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Overby Center program to feature Oxford writers

The extraordinary literary community in the small town of Oxford will be the subject of a panel discussion on Friday, at 5:30 p.m. at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics on the Ole Miss campus.

Three prominent figures on the local scene, Richard Howorth, owner of the legendary Square Books, Beth Ann Fennelly, a poet and professor at the University of Mississippi, and Neil White, an author and entrepreneur who established Nautilus Publishing Co., will join the program’s moderator, Charles Overby, chairman of the center.

The event will be held in the Overby Center Auditorium. It is free and open to the public. A reception will follow the program.

From the time that William Faulkner gained fame more than three-quarters of a century ago, other local writers began to have their books published, Oxford developed a reputation as a “writers’ town.” It was enhanced by the emergence of John Grisham, one of the leading best-selling novelists in the country, and the presence of such critically-acclaimed writers as Willie Morris, Barry Hannah and Larry Brown. Today, more than a score of published writers live in Oxford. Some hold faculty positions at the university; others write professionally.

“Oxford is a special town known for its writers and its independent bookstore, Square Books. This program will provide an inside glimpse at the specialness of Oxford,” Overby said.

Howorth, who grew up in Oxford, created an atmosphere that encouraged writers when he and his wife, Lisa — herself a published novelist — started Square Books 37 years ago. It is considered one of the top bookstores in the country and regularly attracts some of the nation’s leading authors for appearances. It was hailed as “bookstore of the year” by Publishers Weekly in 2013.

Fennelly and her husband, Tom Franklin — another prominent novelist — moved to Oxford in the early 2000s and joined an Ole Miss English department faculty already rich with writers. Fennelly is a prize winning poet whose books include “Open House” and “Tender Hooks.”

White is the author of a popular memoir, “In the Sanctuary of Outcasts,” and owner of Nautilus Publishing which has produced several local best-sellers including Robert Khayat’s “Education of a Lifetime” and Al Povall’s “Tapestry of Red & Blue.”