OXFORD – Family, friends and fans of author Larry Brown packed the Lafayette County-Oxford Public Library Monday evening to celebrate its inclusion on the United for Libraries Literary Landmarks Register.
The recognition reflects the library’s role in the literary growth of Brown, an Oxford fire fighter who became one of its most renowned novelists. Head librarian Laura Beth Walker said Brown’s own speech at the 1997 dedication of its expansion was responsible for the designation.
“He spoke about how much the library meant to him. He said, ‘The library is for everybody, and that’s the single greatest thing about it,’” Walker said. “We could not be happier to be designated a literary landmark in honor of Larry Brown.”
Former librarian Dotsy Fitts recalled that Brown interrupted his reading more than once to repair the library’s stuck elevator. Even after he was famous for such works as “On Fire,” “Big Bad Love” and “Billy Ray’s Farm,” Fitts said, “He still did a lot for us. He brought a lot of authors here.”
Square Books owner Richard Howorth said, “It’s nice to commemorate Larry’s association with the library and to acknowledge the role that it played in his formation as a reader, which of course is what made him a writer.”
Jay Watson, Howry Professor of Faulkner Studies at the University of Mississippi, concurred.
“Larry said often that ‘writers learn to write by writing,’” he said. “One of the things he talked about less often, but I think he might have believed just as deeply, is that writers also learn to write by reading. That’s what makes a library such an incredibly important place.”
Longtime friend and author Jonathan Miles recounted helping Mary Annie Brown catalog Larry’s literary effects after his sudden death in 2004.
“I kept finding myself surprised less by the books that were there than by the books that weren’t there,” he said. Miles realized his friend had built his literary foundation at the library.
“This is where Larry had encountered the books that lit that incredible fire within him,” Miles said.
Shane Brown added personal reflections about his hard-working, hard-reading father as a kind and curious man shaped by his library discoveries. Shane Brown quoted the end of his father’s 1997 speech: “‘Books, like people, will probably evolve and change, but I don’t worry that they will ever cease to exist. All we have to do as people is keep teaching our children to read, and the rest will more than likely take care of itself. To me, that’s what the library is all about.’”
Lafayette County-Oxford Public Library becomes the 10th literary landmark in Mississippi, placing it on the list behind only Oklahoma and Florida.