The SpotLight

Story G. E. Light

Most have heard of the Golden Triangle’s larger festivals like Columbus’ Market Street, West Point’s Prairie Arts, and Starkville’s Cotton District Arts, but there is also a plethora of smaller and in some ways more individualized community gatherings that happen annually. At the heart of the Golden Triangle, nestled just to the east of Alternate 45 lives the once prosperous railroad depot of Artesia. Every August the town decks itself out for the annual Artesia Days. The 18th annual festival ballooned the town of about 500 residents to more than 14,000 folks, who crowd the kernel of a downtown — with its less than 10 storefronts and old train depot — to enjoy arts, crafts and of course, festival food.

Though the event welcomes guests from the Golden Triangle and as far away as Chicago, it really serves as an extended family reunion of sorts for folks who once called Artesia home back in its heyday. This family atmosphere is demonstrated by the baseball game, which concluded the event on a Sunday afternoon. If you’ve never been to Artesia or just wondered why there’s a water tower on 45 just south of 182, turn off the divided highway and enjoy a glimpse of small town Mississippi as it once was.

The late Price Caldwell, emeritus professor of English at Mississippi State, founded the school’s creative writing program and from 1972 to 2000 taught a variety of courses including contemporary poetry, descriptive English grammar, form and theory of poetry and the practice of fiction. After his death in February, Caldwell’s widow, A.C., endowed The Price Caldwell Visiting Writers Series, with a sole condition, that an early studen of Caldwell’s, Brad Watson, be the presenter at its inaugural event on Aug. 25.

Watson received his BA from MSU, his MFA from Alabama and is currently professor of creative writing and literature at the University of Wyoming. He is a recipient of many prizes, including the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is known for his novel, The Heaven of Mercury, and two short story collections, Last Days of the Dog-Men and Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives.

Watson began his presentation with heartfelt reminiscences of his nearly 40-year relationship with Caldwell, his teacher and mentor: from early days as a work-study student in English through Caldwell’s gentle but exacting critique of his first story to a more recent long distance correspondence.

Watson spoke warmly of his teacher’s ability to find the kernel of excellence in overwritten drafts and an oft-remembered mantra: “No sentence in a great story is doing only one thing.” (As a personal aside Price and A.C. graciously hosted me on my first weekend in Starkville, during the ice storm of ’96.)

At the event, Watson took the unusual tack of presenting an as-yet-unfinished novel, The Maneater of Marigold Park, a Southern-gothic-meets-magical-realist tale set in a loosely fictionalized version of Watson’s hometown, Meridian.

The Starkville-MSU Symphony Association presented its annual summer fundraiser with a concert of Bluegrass and Baroque headlined by the Summer Symphony Chorus under the direction of Peter Infanger in First United Methodist’s Connections building. The chorus presented three musical settings, all from Psalm 117 — the shortest Psalm, having only four lines of text.

Between motets, the Bluegrass portion of the concert featured two guests. Jackie Edwards-Henry, professor of piano at MSU, gave a brief history of keyboard instruments before sitting down to her Houben French double harpsichord and playing three movements from Douglas McConnell’s “Travellin’ Music,” a suite based on assorted folk tunes. Most interesting was the reworking of “Wayfarin’ Stranger.”

Doug Browning brought his Gospel Nightcrawlers, a musical ministry of First United Methodist Church of Columbus. They kicked off their set with a sprightly version of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” melding baroque and bluegrass quite confidently.