Mississippi has long been home to important and popular writers, but until recently it has not been a central location for publishing books. Today, led by University Press of Mississippi, several book publishers make Mississippi their home—and often the subject of their published volumes.
In the 1800s and early 1900s authors with manuscripts to publish either sent them out of the state or arranged to have newspaper printers publish the books. By the middle of the twentieth century, however, many institutions arranged to publish a few books. For example, the Mississippi Poetry Society published some volumes beginning in the 1940s, and the Mississippi Historical Society did the same some years later. In Greenville in 1947, Hodding Carter, Kenneth Haxton, and Ben Wasson started Levee Press, a limited-edition operation that published four impressive volumes—William Faulkner’s Notes on a Horsethief; Eudora Welty’s Music from Spain; William Alexander Percy’s poetry collection, Of Silence and Stars; and Shelby Foote’s The Merchant of Bristol.
A major change took place in 1970 with the founding of the state’s only not-for-profit publisher, University Press of Mississippi (UPM). Originally located on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi under the direction of Robert Cecil Cook, UPM subsequently moved to its present location in Jackson. Sponsored by the state’s eight public universities, UPM is a successful academic press that brings to market more than eighty new books each year in print and electronic editions. The press has published over two thousand books and has distributed more than 2.8 million copies worldwide. UPM is known for publishing books of the highest distinction and acquires, edits, promotes, and distributes books on southern history (especially Mississippi and Louisiana), African American studies, music, folklore, comics studies, popular culture, civil rights studies, Caribbean studies, diaspora studies, media studies, literary studies, and art and photography. The press is well known for its collected conversations with literary figures (Literary Conversations Series); film and television personalities (Conversations with Filmmakers, Television Conversations); and comic artists (Conversations with Comic Artists). In addition, the press is noted for several of its other series: the American Made Music Series, the Hollywood Legends Series, the Margaret Walker Alexander Series in African American Studies, and Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography. UPM also publishes volumes in collaboration with other state entities—for example, the Mississippi Historical Society’s Heritage of Mississippi Series and volumes based on the University of Mississippi’s Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference and the Chancellor Porter L. Fortune Symposium in Southern History. For over forty years, University Press of Mississippi has maintained its high publishing standards and continues to bring national and worldwide recognition to the state.
Former UPM director Barney McKee and his wife, Gwen, started Quail Ridge Press in Brandon in 1978. Quail Ridge issues books on southern cultural topics, especially food, and describes itself as “preserving America’s food heritage.” Quail Ridge publishes the “Best of the Best” cookbooks—for example, Best of the Best from Louisiana and Best of the Best from the Great Plains. Gwen McKee, sometimes known as the Cookbook Lady, and Barbara Moseley are responsible for gathering recipes for many of the volumes. Quail Ridge Press also publishes Phil Hardwick’s series of mysteries set in Mississippi, children’s books including Mississippi Alphabet by Laurie Parker, and travel and political books.
Yoknapatawpha Press, named for William Faulkner’s fictional county and based in his hometown of Oxford, was founded in 1975 by local clothier and historian Howard Duvall, whose first publications were reprints of John Faulkner’s novels Men Working and Dollar Cotton; his memoir, My Brother Bill; and a facsimile of William Faulkner’s The Marionettes. William Faulkner’s niece, Dean Faulkner Wells, and her husband, Lawrence Wells, became Duvall’s partners in 1976; edited and copublished a photobiography, William Faulkner: The Cofield Collection; and bought out Duvall in 1979. Since then, they have published some thirty titles, among them facsimiles of William Faulkner’s Mississippi Poems and Helen: A Courtship; reprints of Willie Morris’s North towards Home, Good Ole Boy: A Delta Childhood, and Terrains of the Heart and Other Essays on Home; two illustrated books of poems by James A. Autry; children’s books by Dean Wells; and books she has edited. Larry Wells has continued to operate Yoknapatawpha Press since the death of his wife in July 2012.
Wilbur O. Colom and his wife, Dorothy Colom, of Columbus and James W. Parkinson of California combined to found Genesis Press in 1993. The Coloms’ daughter, Niani Colom-Omotesa, works as associate publisher at the Columbus press, which is “the largest privately owned African American book publisher in the country.” Genesis has become one of the major publishers of African American popular fiction, especially fiction by women, and its authors come from around the world. The press currently has nine imprints—Black Coral for women’s literature, Indigo for romance fiction, Indigo after Dark for romantic and erotic fiction, Indigo Love Spectrum for fiction that features romance among multiethnic people, Indigo Vibe for young adult readers, Mount Blue for Christian material, Obsidian for mystery and science fiction, Sage for inspirational works, and Kiswahili, which republishes works of world literature.
Dogwood Press, a small but traditional publishing house headquartered in Brandon, began in 2002 when editor in chief Joe Lee released his first suspense novel, On the Record, and began seeking out strong southern voices for publication. Derringer Award–winning short story writer John Floyd was published for the first time by Dogwood Press in 2006, and since then the company has published five additional authors and more than twenty titles. Dogwood Press is primarily known for suspense fiction and southern humor, but it does consider some nonfiction projects for publication.
The Nautilus Publishing Company was founded in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1994 by Neil White. Nautilus publishes regional nonfiction books with a focus on memoir, education, history, sports, business, trivia, and photography. Nautilus authors include University of Mississippi Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat, musician Marty Stuart, College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock, historian David Sansing, radio host Jim Dees, sports columnist Rick Cleveland, psychologist Ken Sufka, noted physician Neil Spector, entrepreneur Jay Martin, investment advisor Scott Reed, and law professor Debbie Bell. Nautilus has been awarded the gold IPPY award for best book marketing by an independent press (twice), and silver IPPYs in the categories of memoir, music, and textbook publishing. Nautilus founder Neil White is also the bestselling author of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts.
A major factor in the sustainability of these Mississippi publishers is the presence of many vibrant independent booksellers across the state. Mississippi boasts two of the cardinal independent bookstores in the South if not the nation—Lemuria in Jackson and Square Books in Oxford. Both of these stores have helped launch and/or shape the careers of major writers nationwide while serving hometown communities. Richard Howorth, cofounder of Square Books, has served as president of the American Booksellers Association, and John Evans, owner of Lemuria, is a founding force of the Mississippi Book Festival. Independent stores primarily selling new books in Mississippi include Bay Books (Bay St. Louis), Southern Bound Books (Biloxi), Bay Window Books (Brandon), Cotton Row Bookstore (Cleveland), Pentimento (Clinton), Turnrow Book Co. (Greenwood), Main Street Books (Hattsieburg), Turning Pages Books & More (Natchez), Pass Christian Books (Pass Christian), The Book Mart & Café (Starkville), Sage Books (Starkville), Reed’s Gumtree Books (Tupelo), and Lorelei Books (Vicksburg).
Established as a nonprofit organization in 2013, the inaugural Mississippi Book Festival was held on the lawn of the State Capitol in August 2015 and attracted more than 3,700 enthusiastic attendees. The second annual festival, held August 20, 2016, attracted 6,200 attendees and featured over 150 authors participating in thirty-two official panels and interviews. Known as Mississippi’s Literary Lawn Party, the festival has quickly become a nationally recognized premier event that attracts book lovers, writers, and publishers from Mississippi, the region, and across the country. Free and open to the public, the festival hosts author panel discussions and interviews, book signings, live music, local food, young adult and children’s activities, and exhibitors from across the state. The mission of the festival is to recognize authors and the books they produce, to celebrate writing, reading, and our literary heritage, and to connect readers with contemporary authors.
- Charles Chappell, Mississippi Quarterly (Spring 1995)
- Faulkner Newsletter and Yoknapatawpha Review, University of Mississippi Libraries, Archives and Special Collections website, http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/general_library/archives/
- University Press of Mississippi website, http://www.upress.state.ms.us
- Joe Lee, Dogwood Press, http://www.dogwoodpress.com
- Neil White, Nautilus Publishing Company, http://www.nautiluspublishing.com
- Jere Nash, Mississippi Book Festival, http://www.msbookfestival.com