STAYcations:Oxford a haven for followers of written word

About the sights
TOURISM ATTRACTION: Oxford’s literary heritage – the Square; former homes of William Faulkner and other authors; University of Mississippi Special Collections (37 writer/publisher collections); Faulkner’s grave

- CONTACT: Oxford Convention and Visitors Bureau, (662) 232-2367 or www.oxfordcvb.com

- HOURS OF OPERATION:
Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 1-4 p.m. Closed Monday. Grounds are open during all daylight hours.

University of Mississippi Special Collections (John D. Williams Library), 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; special security and preservation regulations are enforced.

University Museum, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday (Last tour each day begins at 3 p.m.)

The Lafayette County Courthouse – fictionally lauded as the center of the community in Faulkner’s “Requiem for a Nun” – is closed for renovation.
n FEE: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference (July 20-24) registration $150-$275 before July 1; Rowan Oak house admission $5; Shakespeare performances vary; admission to most other sites is free or by donation.

- WHAT'S NEW TO SEE IF YOU HAVEN'T BEEN IN FIVE YEARS:
The Union County Heritage Museum in William Faulkner’s birthplace of New Albany boasts a Faulkner Garden, offering samplings of the flowers, trees and other plants that are part of the writer’s world and writings. Open Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call (662) 538-0014.

Oxford Shakespeare Festival continues through July 2 with performances of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice and “Much Ado About Nothing” as well as Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.” Call (662) 915-5745 or (662) 915-5816; osf@olemiss.edu; http://shakespeare.olemiss.edu.

Oxford trivia
- Novelist William Faulkner was once postmaster at the University Post Office. Fired for failure to carry out his duties (he often read other people’s magazines instead of distributing mail), he is quoted as thankful that he would not “ever again be at the beck and call of every (expletive) that’s got two cents to buy a stamp.”

- Legal thriller author John Grisham used to coach youth baseball and built a baseball field on the grounds of his Oxford home. To honor his alma mater, he named the diamond “Dudy North” after Mississippi State University’s Dudy Noble Field.

Other things to do
- Look into local music, from the University of Mississippi Blues Archive (the world’s largest) to a host of downtown bars that feature live music. Thacker Mountain Radio, a music-and-author-readings show now airing by delay on Mississippi Public Broadcasting, is on summer hiatus but resumes in September with live performances at Off Square Books, Thursday afternoons at 5:30 p.m.

- The more active staycationer can take advantage of Oxford’s extensive system of bike lanes, mountain biking trails, a popular ride to Sardis Lake’s Clear Creek Recreational Area and, for those who prefer little wheels, Oxford Skate Park.

- Shopping is abundant and varied at boutiques, shops and Neilson's, The South’s Oldest Department Store.
n Food options in the area include: fine dining (City Grocery, Yocona River Inn, Ravine, Downtown Grill); “upscale down-home” (Ajax Diner); barbecue (Handy Andy and B's); original locations of restaurant chains (Old Venice Pizza Co., Newk's, McAlister's Deli, Abner's, High Point Coffee); several Mexican restaurants; many other choices.

BY ERROL CASTENS
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – Oxford is known for a charming downtown and tailgating in the Grove, but William Faulkner's hometown is still a literary haven, dubbed by author Pat Conroy as “the Vatican City of Southern letters.”

Oxford is where even the non-literati have their photo taken cozying up to William Faulkner's sitting bronze statue at City Hall.

This is where a church study combines literature with theology in a month-long study on Flannery O'Connor.

And it's where, with amazing frequency, a succession of today's acclaimed writers make the pilgrimage for readings, signings and for the pleasure of meeting others who love to read, write and ruminate.

“People in Oxford really care about books,” said Square Books manager Lyn Roberts. “Like attracts like.

You get some great authors here, and they see other authors living here and being happy here, and so they move here.

“And it doesn't hurt to have (the University of Mississippi) here,” she said. “Some writers need regular employment, so a lot of them teach.”

Institution of letters
Ole Miss is equal parts athletics, academics and atmosphere, but it still nurtures its literary links. In addition to owning the homes of three writers – William Faulkner, his brother John Falkner and Stark Young – Ole Miss annually hosts a summer writers' workshop, a book conference, a Shakespeare Festival and the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, among related events.

The John D. Williams Library's Special Collections boast papers from 37 writers with Mississippi connections – including such eclectic items as photos of Faulkner at ease in his own surroundings and the written scoldings that then-”Harper's” magazine editor Willie Morris endured for neglecting his mother.

North Mississippi Hill Country will always be Faulkner's “postage stamp of native soil.” Hundreds of his fans – from scholars to mechanics – descend on Oxford every summer to immerse themselves in his work and his world at the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference.

All throughout the year Faulkner aficionados come to Oxford, the model for his fictional Jefferson, to search out the genesis of his genius. They tread reverently through Rowan Oak, marveling in hushed tones at viewing his own handwriting on the wall. Armed with modern-era roadmaps, the author's own imaginative map of Yoknapatawpha County and perhaps a copy of Martin Dain's photographic volume, “Faulkner's World,” a few hardcore readers follow the area's back roads, eager to find places that inspired scenes in his tales.

One “Yoknapatourist” tradition is to visit Faulkner's grave with a gift of coins or flowers and pouring one shot of whiskey to be soaked up by his thirsty headstone.

As much as Faulkner is revered here, Oxford continues to attract other renowned writers, many of whom teach at Ole Miss while pursuing their craft wherever the Muses visit.

The litany of authors who have called Oxford home is long – the late Larry Brown, Barry Hannah, Beth Ann Fennelly, John Grisham, Cynthia Shearer, David Galef, Jere Hoar and a host of Grisham Writer-in-Residence honorees, among many others. It's a rare day that one doesn't recognize some of the current crop at haunts like City Grocery, Downtown Grill or Uptown Coffee – or checking out other writers at Square Books.

That little independent bookstore and its two offspring were the brainchild of now-Mayor Richard Howorth.

One hallmark is the eclectic book offerings, from all subjects Southern to modern world fiction. Another is that endless procession of writers. In the first three weeks of June, the store hosted 13 readings, and scheduled for later this summer are such authors as Grisham Visiting Poet Tung-Hui Hu, Mississippi native Julia Reed and humorous crime writer Martin Clark.

“Trying to attract writers for appearances was something we strove to do from the beginning,” Howorth said. “We just worked at it very hard. I wrote a lot of personal letters to writers.”

Given its conflicted portrayals in Faulkner's writing, Oxford's charm hasn't always been so universally recognized. Recalling those early days, Howorth said, “There is a pretty good list of famous writers who said no, thanks.'”

Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or
errol.castens@djournal.com.

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