Home Bookselling The bookseller who helped transform Oxford, Mississippi

The bookseller who helped transform Oxford, Mississippi

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At the time, there was no reason to believe that Howorth would help keep the family’s literary tradition alive. He was not a great reader – or, for a long time, a great whatever. There are five Howorth brothers, and Richard is in the middle of them. Two have moved, one to become a lawyer on Wall Street, the other to become an architect in New Orleans; two remained in Oxford, one overseeing admissions to the University of Mississippi, the other running a law firm in town before serving three terms as a Lafayette County Circuit Court judge. Howorth wasn’t sure if he wanted to stay or go, and he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life.

“I was directionless,” Howorth said. “Fortunately, my older brother always had these great ideas and plans for what we should do, like joining the circus.” David, that brainstorming big brother, had at least one slightly more realistic idea: Throughout their childhood, he’d said that the city of Oxford really should have a bookstore, partly because of Faulkner and partly because of the university, but mostly because any town worth living in needed a place to buy books. “I was never a very good student in high school or college,” Howorth said, “but I managed to graduate and I kept thinking about David’s bookstore.”

“David’s Bookstore” became Square Books in 1979. Convinced it would need foot traffic to survive, Richard went looking for retail space but found nothing suitable until another of her aunts, Vasser Bishop, offered her a second floor. next to the Neilson department store. The daughter of an English professor who once gave Faulkner a D, Bishop charged her nephew rent but volunteered his time at the bookstore.

Lisa, Howorth’s wife, also took shifts. Originally from Chevy Chase, Maryland, she had found her way to Oxford from San Francisco in the early 70s via a Volkswagen bus, abandoning the California scene after it became ‘very dark and very weird’, heading south on a lark after remembering how much she loved reading Faulkner in high school. “I didn’t know anyone here,” she said. “I ran into a handful of hippies. They had a house near the university, an old house where we had a lot of parties, and that’s where I met Richard one crazy night.

Howorth was no regular at this party or any other, but he was picked up by the smart, lanky girl with the house cat she had trained to do tricks. Inconveniently, he was about to take off for the coast that Lisa had recently abandoned: “I had this buddy whose sister lived in Oregon, and we went over there and worked in a blind manufacturing plant. said Richard. “I was afraid I would never see Lisa again, so I wrote her this letter, saying I wanted to keep in touch, and left it for her in the big house. And, the next morning, I get up at dawn to drive west, and there’s this letter on my windshield, and I tell my homie I won’t open it until we’re not to a few states.

Howorth read the letter as soon as he crossed the third state line. Although her feelings quite matched hers, it still took her a few more weeks to call the number she had given him. When he returned home to Oxford a few months later, the first thing he did was leave, for Washington, DC, where Lisa had returned to be with her family. She eventually returned to Oxford with Richard, and they married there before settling for a time in Washington, where they got their start in the bookstore, at the Savile Book Shop in Georgetown. “More stops than starts,” jokes Richard, as part of what the couple did during their two-year apprenticeship was to help shut down the place. “It was a great store back then – it really was, but it was on its last legs, and when they decided to close the store, we stuck around long enough to close it.”