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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Read With Welty: The Ghosts of Medgar Evers

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

The Ghosts of Medgar Evers
is about a lot of things: Mississippi in general, Medgar Evers’ 1963 murder by Byron De La Beckwith, the third trial of De La Beckwith in 1994 (after his first two trials in 1964 resulted in hung juries), and the making of Ghosts of Mississippi, the Rob Reiner movie about that 1994 trial.

Evers, Mississippi’s NAACP field secretary, civil rights activist, and voting rights activist, was murdered in front of his wife and children in his driveway the morning after President John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Address on June 12, 1963. De La Beckwith was tried three times for the murder, the last one resulting in a conviction.

When she heard about the murder, Welty stayed up for two nights writing her story “Where is the Voice Coming From?” The story is told from the perspective of the assassin. It was published in the New Yorker on July 6 1963, just three weeks after the murder.

Willie Morris is the best at taking a work on nonfiction—the making of a movie—and making it personal and autobiographical without hogging the spotlight. He writes of the strangeness of the blending of real life and fictional on the movie set:

The confluence of past and present, the day-to-day mingling of the dark ghosts and the better angels of our nature, graphically evoked for me on the sets of the movie, was strange and often painful but emotionally redemptive at the same time.

We chose The Ghosts of Medgar Evers out of all the Willie Morris books in Welty’s collection for several reasons: it ties into “Where is the Voice Coming From?”; Welty, though not a character, is referenced throughout the book; and it gives context to both Welty and Morris and the time and place in which they wrote. In the introduction, Morris writes, “To understand the world, William Faulkner once said, you have to understand a place like Mississippi. One loved a place, he wrote, not so much because of its virtues, but despite its faults. Faulkner understood Mississippi in his soul, and so did Medgar Evers.”

Willie Morris's inscription in
Eudora Welty's copy of The Ghosts of Mississippi

Monday, November 16, 2020

Meet MLC Monday: Lawrence Smith

We have been sharing a closer look at Mississippi Library Commission (MLC) staff with Meet MLC Monday for nearly five years now. Some people stay only a short time period before deciding that working at a library was not what thought it would be. Some, however, stay, evolve, and prosper, like Lawrence Smith. He is this week's Meet MLC Monday staff and he has been at MLC since October of 1996. 

While Lawrence is still our Patent Librarian, he has added a new title since we last featured him in January 2016. He is now also our Collection Management Services Director, taking on a supervisory position and assisting with cataloging our new books and other materials. Working with patents isn't as dull you might think. Lawrence has dealt with a wide variety of inventions over the years, including a vibrating toilet seat and, on one memorial occasion, a patron who wanted to provide a demonstration of his... "business" chair.

Lawrence says, "When I first started working at MLC, we were pulling books from the shelves to view patents and trademarks. Now everything is digitized and web-based. Cataloging was done by card catalog. Now it's digitized, too."

We asked Lawrence some hard-hitting questions about himself. It turns out he is a dog-loving coffee drinker who likes the cold. Who knew?! He also told us that, if he were to set up two characters from different books, he would choose Robin Hood and Cinderella. "Cinderella was very humble and hard working. Robin Hood was more of a villain and Cinderella, I think, could tame the wild side of him."

Stay tuned as we check back in with other long-time MLC staff from time to time here on Meet MLC Monday. Until next time, happy reading!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Read With Welty: Lost in the Cosmos

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

Our Read with Welty reading challenge encourages you to read 12 books from Welty’s home library at your own pace—over the next weeks, months, or even year! Each week, we’ll explore one of the books here.

Week Six: Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy

When I try to explain Lost in the Cosmos to people, I usually say, “Well, it’s a kind of weird fake self-help book that’s also sort of serious and metaphysical.” That’s a little hard to explain, so I usually describe this passage from the very beginning of the book:

Now imagine that you are reading the newspaper. You come to the astrology column. You may or may not believe in astrology, but to judge from the popularity of astrology these days, you will probably read your horoscope. According to a recent poll, more Americans set store in astrology than in science or God.

You are an Aries. You open your newspaper to the astrology column and read an analysis of the Aries personality. It says, among other things:

You have the knack of creating an atmosphere of thought and movement, unhampered by petty jealousies. But you have the tendency to scatter your talents to the four winds.

Hm, you say, quite true. I’m like that.

Suddenly, you realize you’ve made a mistake. You’ve read the Gemini column. So you go back to Aries:

Nothing hurts you more than to be unjustly mistreated or suspected. But you have a way about you, a gift for seeing things through despite all obstacles and distractions. You also have a desperate need to be liked. So you have been wounded more often than you will admit.

Hm, you say, quite true. I’m like that.

Lost in the Cosmos is really about the search for self—and why it’s so hard for us to understand and recognize ourselves. We walk around in our own heads all day, and still we don’t understand ourselves! Why is this? Percy gives us many, many chances to figure this out, with scenarios like the above, quizzes (“Is amnesia a favorite device in fiction and especially soap operas because…”), thought experiments, psychology, psychiatry, aliens (!), charts, and more. Is this book satirical or serious? I think it’s a bit of both: a tongue-in-cheek way to get us to explore our own humanity.

Eudora Welty and Walker Percy were friends and contemporaries. In a March 17, 1988 with Percy’s biographer Patrick Samway, Welty said, “All of his writings fascinate me. I know they go into some type of depth I don’t even realize. I know enough to get the force of the feeling and poetic strength and all the things that mean so much to me.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Read With Welty: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

Our Read with Welty reading challenge encourages you to read 12 books from Welty’s home library at your own pace—over the next weeks, months, or even year! Each week, we’ll explore one of the books here.

Week Five: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

The first time I heard of One Hundred Years of Solitude was in a creative writing class. I found the class terrifying, so I basically never went back after the first week, but it was an exhilarating first week. My professor, a writer named E.A. Mares, told us about a book in which fantastical things happen as if they were commonplace. What I remember most, and what I wrote about in my journal, is the story of Remedios the Beauty, who was so beautiful she simply floated up into the heavens, to the surprise of no one. It simply made sense.

When I later read the novel, which is the multigenerational story of the Buendía family and through it the story of the town Macondo, not only did I have to keep flipping to the front of the book to consult the family tree—I love a novel that requires a family tree!—but I had to create my own to use as a bookmark for even easier access.

García Márquez’s novel received the single greatest blurbable accolade from William Kennedy’s review in the New York Times Book Review:

One Hundred Years of Solitude is the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race. It takes up not long after Genesis left off and carries through to the air age, reporting one everything that happened in between with more lucidity, wit, wisdom, and poetry than is expected from 100 years of novelists, let alone one man.
It makes sense that a book that allegedly reports everything that happened between the Book of Genesis and modern times is not the easiest read. This is not a book to polish off over the weekend. It’s a book to dive into and to get lost inside of—an escape hatch for reality where you might encounter the wild and profound.

I don’t know for sure if Eudora Welty read the copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude that she had in her collection, but I’d like to think that she did, and that she too got lost in Macondo.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Read With Welty: Juke Joint

Tracy Carr
Library Services Director

Our Read with Welty reading challenge encourages you to read 12 books from Welty’s home library at your own pace—over the next weeks, months, or even year! Each week, we’ll explore one of the books here.

Week Four: Juke Joint by Birney Imes

Eudora Welty’s photographs, taken mostly in the 1930s once she returned to Mississippi from New York, are known for their empathy and humanity. Her subjects are the commonplace: children sitting on porches, women strolling down Main Street, abandoned houses, store signs. They capture a time and most importantly, a place: Mississippi. 

State Fair, Jackson, Mississippi, 1939. Eudora Welty.

Birney Imes’s Juke Joint does a similar thing: his photographs capture Mississippi Delta juke joints of the 1980s, many of them now gone. In the introduction by novelist Richard Ford, he relays a story that comes closest to capturing the photos in words:

There is a story Birney Imes tells about a friend who suggested that none of the subjects in his photographs—these shadowed, motley rooms with honky-tonk facades, the oddly objectified humans who stare at us—none of these ever actually existed on the earth but were actually creations of Imes’s imagination—only seemed to be juke joints with men sleeping it off and women smiling out from boozy luminence.

Purple Rain Lounge, Duncan, 1989. Birney Imes.

Imes’s photos are bright, colorful, and vibrant—the viewer is nearly there. We’re in the small rooms crowded with furniture, we see the handlettered signs with prices and rules. They are, as Richard Ford says, a treat for the eyes.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Meet MLC Monday: Sebastian Murdoch

Elisabeth Scott
Reference Librarian/Social Media Coordinator

Meet Sebastian Murdoch, Patron Services Librarian/Readers Advisor for Talking Book Services at the Mississippi Library Commission (MLC). Sebastian assists patrons in finding and receiving digital books from the Talking Book Services program. She holds a bachelor's degree in Literature from Mississippi College and a master's degree in Creative Writing from Lesley University.

Sebastian started at MLC just under one month ago. She says, "I like working at MLC because everyone here is so warm and welcoming, and they all genuinely love what they do." According to her, the best part of her job so far is helping people find the books they most want to read. Of libraries, Sebastian says, "I love libraries because of the possibilities and opportunities they represent. There are so many things libraries do for the community, and without them, the world would feel like a much smaller, lonelier place."

Sebastian loves to read. Her favorite book is a tie between Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie and Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison. One of the latest books she read was Luster by Raven Leilani, which she says was "gorgeous and heartbreaking." When she isn't reading, Sebastian likes to write short stories. She is currently working on a novel. She delights in horror and enjoys writing, reading, and watching her favorite genre, especially if it's set in a creepy small town.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Thank You for Being a Friend

Lacy Ellinwood
Library Development Director

To honor National Friends of Libraries Week, we wanted to highlight the winners of the Chapter One and Ruby Assaf Presidential Awards that were presented at the recent Mississippi Library Association Conference. The Chapter One Award is given to an outstanding Friends of the Library group for contributions of service to their local library. The Friends of Choctaw County Library were this year’s Chapter One awardee. This group has been quite active since their inception in 2018. Their art show in August 2019 showcased 20 local artists and attracted many visitors. Their advocacy efforts at the Mississippi State Capitol and fundraising ideas have served to bring awareness to others about the Choctaw County Library System and its outstanding services. The Ruby Assaf Presidential Award honors an exceptional volunteer in a Friends of the Library chapter. Sarah Williams, with the Tishomingo Friends of the Library, is this year’s honoree. Sarah is the Vice President for her Friends group located within the Northeast Regional Library System. Sarah’s accomplishments and contributions are immeasurable. Each year, Sarah helps with the Summer Reading Program by sharing ideas, planning, and organizing events. Sarah is a hands-on volunteer. When it comes to book sales, she unpacks books, sets up tables, and helps people with their next great find. Sarah is always coming up with ways to get new books for the children’s library and is an asset to the Tishomingo Library.

These awards highlight the importance of what Friends can do for their local library and how they connect the library to the community. There are many ways Friends can shine a light on their libraries, but here are two tips from United for Libraries on how libraries can show appreciation to their Friends. 

  • Tell your local officials how important the Friends are to the ongoing success of the library. Use this opportunity to convey how the Friends raise money, promote the library, and volunteer in many ways. Submit an article to a citywide or campus-wide publication.
  • Tell the personal story of a longtime volunteer with the Friends, the impact of Friends support on programs, services, and/or collections, or how the Friends supported the library in another way.

During this unprecedented time, we have seen many new faces using our library services. This could be an opportunity for your Friends to grow their membership. Creating online membership capabilities could broaden the Friends member base. It also serves to support the Friends from a safe and socially distance space. Friends are a great connection to our communities and their support enhances libraries across Mississippi.

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