September 12, 2013 10:19:00 AM
Michael Farris Smith sat at a table in the W Room at the Mississippi University for Women student center Tuesday, busily signing copies of his book, "Rivers," as avid readers, MUW officials and students milled about, some standing in line waiting to have their books signed, others mingling over hors d'oeuvres, punch and wine as singer/guitarist Paul Brady provided a musical backdrop.
Tuesday was the launch day for "Rivers" and to say that the book has been much anticipated is an understatement. It is already in its third printing, thanks largely to glowing reviews and larger-than-expected advance sales.
It is rare, indeed, that a book can be pronounced an unqualified success even before the bookstore shelves have been stocked, but such seems to be the case with "Rivers."
It is the kind of success that could transform an author into a self-absorbed, condescending, insufferable literary snob, although the prospects of that sort of change seem mostly unlikely where Smith is concerned.
If ever Smith was inclined to preen proudly before an adoring audience, Tuesday's book-signing would have been the perfect occasion. His posture suggested nothing of this. Rather than revel in that spotlight, Smith's deportment suggested someone who, instead, held a hand before his eyes to shield himself from the bright light of acclaim, grinning sheepishly as he stood, in his ubiquitous jeans and T-shirt and thanked everyone for their support. (Smith was not wearing a T-shirt Tuesday, however.)
Tuesday's book-signing was a collaboration among the Columbus Arts Council, The Friends of the Library, Catfish Alley Magazine and MUW, where Smith serves as a creative writing instructor. He is on sabbatical this semester in anticipation of the inevitable book-signing tour that will dominate his schedule over the next few months.
It was particularly appropriate for Smith to thank MUW for its support. The W pulled out all the stops for Tuesday's event, too. President Dr. Jim Borsig and many of the school's top administrators turned out, as well as staff, faculty and students. Often, book-signings are little more than an author sitting behind a table in a room. Not so in this case: It was a celebration and also a reminder of the rich literary heritage of Columbus.
A week ago, Columbus hosted its 12th Tennessee Williams tribute honoring the enduring legacy of America's great playwright. Pulitzer Prize winning author Eudora Welty studied at The W from 1925-27.
But the embarrassment of literary riches is not limited to the past tense in Columbus. Smith is not alone among contemporary writers who call Columbus home. Historian Rufus Ward has written or been a contributing writer to four books. His latest nonfiction book, Columbus Chronicles: "Tales from East Mississippi," came out in November.
Then there is Deborah Johnson, who was among those who turned out for Tuesday's event. Johnson, who moved to Columbus 10 years ago after living in Rome for 18 years, will soon be sitting behind a table, signing copies of her third novel, "The Secret of Magic," set to be released in January by Putnam. Johnson's editor at Putnam, Amy Einhorn, is responsible for another book by a Mississippian you may have heard about, "The Help."
During Tuesday's book-signing, MUW directory of university relations Maridith Geuder, sat at the table next to Smith, handing him books to be signed.
On her blouse, she wore a button: "Read Local."
We are fortunate to have so rich a collection of talented local authors to choose from. Smith is the most recent.
Somehow, we do not expect him to be the last.