Larry Brown, the firefighter who was compelled to write, left quite an impressive list of book titles. This week the 2007 Oxford Conference for the Book will study Brown's writing.

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Conference readings and discussions are free and open to the public, but pre-registration is advised to ensure seating. Some meals and special events require pre-registration and fees.

HED: Conference for the Book highlights Larry Brown

READ-IN: This native son's writing reflected his place in the world.

By Errol Castens

Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD - The 2007 Oxford Conference for the Book opens Thursday, focusing much of its attention on the writing influences of Larry Brown, author of such works as "Big Bad Love," "The Rabbit Factory" and "Dirty Work."

The Lafayette County native died at 53 in November 2004 after his unvarnished stories about life in rural Mississippi had earned such acclaim as the Southern Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the Thomas Wolfe Prize.

Still remembered by many as the firefighter who was compelled to write, he was both a common man familiar in Oxford and a legend in literary circles.

"Brown was a leading figure in the literature of working-class Southerners," said Charles Reagan Wilson, director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, which is one of the event's sponsors.

"The conference will provide the first literary occasion for critics, scholars, musicians, teachers, friends and family to gather to celebrate Brown's achievements," Wilson added.

Brown's works are a constant draw for readers browsing at Oxford's fabled Square Books.

"He is a great writer, and he's a Mississippi son," said store manager Lyn Wright. "He was not a highly educated academic type, but he read all of his life and schooled himself in how to write. In that way, he was kind of an inspiration to many others."

While both wrote largely about the grittier side of life in Lafayette County, Brown and fellow Oxonian William Faulkner, who died while Brown was still in grade school, had different approaches. Faulkner moved in and out of every stratum of Southern society, from lowly servants to well-heeled and down-at-the-heels aristocrats.

Brown usually centered on human struggles as he knew them among working-class people - love and hate, drugs and drunkenness, and the inner demons that come from having seen or done too much.

This year's Oxford Conference for the Book will feature presentations on Brown himself and his works, with remembrances from such friends and fellow writers as Rick Bass, Harry Crews and Jill McCorkle. Critics and scholars will dissect Brown's works, and musicians will talk about the influence of music on Brown's life and writing.

Algonquin Books marks the week by releasing Brown's last novel, "A Miracle of Catfish," and a tribute CD, Just One More, will be released this weekend. Other Larry Brown honors include a photographic exhibition and screenings of film adaptations of his works.

As it does each year, the conference will devote sessions to readers as an endangered species and the encouragement of young readers. The usual Saturday morning sessions will be canceled to enable conferees to attend a live broadcast of "Whad'Ya Know?," Michael Feldman's national radio program, in the Ford Center on campus.

The Oxford Conference Center will host some sessions and Off Square Books will host Saturday night's marathon book signing.

Contact Oxford bureau reporter Errol Castens at 281-1069 or

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