PONTOTOC • Pontotoc native, author and entrepreneur Jessica Starks wants to show that being from a small town doesn’t mean being limited to a certain job.
“I just wanted to be able to show there is talent here and there are creative people here, and they deserve to be supported just as much as everybody else,” Starks said. “... You can have that type of career and be successful even if you’re not in a big city.”
Starks published her first novella, “The Lynching Calendar,” in October 2019. The novella covers five different lynchings from different viewpoints. Starks said the goal was to address misconceptions of lynching.
“I just wanted to educate and tell these people’s stories, because there are so many people out there who didn’t get to tell their story. I feel this was my way of helping give them a voice,” Starks said.
Starks was inspired to write the novel because of a lifelong desire to be a writer and interest in history. Starks has been doing genealogy for a decade and had the idea for the novel after finding a distant relative who was lynched.
She got into genealogy because of her family and said for her, genealogy is about identity, knowing where she came from and what shaped her.
“When you finally get to research that family and you know their names and ... their stories, it just makes it seem even more close and it makes you appreciate what they did. It makes you want to go harder and do more for the people who are going to come after you,” Starks said.
Starks wrote the novella in 2013 as a senior in high school, but delayed publishing it because she was afraid. Now, she is grateful she didn’t rush the process of publishing and encourages aspiring writers to wait until they know the time is right to publish and stay true to themselves when writing.
“I know when I was writing the book, I was kind of worried it would be too dark or it would come off as the ‘angry Black woman’ ... (but) if you feel this is what you need to say or that’s the story you need to tell, then you need to go ahead and tell it. Don’t be afraid to tell your stories,” Starks said.
Starks was also recognized as one of the top women in business at the 2020 Black Women’s Business Expo, which honors and serves black women entrepreneurs in Mississippi. The honor was for her community involvement, being an author and work founding JD Scribes, a marketing and design consulting company in Northeast Mississippi.
Starks started 17 Plus LLC when she was 17 to start working towards having her own business. She started out as a freelance writer, which led to the creation of her current business, JD Scribes. The company offers web and graphic design, writing projects, logos and other services to small and local businesses in the surrounding Northeast Mississippi area. Starks has also started a local business group to help others develop skills and find different ways to build their businesses.
“When you’re in a small town like Pontotoc, sometimes people feel like they’re stuck and you have to have a certain type of job or career,” Starks said. “Being from here and showing that you can do something different, hopefully, I can inspire somebody else.”
Starks hopes to grow and expand JD Scribes and plans to have more businesses in the future. She also plans to publish additional books over the next few years and is currently editing a book she wrote before “The Lynching Calendar.” She plans to stay in the historical fiction realm and hopes to inspire others to do whatever they put their mind to.
“Even tackling hard topics, like those in my book, those conversations are necessary, and those conversations can bring change. I hope I can inspire someone to be brave enough to embrace their true selves and make their own mark,” Starks said.