“There he is! There he is!” He made his way through the gauntlet of adoring fans handshake by handshake pausing for the occasional requests for photo ops and autographs until he reached the Main Hall. It was a packed house. The lucky first arrivals filled the floor seats within minutes. By the time they opened the balcony to take in the overflow you could feel the anticipation building among the sea of fans craning their necks to get a glimpse of the show’s headliner sitting just out of reach of the stage lights. When he finally took the microphone the crowd could contain themselves no longer.
The hoops and hollers and thunderous applause rose up to give the first time visitor to Mississippi and international star a proper Southern welcome. This was not Lollapalooza at Grant Park but the Young Author's Fair at the Ford Center. There was no mosh pit or ticket scalpers. Nobody insisted on green M & M’s back stage, or hurled their Fender into an amp. And not once was there concern that one of the writers would incite a riot by biting the head off a bat (If you were born after 1970 Google Ozzy Osbourne.) The audience members were not head bangers but fifth graders from Oxford and Lafayette County schools and the star of the show was not a rapper or pop star but children’s author Christopher Paul Curtis.
It’s a wonderful and rare thing to live in a literary town where authors reach rock star status, ten year olds want to spend allowance money on the newest series and teenagers crowd into our local bookstore on a Friday night to hear a reading. We have a lot of amazing citizens and organizations like The Literacy Council, The Center for Southern Studies, The University and the Junior Auxiliary of Oxford who are willing to spend their time, energy and resources to bring events like Conference of the Book and The Young Author’s Fair to Oxford.
We also have unsung heroes like the moms who spend mornings at our elementary schools reading with struggling children to make sure they don’t fall behind, the librarians who go out of their way to organize and promote reading fairs and most importantly the teachers who do it ALL. We also have Jill at Square Books Jr., who has her own set of groupies, parents and kids alike who would be lost without her literary guidance. When Young Author’s Fair organizer Sarah Frances Hardy left to pick up the Newberry Award winning author Christopher Paul Curtis from the airport, her daughter Sallie asked “Is he really famous?” “Yes. Sallie he is,” she replied. “More famous than Hannah Montana?” “Yep. Baby, more famous than Hannah Montana. “To paraphrase the teen idol, “He might even be a rock star.” (If you were born before 1970 Google Mylie Cyrus.)
We look forward to this year's Young Author's Fair with New York Times Bestseller Trenton Lee Stewart and "The Mysterious Benedict Society." I'm ready to roll! I wonder if he knows "Free Bird?"