It’s all about the book, the conference. I know for a fact we take it for granted, the fertile soil of Oxford, the authors, artists and musicians in our midst. This year the 20th annual Oxford Conference for the Book Young Authors Fair brought authors, Jewell Parker Rhodes and Mary Amato to Oxford and Square Books, Jr. Every year we select two authors for the Young Authors Fair, and each child in two respective age ranges is given a copy of the author’s book. By the time the conference rolls around the kids can actually meet the authors, ask questions, give feedback, share the book with others. The goal of the collaborative groups who fund the OCB Young Authors Fair is to create an opportunity for all kids to have a shared literary experience, one that might last a lifetime.
Jewell Parker Rhodes has been to Oxford before after the release of her novel Ninth Ward. We had to have her back, because we wanted lots of kids to read Ninth Ward, not only because New Orleans is geographically close to us, but because we all experienced Hurricane Katrina in parts. Most importantly, however, we want readers to connect with Lanesha, resident child of a setting we know exists or used to exist. We want to celebrate Lanesha’s story and herald the innocence of children despite great loss and suffering. Ninth Ward is not overtly about Hurricane Katrina or death or killer storms. Instead Rhodes has woven beauty and kindness into classic poverty and disenfranchisement. We are lovingly charged to look, listen and be ready by Lanesha’s grandmother, the object lesson of the storm.
Mary Amato, author of many titles across a spectrum of ages and subjects, was graciously sent to Oxford by Egmont USA, possibly one of my favorite publishing houses. Guitar Notes is Mary’s first title with Egmont, but hopefully the first of many. The success of Guitar Notes will not only be measured by sales, but by the lives the book touches. It isn’t an easy task to find a novel for the whole of ninth grade, boys and girls. Square Books, The Center for the Study of Southern Culture, The Lafayette County Literacy Council and the Oxford Junior Auxiliary are some of the collaborators of our Young Author’s Fair book selections. Without any credit or glory, each year a handful of librarians, parents and teachers read and help us find just the right book for the students. Amato’s novel was perfect and timely. While not overtly about a girl or about a boy, it is about the interchanges of youth, the crush and the crushed. Amato’s characters, like the different gauges of stringed instruments, experience “thrum” or an exchanged vibration or energy on the same wavelength or something... Dig it? Thrum, in fact, is what the Oxford Conference for the Book is all about. The kids in Oxford get it, and we are grateful to Mary for writing the book and coming all this way to share it with us.
And ultimately there is the connection between the authors and each other, between Jewell and Mary, and the readers and the booksellers and the librarians and teachers, and well, it is a domino effect… a shared literary experience in a town that’s just crazy about books and experiences.