Had a restful few days in Oxford, MS, one of the most charming towns in the South. My grandfather, James William Kirkwood, was born on a farm near there, then the family moved to a house somewhere in town (alas, I could never learn the name of the street). It was fun to imagine myself treading the same paths he walked as a young man. He was a contemporary of Faulkner, who lived his life in Oxford and was in love with my grandfather's sister Wortley at one time (she spurned him for a wealthier man, to her later chagrin). I spent the first couple of days holed up in my hotel, sleeping off the flu. Felt halfway human again by Monday, the day of my signing at Square Books. This is one of the most famous bookstores in the country; every author who is anybody has read there. I didn't have much of a crowd, but the staff made me feel very welcome. I spent a pleasurable hour signing books for them and chatting with the locals who wandered in. Afterwards I went for a drink with manager Cody Morrison and local writer/teacher Tom Franklin, author of Poachers and Smonk, his favorite of his books, which is now at the top of my to-read pile, along with his wife Beth Ann Fennelly's poetry collection Open House.
Tuesday night I attended Richard Price's considerably-more-popular (ah, well) reading at the bookstore. Afterwards we all went out for drinks at City Grocery, the local writerly watering hole, and sat on the balcony overlooking the square, talking about books and swapping tour stories. This was followed by excellent fried catfish at Ajax. A perfect Mississippi night.
Wednesday I drove down to Jackson via Philadelphia, MS, where I made an annoying bookstore stop that was attended by absolutely no one. Philadelphia has a creepy history: it's where civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were killed in 1964 by Edgar Ray Killen. Mississippi Burning, which was about the murders, was shot there. I was very glad to be on my way to Jackson.
Jackson is home to Lemuria, which may be the coolest bookstore I've ever been to in my life. I wish I'd had half a day to kill in there; I would no doubt have left with an armload of books. I had a fun reading, attended by many of the wonderful staff, who'd all read Mudbound and were raving about it. Afterwards I went to Hal and Mal's, a local comfort food restaurant (there are a lot of those in the South) with Betty Lawson, a sales rep from Penguin who was dismayed to learn that the paperback rights to Mudbound were not for sale. We worked up a good appetite driving around in circles trying to find the restaurant. More fried catfish, I couldn't resist. Hey, when in Mississippi...