Family, friends, and fans packed into Off Square Books Thursday night to support local writers and their real stories in the ongoing bookstore summer series, “An Off Night.” Neil White, Al Povall, Mickey Smith and Gene Hays shared the stage, each speaking to a packed house about their recently published books. The half-hour early crowd enjoyed wine and hors d’ouvres (thanks, Neil & Debbie) until the main event. Oxonians mingled and had their books signed before taking their seats.
After a brief introduction from Richard Howorth, Mickey Smith took the podium to discuss his book How Fibber McGee and Molly Won World War II. He asked the audience to raise hands if they'd heard of Fibber McGee and Molly -- most did -- then told how the radio show, sponsored by Johnson's Wax, had boosted morale while entertaining listeners during World War II, and became so popular that FDR chose to have his famous "Fireside Chats" immediately following Fibber McGee and Molly. The crowd was stirred by Mickey Smith's passionate memory of the show and its place in the world when "times were different in America," as the crowd murmured in agreement.
Allie Povall used a bit of his allotted time to graciously introduce his mother, Betty Staub, and many other members of his family, pointing out that they, along with some friends in the crowd, came from the place where the story of his book, The Time of Eddie Noel, took place--Holmes County, Mississippi. Mr. Povall, a retired attorney, then delivered a compelling outline of the dramatic actions of Eddie Noel, an African American man who killed a white man and, as a lynch mob tried to track him down, shot and killed two more, and injured three, two seriously, before fleeing into the Delta woods, never to be sentenced, convicted, tried, or even arraigned, living out the rest of his life in Indiana. Allie Povall has written a fascinating account of a little known story that occurred nearby and prior to the horrible murder of Emmett Till, where the outcome was far different, and Povall seeks to explain why.
Next up was veteran Gene Hays. Gene was dressed in full Marine attire and embraced the crowd in a patriotic manner. He commented on his book, Year of the Monkey, which tells the true story of the friendship and camaraderie between Major Rich Risner and Staff Sergeant Dick Petterson. Both gentlemen fought together in Vietnam after working on a secret mission during the 1950s. Gene is also a Post Commander for American Legion Post 55 here in Oxford.
Last, but not least, was Neil White to talk about the paperback release of his memoir, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts. Neil was at Square Books a year ago to the date for the hardback release of the same book. It went so well we had to have him back for the paperback. He entertained the crowd with stories from the past year -- one in particular about a group of elementary students that visited Rowan Oak on a field trip. The kids thought they were meeting William Faulkner, and were confused when they met Neil instead. He received a letter several weeks later from one of the boys in attendance. The author of the letter said he had complained to his teacher that the class should be reading “Mr. Neil” instead of Mr. Bill. Neil’s story is a great one and it was nice to hear him tell the crowd about his time spent in Carville, Louisiana, which also happens to be the last leper colony in the country. If you haven’t checked out Neil’s book we encourage you to do so. Book clubs especially will enjoy the new paperback release, which contains extra interviews and insights.
It was a great night for Oxford writers and their fascinating stories. Be on the lookout for more “Off Nights” this summer.