English professor Ann Fisher-Wirth and award-winning photographer Maude Schuyler Clay will bring images and voices of Mississippi to life with the launch of their book “Mississippi” this week at Off Square Books.
Fisher-Wirth described the book, a collection of 47 poems and accompanying photographs, as one of voices and of people. She said some poems are told through her voice, but most are constructed from scraps of things she’s heard over her many years in the state. Though only a few of the photos focus on people, the author-photographer duo channeled characters for each of the images.
Fisher-Wirth has done readings for all of her books, including “Carta Marina,” “Five Terraces” and “Dream Cabinet,” at Square Books.
“It’s definitely a beloved place to read,” Fisher-Wirth said. “I would not feel right having a book come out without its launch being at Square Books.”
She said she is excited for people to finally see the finished product and is planning to give a discussion with Clay, who shot the images featured in the book.
Clay said she is looking forward to seeing reactions from people in Oxford during her return to Square Books for the signing, adding that “Square Books is the cultural capital of this part of the world, and I am honored to be there again.”
She has also done signings for her other books, “Delta Land,” “Delta Dogs” and “Mississippi History” at Oxford’s independent bookstore.
The book has been in the works for at least three years, according to Fisher-Wirth. Some of the poems have been published in journals such as the Southern Humanities Review, and she gave several readings as the project evolved, including a program produced in conjunction with the University of Mississippi theatre department.
The main challenge in publication was finding a publisher that would print the high-quality photographs that accompany the text, but finally, Wings Press, publisher of some of Fisher-Wirth’s other collections, brought the book to life.
“We’ve certainly enjoyed working together because I think so highly of her work and she thinks highly of mine,” Fisher-Wirth said of Clay.
“I have to say I never dreamed it would end up as this tangible, quite beautiful book. Ann was the driving force behind this project: she found the publisher, and she pushed me – a professional procrastinator – to get through every step of it,” Clay said.
The two will appear together in promotion of the book at Lemuria Books in Jackson, as well as Lorelei Books in Vicksburg. Fisher-Wirth will do readings and signings at the West Point Academy, the Southern Literary Festival at the University of Tennessee- Martin, Delta State and the Mississippi Museum of Art in June, as well as visits to California, Germany and Stockholm in the summer.
She said she hopes readers will find pleasure and a sense of the orality of Mississippi culture.
“One of the things that always strikes me is how oral Southern literature is as opposed to literature in other parts of the country, and I think that’s one of its amazing gifts,” Fisher-Wirth said.
Fisher-Wirth and Clay will share their work with Oxonians at Off Square Books beginning with a soft opening and signing at 5 p.m., followed by the reading at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday night.