Tyrus Books, launched by Ben LeRoy and Alison Janssen with three releases last month, may be a small Midwestern literary press, but the founders hope to have an impact on the literary landscape in the Deep South as well. In an announcement made today--designated by UNESCO as International Literacy Day--Tyrus said that in collaboration with the Mississippi Writers Guild, the press is sponsoring a short story competition, the DELTA YOUTH Writing Contest, open to high school students in the Mississippi Delta, an economically-impoverished area with an estimated 60% adult literacy rate. Authors of the top short stories (2,500 words or less) will be invited to take part in the Guild’s 2010 writers conference next summer. The top author seeking a degree in the literary arts will also receive a $1,000 college scholarship.

In addition, next spring, Tyrus is releasing 10 fiction titles, including Delta Blues, a short story collection, to be released with a 10,000-copy print in April. Delta Blues, edited by Carolyn Haines, features fiction by James Lee Burke, John Grisham, Charlaine Harris, Ace Atkins, and other writers, plus a foreword by actor Morgan Freeman, the star of such box office hits as The Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby, and Driving Miss Daisy. Freeman, who lives in his native Mississippi, is the founder of the Rock River Foundation, a grantmatching charitable organization that strives to improve education in the state.

One dollar from the sale of each book, which is being released simultaneously in hardcover and in trade paper, will be donated to the Rock River Foundation, which in turn will earmark the funds for literacy efforts in the Delta. On March 27, the press will host a launch party at Freeman’s Clarksdale, Miss. blues club, Ground Zero, for Delta Blues. Forty percent of the proceeds from book sales at this event will be given to the Rock River Foundation.

“Carolyn Haines, the collection’s editor, had a connection to Mr. Freeman, and approached him,” explained LeRoy, previously the publisher of Bleak House Books. “Mr. Freeman believes that literacy is crucial, and was happy to work with us in the efforts to improve literacy in the Delta.”

Tyrus books are distributed by Consortium.