JXN Visionary: Holly Lange

Holly Lange is the founder of the Mississippi Book Festival, a labor of love after years of community event planning and a love of literature.

In February 2022, Lange was chosen as the Governor’s Arts Awards Governor’s Choice Award recipient.

Founder of the MS Book Festival, Holly Lange, at Lemuria Books
Credit: Drew Dempsey

Originally from Austin, Texas, Holly Lange came to Jackson to attend Millsaps College before heading to work in Washington D.C. At 30, she found herself back in Mississippi, settling down in the capital city.

Lange, who had gained significant experience as an event planner, was soon recruited to help out with the 2000 Governor’s Arts Awards.

“The first year I worked on the awards, a violinist was brought in from the Washington Philharmonic,” she remembers. “It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard in my life. It was then that I recognized there are all kinds of people that support the arts. You don’t have to be an artist. I decided then and there that I was going to focus my career on arts and non-profit work.”

A series of fortunate events, paired with Lange’s grit and determination, led her to work on the Red Beans and Rice Festival, benefitting StewPot Community Services, the Jubilee Jam music festival and Crossroads Film Festival.

“I was lucky to work with a big, artsy and creative group,” says Lange. “It allowed my brain to expand.”

Lange would go on to plan these extraordinary community events and many others and raise funds to make them happen.

“I had the benefit of taking Eudora Welty’s last class she taught at Millsaps,” says Lange. “When I moved back, I saw these incredible authors all over the place. I never understood how we didn’t have a book festival.”

Before 2015, a group of local literature enthusiasts, including Lange, convened to discuss what it would take to start a book festival in Mississippi.

“The stars aligned. It was chaos at first, but it became my sole focus at the time.”

In 2015, Lange’s mission was to make the inaugural book festival “authentically Mississippi.” That meant John Grisham, Ellen Gilchrist, Greg Isles and Jesmyn Ward were non-negotiables.

“We didn’t want it to be an academic conference,” explains Lange. “This needed to be a big event for the public.”

The plan worked as the very first Mississippi Book Festival brought 3,000 people to the grounds of the Mississippi State Capitol for the now-beloved “Literary Lawn Party.” The Mississippi Book Festival has now grown to over 10,000 people.

“We survived because so many people love it – the authors, the attendees, the funders.”

While Lange recently passed the Executive Director torch to Ellen Daniels, she is proud of her accomplishments.

“We worked really hard for six solid years to give shape to the book festival,” she says. “It’s still one of the best things about Mississippi, and Ellen gets that. She’s the next generation.