he was raised down here) and I didn't believe him.  I was born and bred in Chicago.  Black folks their spread the word and and buy Black.  Not here.

 

We're here because are on a fixed income and rents in Chicago are skyrocketing.  My mother-in-law left a home to my hubby so here we are.  Eventually we'll be back in Chicago.  In the meantime, we're doing what we can to change minds and attitudes here.  I joined the local chapter of the MS Writers Guild (presently all White) and had a small event at my county library.  They offered to carry a copy of my book.

 

I had a stroke and could not attend the festival although I'm on the mailing list and keep up.  I saw some of it on Book-TV.  I'm glad you were able to attend.  Hopefully we'll have an opportunity to meet in the future,

 

Keep up your good work.  It is needed and appreciated.

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Guest K. Reshay

Hi Troy,

 

It was absolutely a pleasure meeting you at The MS Book Festival. I appreciate all you do for authors and readers. Like you, I was totally disappointed in the lack of African American attendance. I reached out to several book clubs in the area a few weeks prior. I'm not sure if there wasn't enough marketing or what. I plan on doing a lot of promotion next year to get a better turn out :)

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