In 1997, Jim Dees was a cub reporter for the Oxford Eagle, learning the intricacies of handling breaking news, obit craftsmanship, and the post-deadline drink. He was 40 years old. It would go on to be an exciting and tumultuous year for Oxford, Mississippi, our neighbor to the south.
To celebrate the centennial of local hero William Faulkner’s birth, the town fathers had decided to erect a statue of the scribe on the town square just across from the courthouse. In the wake of what seems like a benign enough idea, the sleepy town erupted in conflict over where the statue would go, whether it would be standing or sitting, and just who would have ultimate control over such decisions. The town mayor squared off against the Faulkner family with sculptor Bill Beckwith caught in the middle. And Dees was there to record it all.
Other things happened that year — the rap group 2Live Crew came to town for a show that raised some eyebrows and some ire, and a group of citizens took exception to the idea (and action on behalf) of some trees being bulldozed. Sam Phillips showed up, as did Henry Kissinger, James Brown, Shelby Foote, the FBI, Willies Nelson and Morris, James Meredith, and ’90s-era celebrity attorney Johnnie Cochran.
In his new book, The Statue and the Fury: A Year of Art, Race, Music and Cocktails (Nautilus Publishing), Dees — now the host of the Thacker Mountain Radio program — recounts all of the ups and downs of the circus that was 1997 with humor and in downhome detail. He’ll be at The Booksellers at Laurelwood this Friday evening to discuss and sign the book.
Dees is also the author of Lies and Other Truths: Rants, Raves, Low-Lifes and Highballs, and the editor of They Write Among Us: New Stories and Essays From the Best of Oxford Writers.
"Only Jim Dees could take a small-town controversy and turn it into the backbone of such a terrific book. This is the kind of inspired eye for detail and recognition for the absurd that Robert Altman would have loved. A truly unique reflection on a storied Southern town at a turning point. I’m so glad Dees was there to document it all and write this funny and insightful true story." — Ace Atkins
"The Statue and the Fury reads like a fever-dream. The writing of Jim Dees turns out to be just as gonzo as his shirts, and that’s saying a lot. For those of us who wish we could live year-round in Oxford, this wild book is as close as you can get without having to pay property taxes." — Harrison Scott Key
The Booksellers at Laurelwood
Friday, Dec. 9