The Bookseller Who Helped Transform Oxford, Mississippi is by Casey Cep, a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of “Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee,”
“Richard Howorth has nurtured generations of Southern writers and readers, and changed his home town in the process.
“Richard Howorth is easy to talk to, even when he’s hard to hear. Earlier this year, while men hammered away on the other side of a wall in his hundred-and-sixty-year-old house, the fifth-generation Mississippian told me about raising his three children there and how one of them had already had her wedding reception on the property and another will have hers there soon and why handymen are so difficult to find these days and what one of the hammering men was doing a few weeks ago when he put his foot through the roof. Later, from a friend’s nearby home where no one was banging away in the background, Richard’s wife, Lisa, offered her own explanation for the construction work: “It’s so we don’t look like we live in fucking Grey Gardens.”
“The Howorths’ home is nowhere near the Hamptons, but still merits its own documentary: the grit-lit author Larry Brown used to sober up on the front-porch swing; the novelist Donna Tartt stayed the night; the writer Darcey Steinke helped hatch a skinny-dipping plot in the parlor; the Jack-of-all-genres Alexander McCall Smith once showed up in a kilt and conducted a Southern outpost of his Really Terrible Orchestra. “We can’t talk about some of the people,” Lisa said, “because those stories end in the hospital or the county jail.”
“The Howorth house has more bookshelves than windows and has hosted more writers than some M.F.A. programs, not because its owners confer any degrees but because they run one of the most beloved and influential bookstores in the country. Like City Lights, in San Francisco, or Shakespeare & Company, in Paris, Square Books has become as well known for nurturing writers as it is for selling their work. It has also become a small empire, consisting of four stores with some fifty thousand books on five floors of three different buildings, all in the town of Oxford, Mississippi. The Howorth family will tell you that they don’t know how this happened, but everyone else will tell you that it happened because of the Howorth family.
“The current Howorth house is only a mile or so from the first place in Oxford that Richard called home. His parents moved back the year after James Meredith integrated Ole Miss, settling into an outbuilding of an estate once owned by James Buchanan’s Secretary of the Interior, Jacob Thompson, who resigned that post and became inspector general of the Confederate Army, in which capacity he was dispatched by Jefferson Davis to Canada, where he organized attacks on American prisons, steamships, and politicians, in an effort to free Confederate soldiers, disrupt shipping routes, and assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. But Howorth was less interested in the house he grew up in than in the one across the street: William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak…”
Please click here in order to continue reading Ms. Cep‘s fascinating post. Access may require a personal subscription to The New Yorker, or a subscription via your library.