Oxford author shares local history through snapshots, community contributions

Posted on Oct 16 2017 - 8:01am by Lexi Purvis

Writer and Oxford native John Cofield allows readers to experience the history of Oxford through his new pictorial history book, “Oxford, Mississippi —The Cofield Collection.” Cofield is debuting the new book today with a book signing at the Chancellor’s House.

Born in Jackson in 1958, Cofield immediately moved to Oxford, where he was raised by his mother and father, a world-renowned university photographer.

Cofield attended Oxford Grammar School, Oxford High school and eventually Ole Miss from 1976-1980. He said his years at Oxford Grammar School were some of the best years of his life.

He’d ride his bike through town on his way home from school to “Cofield’s Photography Studio,” located where The Corner Bar now sits on the Square. There he watched his father and grandfather practice their craft. 

“We had it made,” Cofield said. “We felt like we could go anywhere when I was at the grammar school with the photography studio across the street from us as kids. To this day, I still go to some of my favorite places in town, and it brings back wonderful memories.”

Cofield’s grandfather JR “Colonel” Cofield began Cofield’s Photography Studio in the 1920s and created photos and collections until the 1970s.

JR was a university photographer, as well as a personal photographer for William Faulkner. His son and Cofield’s father, Jack, also became a renowned university photographer and eventually a mentor for Ed Meek.

Although Cofield grew up surrounded by photographers and famous families of Oxford, he knew he wanted to be a writer and had full support of his family in his pursuits.

“My grandfather once said to me, ‘There’s a book in you, and you don’t even know it yet,'” Cofield said.

Cofield began his writing career working as a paper boy for The Oxford Eagle when he was 12 years old. After years contributing to numerous newspapers, Cofield found himself working alongside Meek for HottyToddy.com.

Cofield solidified his passion for writing as he experienced health issues that led to limited mobility and found therapy though writing posts and sharing his family’s photography on Facebook. His Facebook posts gained momentum, as hundreds of people messaged him and sent him various photos of Oxford and Ole Miss. Cofield said he received around 1,200 digital photos.

After he gained abundant attention on Facebook, he began creating his book, “Oxford, Mississippi: The Cofield Collection” in 2014.

Over two-and-a-half years in the making, Cofield’s book compiles the contributions of more than 500 historical photographs, most from his family but also from the Oxford community and William Faulkner’s great nephew Buddy Faulkner.

“(The book) is the natural next step as John continues his family’s tradition of preserving their hometown’s rich history,” Meek said.

Cofield’s book isn’t merely just a historical picture book. Each photo comes with a story written by Cofield himself.

When creating his book, Cofield would first examine a photo and create a story with a folksy nostalgia that brings the reader to the exact moment where the photo was taken. Cofield’s goal is to not only show Oxford’s history through beautiful and iconic photographs but for readers to live through his romanticized view of Oxford, as well.

Cofield geared his work towards the 1960s and ’70s, but his timeless findings will resonate with all ages. Cofield said he is planning to release a second book, as he believes there isn’t enough room in just one book to cover the entire history of Oxford.

Cofield’s book signing will take place at 5 p.m. Monday at the Chancellor’s House, where Cofield will be presented by a contributor to the book and close friend of Cofield’s, Kaye Hooker Bryant. Cofield will also bring historical portraits and a slide show for attendees to observe.

“If you could only buy one book about Oxford, Mississippi, this is the one you want in your home,” Bryant said. “The Cofields have outdone themselves once again.”

Cofield said he is also planning for multiple book signings in the near future and that he hopes to share his family’s work and his own with the entire community.

“This book really is the town’s book,” Cofield said. “I couldn’t have created this without the entire community being involved, and I’d like to thank not only my family but also the Archives and Special Collections of the university for working with me, as well.”