- Associated Press - Thursday, August 20, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Authors and bibliophiles are gathering at the state Capitol on Saturday for the first Mississippi Book Festival.

John Grisham opens the event in the same building where he once helped write state laws. The young attorney was a Mississippi House member during the 1980s while writing his first best-selling legal thriller, “A Time To Kill.”

The free public festival includes panel discussions about history, sports, Southern fiction and other topics.

Republican U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper of Mississippi will interview a World War II veteran, Earl Derrington of Jackson, for a history project sponsored by the Library of Congress. Derrington fought in Europe and was held as a prisoner of war in Germany.

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour will promote his memoir, “America’s Great Storm: Leading Through Hurricane Katrina,” which is being released 10 years after the storm walloped Louisiana and Mississippi.

Utah author Devery S. Anderson will discuss his new book, “Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement.”

Barbour’s book, co-written by Jackson political consultant Jere Nash, focuses on Mississippi’s first year after the Katrina, when Barbour exerted his influence as a longtime Washington lobbyist to secure billions of federal dollars for recovery. It recounts a special session when state legislators changed laws to help schools and local governments get back on track and to let coastal casinos move a short distance inland rather than requiring them to rebuild on floating barges that, although massive, can be washed ashore by a powerful storm surge.

“Our recovery from Katrina is also the story of strong, resilient, self-reliant people who were knocked flat but then got back on their feet, hitched up their britches, and went to work helping themselves and helping their neighbors,” Barbour writes in the introduction that echoes many of the speeches he made after the storm.

The release of Anderson’s book about Till comes 60 years after the black 14-year-old from Chicago was kidnapped and killed after witnesses said he whistled at a white woman while visiting relatives in the Mississippi Delta.

Anderson spent years researching the crime and the trial in which all-white jury quickly acquitted two white men. He got to know Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, and interviewed her before she died in 2003. Anderson writes about how she told her son, as she prepared him for the segregated South: “Don’t cross anybody because Mississippi is not like Chicago.”

Till was kidnapped from his uncle’s home Aug. 28, 1955, and his body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River three days later, with a bullet hole in his head and severe cuts on his face. Barbed wire was wrapped around his neck and he was weighted down with a cotton gin fan. Till’s mother insisted on an open-casket funeral in Chicago, and Jet magazine published photos of his brutalized corpse.

Longtime civil rights leader Julian Bond, who died last Saturday, wrote in the forward to Anderson’s book that he vividly remembered seeing the Jet photo of the bloated skull of Till, who was one year his junior.

“My family was about to move South again,” Bond wrote, “and I can remember saying, ‘If they can do that to him, what won’t they do to me?’”

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Online: https://msbookfestival.com/

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .


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