By KATE SALTER
Mississippi State University marked its third year of the Maroon Edition program with a “kick-off” ceremony at the Mitchell Memorial Library on May 11. The event celebrated this year’s book selection, “The Optimist’s Daughter,” Mississippi author Eudora Welty’s 1973 Pulitzer-prize winning novel.
The Maroon Edition is an annual program designed to promote readership of a common work of literature. Beginning each summer and throughout the fall semester, the Maroon Edition encourages the incoming freshman class as well as both the university and Starkville communities to participate in conversations about the book and its author. Together with local literacy program Starkville Reads and the MSU Student Association (SA), the Maroon Edition program provides a wealth of opportunities for readers to engage in discussions of the book.
Dr. Mark Keenum, president of the university and a self-admitted “fan of [Welty] for many years,” said the Maroon Edition’s 2011 selection is a “literary treasure” and that more importantly, for this year’s freshmen, “this may be the only occasion that they have to be exposed to her work. Who knows where that may lead from there?”
Keenum said that the book “shows a very good portrayal of life in our state. It’s a good learning experience not only for our students but for all of us.”
The enthusiasm exhibited toward the Maroon Edition by Keenum echoed in SA president Rhett Hobart’s evaluation of the program. “It’s a way for students who come to MSU from different places and different backgrounds to have the opportunity to intellectually and culturally discuss their thoughts about the novel with not only other students but with staff and faculty as well.
This opportunity enables students to build friendships and meet new people simply through their involvement with this great program.” Hobart said that he stresses to freshmen at the MSU’s summer orientation events that reading the Maroon Edition allows them to “step outside of their comfort zone and meet new people.”
Marty Friend, chair of Starkville Reads, says that the Maroon Edition is “a wonderful example of cooperation between our university and our city.” The Maroon Edition selection of “The Optimist’s Daughter” influenced Starkville Reads’ fall program, and Friend said that the organization’s “wheels are already turning on ways that we can enhance the Maroon Edition choice in our community. In doing so, we will promote and support all efforts that come from MSU.”
Of the meaningfulness of “The Optimist’s Daughter” as this year’s selection, Dr. Noel Polk, professor emeritus of English at MSU and author of “Eudora Welty: A Bibliography of Her Work,” assessed the novel as “one of [Welty’s] most accessible and one of her most profoundly moving books. She worked her magic on themes that are very close to her and therefore very close to us.”
Apart from her extensively lauded body of literary work, Welty was also a celebrated photographer of Depression-era poverty in the Mississippi Delta. Along with “The Optimist’s Daughter” and her photography, her childrens’ book, “The Shoe Bird,” will also serve as a basis for discussions this autumn.
As a part of the upcoming events, Welty’s niece Mary Alice White will visit the university on September 29 to share her memories of her aunt. Additionally, Welty scholar Suzanne Marrs, currently the Welty Foundation Scholar-in-Residence at Millsaps College, will present her scholarly work on the book and help readers understand Welty’s significance in the greater fabric of American letters. On August 23, the SA will sponsor Dawg Daze at Midnight, which will promote student involvement with the program.
For more information, visit http://www.maroonedition.msstate.edu .