Oct. 3, 2008
Contact: Anika Mitchell Perkins
Annual Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium set for Oct. 16-18
COLUMBUS, Miss. -- Acclaimed novelist John Dufresne will be joined by 11 other authors in honoring the legacy of Mississippi University for Women alumna Eudora Welty during the 20th annual Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium to be held Oct. 16-18 on the MUW campus, organized by the Department of Languages, Literature, and Philosophy.
The weekend will also include an art exhibit hosted by the Department of Art and Design and a dramatic reading presented by the Department of Music and Theatre.
This year’s theme is “Mirrors for Reality: the Past and Future Wrapped Like Butterfly Wings.” According to Dr. Kendall Dunkelberg, Symposium director, this theme was inspired by a review Welty wrote of Virginia Woolf's posthumous volume of stories, “Monday or Tuesday.” In her essay, published in the New York Times, Welty describes Woolf's writing as looking at reality in a mirror, where "elongation, foreshortening, superimposing are all instruments of the complicated vision which wants to look at truth." She adds that in Woolf's writing "the opaque character is revealed opalescent in its cocoon, with its past and future wrapping it like butterfly wings. Its flicker of life ticks like a heart under our eyes, and as it emerges from its dull contemplation we almost see it fly in the sun - but not quite."
Dunkelberg noted the same can be said of Welty's writing. “When mirrors figure prominently, as in her story ‘The Burning,’ they reflect the trials of the present and the disturbing events of the past, to give a hopeful, if at times tenuous, vision of the future.”
The past and present also figure prominently in the work of keynote speaker Dufresne, who will read on Thursday, Oct. 16, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in Nissan Auditorium of Parkinson Hall. Dufresne’s newly published novel, “Requiem, Mass.,” recounts the childhood of narrator, Johnny, who, not unlike Dufresne, lives in Florida and is working on a novel or memoir-there is some doubt which it will become-weaving story within story to create what Publisher’s Weekly has called a “witty, sardonic take on life's fictions” that “leaps off the page."
Thursday evening will mark the second appearance at the Welty Symposium for Dufresne, who teaches fiction writing at Florida International University and has published three other novels, “Louisiana Power and Light,” “Love Warps the Mind a Little” and “Deep in the Shade of Paradise,” two story collections “The Way That Water Enters Stone” and “Johnny Too Bad” and “The Lie That Tells a Truth: a Guide to Writing Fiction.” He has also written two screenplays and a play and co-authored with 12 others the mystery novel “Naked Came the Manatee.” Dufresne, along with the other featured authors, will sign books at the reception following the keynote.
Throughout the weekend, Symposium participants are invited to visit the MUW Art Department exhibit of work by three Memphis artists with national reputations: Maysey Craddoc, Kat Gore and Anne Siems. The exhibit will run in Shattuck Hall Gallery from Oct. 15 to Nov. 5, with the official opening at 4:30-6:30 p.m. on Oct. 16. Regular gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by special request.
Friday morning, Oct. 17, the Symposium will resume at 9 in Cochran Hall Ballroom with the fiction of Cary Holladay, whose latest book “A Fight in the Doctor’s Office” won the 2007 Miami University Novella Contest. She is also author of the novel “Mercury” and three collections of short stories, “The Quick-Change Artist,” “The People Down South” and “The Palace of Wasted Footsteps.” Among her many awards are a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Goodheart Prize, the O. Henry Prize and the Paul Bowles Prize for Fiction. Her fiction has appeared in many anthologies and magazines, including New Stories from the South, Shenandoah, and The Southern Review. In “A Fight in the Doctor’s Office,” a young newlywed searches for the husband who has abandoned her but falls in love with a disabled baby instead.
Also in this session will be Alabama native and poet Rodney Jones, who was awarded the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award in 2007 for “Salvation Blues,” a selection of 100 poems that span his career. Booklist has called his new collection "a six-pack of rich Southern smoothness... satisfying. Deep as a well. Filled with a bit of everything." Jones has also received the Harper Lee Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Jean Stein Award, the Academy of American Poets Lavan Younger Poets Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Previous books by Jones include “Kingdom of the Instant,” “Elegy for the Southern Drawl,” “Things That Happen Once,” “Apocalyptic Narrative,” “Transparent Gestures,” “ The Unborn,” “The Story They Told Us of Light” and “Going Ahead Looking Back.”
Next on the program will be novelist, essayist and poet, Geary Hobson, who was born and raised in Arkansas of Cherokee-Quapaw and Chickasaw ancestry. He has served as director of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico and currently teaches in the English Department of the University of Oklahoma. A recipient of the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award, Hobson has seen his works widely anthologized in, among others, From Totems to Hip Hop; Arkansas, Arkansas; Native American Literature; An Ear to the Ground; Without Reservation; American Indian Literature and Aniyunwiya/Real Human Beings. He has published “Deer Hunting & Other Poems” and the novel “Last of the Ofos.” He has also edited the anthology The Remembered Earth: An Anthology of Contemporary Native American Literature.
Rounding out the morning session will be Hillary Jordan, whose novel “Mudbound” won the 2006 Bellwether Prize for Fiction, awarded biannually to a debut novel that addresses issues of social justice. The story of two families, one black and one white, in the Mississippi Delta just after World War II, “Mudbound” has been hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as a “superbly rendered depiction of the fury and terror wrought by racism” and by Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers as a “powerful firestorm of a first novel.” “Mudbound” was also named the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Fiction Book of the Year, as well as a Barnes and Noble Discover pick, a Borders Original Voices selection, and a Book Sense pick.
Angela Ball will start off the Friday afternoon session at 1:30 in Cochran Hall with a poetry reading. Ball won the Donald Hall Prize for her most recent volume, “Night Clerk and the Hotel of Both Worlds,” which also earned her a Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award, her second MIAL award. “At once literary and conversational, enigmatic and lucid, exuberant and wounded," wrote Terrance Hayes, judge of the Donald Hall Award, "these nimble poems wed the world of imagination to the world of experience." Ball is professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi and poetry editor for Mississippi Review. She has also received an Individual Writer's Grant from the NEA, and has published four other collections of poetry, including “The Museum of the Revolution: 58 Exhibits,” “Possession,” “Quartet” and “Kneeling between Parked Cars.”
Southern literature scholar, Noel Polk, will speak on “Living Outside History.” Polk has lectured widely on Faulkner and Welty, edited novels by Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren and published scholarly books, including “Eudora Welty: A Bibliography of Her Work,” “Children of the Dark House: Text and Context in Faulkner,” “Outside the Southern Myth” and most recently “Faulkner and Welty and the Southern Literary Tradition.” After a distinguished career at the University of Southern Mississippi, Polk now teaches and edits Mississippi Quarterly at Mississippi State University.
Columbus resident Deborah Johnson will read from her novel, “The Air Between Us,” which has been praised by The Washington Post as a “sly, entertaining dissection” of the myths of Jim Crow segregation in the fictional town of Revere in the 1960s. Publisher’s Weekly says Johnson builds “compelling character studies” in this “vivid” story of how Revere’s black and white citizens explore their past and confront the challenges of integration. Johnson is an editor for Genesis Press and has previously written historical fiction under the pseudonym Deborah Johns, including titles such as “Tuscany” and “The Lion of Venice.”
To conclude the afternoon, Paul Ruffin returns to Columbus with his latest collection of short stories “Jesus in the Mist,” which Kirkus Reviews has called: "Remarkable stories of seekers, idealists, visionaries and the occasional racist, written in an authentic Southern idiom." Ruffin has also published five collections of poetry, “Lighting the Furnace Pilot,” “Our Women,” “ The Storm Cellar,” “Circling” and “The Book of Boys and Girls;” two novels, “Pompeii Man” and “Castle in the Gloom;” two collections of essays, “Here's to Noah,” “Bless His Ark” and “Segovia Chronicles;” and two other short story collections, “The Man Who Would Be God” and “Islands, Women, and God.” He is professor of English at Sam Houston State University, where he edits The Texas Review and directs Texas Review Press. He has published widely in magazines, including Paris Review, Georgia Review, Quarterly West, Mississippi Review and many others. He writes the weekly newspaper column "Ruffin-It" and his commentaries have appeared on National Public Radio.
Friday evening at 7:30 in Cromwell Theater the MUW Theatre Department acting class will perform a dramatic reading of an excerpt from Robert Schenkkan's Pulitzer Prize winning play, “The Kentucky Cycle,” a script rich in story-telling involving a poor mountain family who is tricked into selling the mineral rights to their land in eastern Kentucky.
The Symposium will continue Saturday, Oct. 18, at 9 a.m. with Rheta Grimsley Johnson, award-winning reporter, columnist and author of the memoir “Poor Man’s Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana.” While on the staff of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Johnson was a three-time Scripps Howard Writer of the Year, a Pulitzer Prize nominee for commentary and the winner of numerous other national awards for both reporting and commentary. She later wrote for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Praised by Publisher’s Weekly as a “wonderful, personal look into a Cajun community,” “Poor Man’s Provence” is the story of the residents of her adopted Bayou home of Henderson, Louisiana.
Second on the program will be Dr. Richard Megraw, associate professor of American studies that the University of Alabama, whose new book, “Confronting Modernity: Art and Society in Louisiana,” was chosen as the recipient of this year's Eudora Welty Prize. “Confronting Modernity” examines the conflicts and benefits modernity exerted on the local culture in Louisiana through an examination of the work of Ellsworth Woodward, artist and potter at Sophie Newcomb College, and Lyle Saxon, writer and director of the Federal Writers Project in Louisiana during the Great Depression.
Poet Catherine Pierce will read from her collection “Famous Last Words,” which was selected for the 2007 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. John Yau, the judge of the competition, wrote that Pierce “gets to the conundrum of language; we want to believe what it says and we don't believe it." Pierce was selected as one of only 50 poets to appear in Best New Poets, 2007. She has also published, “Animals of Habit,” which won the Wick Chapbook competition, and she has published widely in magazines such as Slate, Ploughshares, Crab Orchard Review, Indiana Review, Gulf Coast, Blackbird, Third Coast, Mid-American Review and Mississippi Review. She teaches creative writing at Mississippi State University and lives in Starkville.
Saturday’s session will conclude with a feature that Symposium organizers hope will become a new tradition: a round-table discussion with Symposium authors in which the authors will have a chance to talk less formally about the Symposium theme and their work or to share their experiences of the Symposium and each other’s work, and the audience will have another chance to ask questions about the authors’ works, the writing process, or the practical side of publishing.
Both morning sessions will begin with 8:30 coffee followed by the first readers at 9 and ending by noon. The Friday afternoon session will begin at 1:30 p.m. and will conclude before 5 p.m.
Each session will have a break at the midpoint, and the audience is free to come and go during the breaks or between readings. Books by all the authors will be for sale before and after each session as well as during the breaks; authors will be available for signing throughout the Symposium.
All sessions are free and open to the public, thanks to a generous grant from The Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation. Funding is also provided by the Welty Series Endowment and MUW Foundation.
For more information, contact Dr. Dunkelberg, Symposium director, at the College of Arts and Sciences, MUW-Box 1634, Columbus MS 39701, (662) 329-7386. More information about the authors can also be found at the Symposium web site: