Local Literary Events
Published on October 18th, 2016 | by Brittain Thompson0
Off-Square Books Hosts Jim Dees Signing of The Statue and the Fury Book Signing, October 18
In The Statue and the Fury, Jim Dees, host of the public radio program Thacker Mountain Radio, chronicles a tumultuous year in the life of a small Southern town, complete with down-home eccentrics, famous figures and explosive events.
In 1997, Oxford, Mississippi, sought to erect a statue to honor the one hundredth birthday of native Nobel laureate, William Faulkner. After a magnolia tree at City Hall was cut down to make room for the sculpture, “all Faulkner broke loose.” Fiery city board meetings erupted, angry threats came from the feisty Faulkner family and civic tension ensued, leaving a bewildered artist, sculptor Bill Beckwith, caught in the middle.
Dees covered the city beat as a reporter for the local daily, The Oxford Eagle. At age forty, he was the newbie, a cub reporter at “the first job I’d ever had where I was older than my boss.” Dees brings the small town newsroom to life, including the vile coffee, deadline duress, cubicle psychosis and drudging daily obituary duty.
Dees notes, “My salvation was the country life out in Taylor, seven miles south of Oxford, pop. 323. I lived in an old house on a couple of acres with a cornfield, my girlfriend, two dogs and an outdoor basketball hoop. It was a little backwoods Eden.”
The year and the craziness raged on: the six-term Oxford mayor declined to run for re-election following the magnolia tree debacle and a first-ever female candidate stepped forward. Oxford became increasingly embroiled in a heated “trees versus development” dispute that saw nine citizens arrested for blocking bulldozers. Meanwhile, the hometown University of Mississippi pursued plans to discourage use of the Confederate flag, the song “Dixie” and the Colonel Rebel mascot, setting off protests, death threats and FBI visits.”
Notorious rap group 2Live Crew showed up in town and induced nude chaos, as evidenced by several raunchy amateur videos shot during their “performance.” In his role as city reporter, Dees was asked by Oxford’s chief of police to watch one of the tapes and verify how salacious the show really was (the three promoters served three nights in jail). The result is hilarious and, as they say, “not safe for work.”
Dees brings the wit and insight his radio listeners enjoy to the page in writing about his town’s whacky and pivotal events. The book includes interviews with civil rights pioneers James Meredith and Myrlie Evers; late authors Shelby Foote and Willie Morris; a foggy encounter with legendary singer, Willie Nelson and a sweaty face-off with the late James Brown, the Godfather of Soul.
Henry Kissinger makes a cameo, as does O.J. lawyer, Johnnie Cochran. Sam Phillips, the visionary who discovered Elvis, descends on Oxford for an up-close rock and roll history lesson. “Bootleg preacher,” the late Reverend Will D. Campbell, triumphantly returns from exile.
All of this, and much more, made 1997 a wild year in Oxford, Mississippi, and now it’s a wild, insightful and hilarious book.