Oxford boasts its fair share of talented writers. Every Oxford native can name at least one exceptional author or poet hailing from their hometown. Julie Cantrell is a name to add to that list.
With three novels published in the past five years and two children’s books to boot, Cantrell is making a name for herself. She is the New York Times- and USA Today- bestselling author of “Into the Free,” and has also earned Christy Awards for Best Debut Novel and Book of the Year in 2013. “When Mountains Move” was equally well-received, and now her third novel is debuting Jan. 26. Off Square Books will host Cantrell and “The Feathered Bone” at 5 p.m. that same night.
“I did book signings here in Oxford for my first two novels, ‘Into the Free’ and ‘When Mountains Move,’” Cantrell said. “I also launched my first two children’s books at Square Books, Jr.”
Cantrell said she appreciates the support of her hometown.
“It means a lot to have such overwhelming community support here and to have had these opportunities through Square Books. One thing I’ve learned in the publishing world is that every author wants to sign at Square Books. It’s kind of the touchstone for a writer. I don’t take my opportunities for granted, and I am truly grateful for every single reader and bookseller who gives my stories a chance. If I had not moved to Oxford, it’s very likely I would never have published my work. This town has inspired me to give the writing life a try, and I am honored to call her my home.”
Cantrell’s Southern roots have provided much of the backdrop for her novels, particularly “Into the Free” and “The Feathered Bone.”
“When I write, the setting becomes one of my characters. I try to create a strong sense of space,” Cantrell said. “I’ve lived all over the country, but I’m a Southern native and there’s something special about how connected we are to the land here. We have deep roots and we take pride in knowing where we come from and where we belong. We open our hearts down here and we try to live authentic lives. People in the South are the most fun to write about, in my opinion, because we experience life to its fullest. We celebrate the very act of being alive.”
Along with its emphasis on Mississippi’s history and sense of place, “Into the Free” was praised for the way it handled its religious overtones. Cantrell’s fascination with spiritual exploration, in addition with her love of the South, drives this notable theme.
“Most of us explore faith on some level, even if it’s just going through the rituals of a religious service or tradition” she said. “In the South, we live in a culture that openly explores that connection. A steeple is never hard to find down here.”
Although she did not originally aim for the Christian arena with her novels, Cantrell’s deep faith still influenced the stories she told. “I believe we are here for a reason,” Cantrell said. “I also believe we are commanded to do three things above all else: love God, love other people and love ourselves. As women, especially, we tend to forget the last one – loving ourselves. Setting healthy boundaries is important, and it’s not selfish to do so.”
“The Feathered Bone” tells the story of a woman and her daughter who confront issues including human trafficking, depression and abuse. Giving and receiving love in the midst of human trafficking might seem like a long shot, but Cantrell knows how to weave redemption into stories dealing with that kind of hardship.
“‘The Feathered Bone’ explores all the ways a person can become enslaved in life, and how we can find our way to freedom,” she said. “I do tend to take my readers to difficult places, emotionally, but I always try to bring them out of it with a stronger sense of hope, faith and compassion for others.”
Julie Cantrell is a name that the people of Oxford should keep their eyes on; her blend of Southern quality, messages of faith and strong female protagonists makes “The Feathered Bone” the kind of book you won’t want to miss.