The Citation of Merit is given to groups that have made significant contributions to the literary life of Mississippi. This year the honor goes to Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi. Founded in 1975 by John and Mel Evans, Lemuria has flourished by offering “real books” and along with them a “real” community of writers and booklovers who gather in the store. Despite stiff competition from chain stores and internet offerings, Evans expanded in 2000 by buying an adjacent building and creating an event space he calls a “book juke joint,” where shelves are lined with first editions, beer is sold, and authors take the stage for readings. Lemuria informs its customers about new books and authors through an online newsletter. Writers from all over the country come to Lemuria to give readings.
Commenting on his nomination, MIAL board member Mark Wiggs said, “Recognized nationally by writers, publishers, and fellow booksellers, Lemuria Bookstore through John Evans’s steady leadership has been a pioneer in expanding and evolving to meet challenges in the publishing industry. An active supporter of local cultural endeavors, Lemuria has been a major participant in the Mississippi Book Festival from its inaugural year onward, and on numerous occasions Lemuria’s “Dot Com” Building presentation space has been the site for the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Awards Weekend readings. With its floor-to-ceiling shelves, its well-read and helpful staff, and its comfortable layout ideally suited to browsing and conversation, Lemuria Books has become a beloved institution known throughout Mississippi’s creative community.
My wife Mel and I opened Lemuria in 1975, in a converted apartment in the Quarter. The initial vision was to provide books that were hard to find in those days on such subjects as psychology, art, metaphysics, spirituality, and New Age. The bookstore moved to Highland Village a couple of years later, and then in 1988, it moved to its present location in Banner Hall. The excitement that I feel from other young booksellers trying to figure out where their store is going, may be the greatest thing happening in our industry right now. I am very honored to accept the Citation of Merit from MIAL on behalf of Lemuria Bookstore and our fine staff. We appreciate the support from not only Jackson and the surrounding communities but the entire state of Mississippi.