FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sept. 25, 2009
Annual Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium at MUW set for Oct. 22-24
COLUMBUS, Miss. - Pulitzer Prize winning poet and Mississippi native, Natasha Trethewey will be joined by 12 other authors in honoring the legacy of Mississippi University for Women alumna Eudora Welty during the 21st annual Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium.
The symposium will be held Oct. 22–24 on campus and is organized by the department of languages, literature and philosophy and the College of Arts and Sciences. Admission to all symposium events is free, and all events are open to the public. The weekend will include an art exhibit hosted by the department of art and design, and a drama presentation by the department of music and theatre.
This year’s symposium theme is “Time Goes Like a Dream No Matter How Hard You Run,” a sentence from Eudora Welty's short story "A Shower of Gold" from her collection “The Golden Apples.”
According to symposium director Dr. Kendall Dunkelberg, “The dream of time is on all our minds as we celebrate MUW's 125th anniversary and Eudora Welty's centenary year. We look to stories of our past, which at times can be chillingly honest, to inform our dreams for the future.”
The symposium begins on MUW Founder’s Day, the day the doors of the university were first opened in 1884. Special events have been added to mark the 125th Anniversary, including a reception for MUW’s student literary magazine, The Dilettanti, at 4 p.m. on Friday and a picnic lunch with the authors at noon, followed by a new afternoon session on Saturday.
Keynote speaker Natasha Trethewey will read on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Nissan Auditorium of Parkinson Hall. Trethewey returns for her second appearance at the symposium to read from her third volume of poetry, “Native Guard,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2007, and in which she weaves the stories of her mother, herself and her family with those of the 2nd Louisiana Native Guard, one of the first all African-American regiments to see battle in the Union army. The Guard would serve honorably, yet be turned upon by white Union soldiers and assigned to guard white prisoners at Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island, where their history was all but obliterated.
“Trethewey’s exacting and resonant poetry is rooted in the shadow side of American history,” writes Donna Seaman in Booklist. “In commanding, bayonet-sharp lyrics, Trethewey matches states of mind with states of nature… as she tells the terrible story of the Native Guard.”
Writing in a review for The Washington Post, Darryl Lorenzo Wellington notes that Trethewey “traces the buried history of the South to the point where her personal narrative begins,” adding that she “has a gift for squeezing the contradictions of the South into very tightly controlled lines.”
Trethewey has been awarded the Cave Canem Poetry Prize in 1999 for the best first book by an African-American poet for “Domestic Work.” She received the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize for Poetry and the Lillian Smith Award for Poetry in 2001 for her second book “Bellocq’s Ophelia.” She was awarded the Mississippi Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and named Georgia Woman of the Year in 2008. She holds the Phillis Wheatley Distinguished Chair in Poetry at Emory University and is currently on leave to teach at Yale University.
The keynote session will also include the announcement by the University Press of Mississippi and Mississippi University for Women of the Welty Prize for a book of scholarship in Women’s Studies, Southern Studies or Literature. Immediately following the reading, there will be a reception and book signing with Trethewey and the rest of the symposium authors.
Friday, Oct. 23, the symposium will resume at 9 a.m. in Cochran Hall Ballroom with novelist Tony Earley, author of “Jim, The Boy and The Blue Star,” both of which recount the life of Jim Glass, first as a 10-year-old boy and in the sequel as a 17-year-old high school senior, growing up in rural North Carolina during the Depression and World War II. Written in deceptively simple, almost folksy prose, these novels examine adult themes through the prism of their young characters. Earley also has published a collection of short stories, “Here We Are In Paradise,” and a collection of essays, “Somehow Form a Family.”
“Tony Earley's novels are the Shaker chairs of American literature,” writes Yvonne Zipp of The Christian Science Monitor. “They're well-made, sturdy tales that are stripped of excess and postmodern gimmicks, and they just might last you forever…”
The second author of the morning will be Alabama native and novelist Ravi Howard, called “a talent to watch” by The Washington Post. His debut novel “Like Trees, Walking,”fictionalizes a 1981 lynching in Mobile in what Booklist hails as “a subtle and stirring look at the complexities of racial hatred and family obligations.”
Howard won a Hurston/Wright Award for the short story on which his novel is based and in 2008 received the second annual Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. He is also a former producer at NFL Films and an Emmy winner for his work on HBO’s weekly show “Inside the NFL.” His short fiction has appeared in the journals “Callaloo’ and “Massachusetts Review,” and he has been a commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
Eudora Welty Scholar and winner of this year’s Welty Prize, Pearl Amelia McHaney will discuss her recently edited books, “Eudora Welty as Photographer and Occasions: Selected Writings by Eudora Welty.” She willdiscuss Welty’s dreams to be a professional photographer and journalist as they relate to the dreams of her characters, and she will display photographs by Eudora Welty and read from Welty’s stories. Dr. McHaney has published widely on Southern literature and edited three previous books on Welty “A Writer’s Eye: Collected Book Reviews; Eudora Welty: The Contemporary Reviews”and “Eudora Welty: Writers’ Reflections on First Reading Welty.” She also co-wrote the memoir, “The Road to West 43rd St,” with Nash K. Burger. McHaney serves as president of the Eudora Welty Society, has edited the Eudora Welty Newsletter since 1977 and is on the editorial board of the newly established Eudora Welty Review.
The morning concludes with Becky Gould Gibson, author of two chapbooks and four books of poetry, including the recent “Aphrodite’s Daughter,” winner of Texas A&M University Press’s X.J. Kennedy Poetry Prize and ‘Need-Fire,” winner of the Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Award. In these two volumes, Gibson brings to life little-known historical women figures like the 17th century abbess Hild and explores the lasting power of iconic female figures from Aphrodite to the Virgin Mary. A Pushcart Prize nominee and winner of numerous arts grants, Gibson has also published poems in many journals and anthologies. She is professor emeritus of English and women’s studies at Guilford College in Winston-Salem, N.C.
After a break for lunch, the symposium resumes at 1:30 p.m. in Cochran Hall with Melissa Delbridge, reading from “FamilyBible.” Set in Tuscaloosa, her memoir recounts Delbridge’s years growing up in the troubled era of desegregation. Booklist lauds “FamilyBible” for being “as much a cultural history of the South as a history of her own life,” calling it “witty, tragic and relentlessly wise.” Taking on stormy issues of race, sexual abuse and gender identity, Delbrige writes “with such calm and grace that the lives she observes provide richer insight than readers may expect,” according to Kirkus Reviews.
Her debut memoir has garnered much attention, including the 2009 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award for Creative Non-Fiction. Delbridge is MUW’s Common Reading Initiative (CRI) author and appears in cooperation with the CRI program and the Ina E. Gordy Honors College. She will spend the week prior to the symposium in residence on campus meeting with students.
Next on the program is Jim Murphy, author of the new volume of poems “HeavenOverland,” which deals with iconic figures from W.E.B. Du Bois to Elvis Presley, and according to an Alabama Writers Forum reviewer, “comes to terms with American history in tough, contemporary, resonant language.” Murphy is also author of the chapbook, “The Memphis Sun,” and his poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Southern Humanities Review, Cimarron Review and Puerto del Sol, among many others. He is poetry editor for Red Mountain Review, a Birmingham-based literary journal and professor of English at University of Montevallo, where he directs the annual Montevallo Literary Festival.
Following a short break, all symposium authors will gather for a round table discussion, during which they will have a chance to talk less formally about the themes of time and dream in their work and to share their experiences of the symposium or discuss each other’s work. The audience will have another chance to ask questions about the symposium theme, the writing life or the practical side of publishing. The afternoon will conclude at 4 p.m. with a short reading and reception honoring MUW’s student literary magazine The Dilettanti and its predecessors Oh Lady!andThe Ephemera. Copies of a retrospective edition, plus copies of recent back issues, will be available.
Friday evening from 5:30-7:30 p.m., the department of art and design will host an opening reception for the exhibit “Figurative Paintings and Drawings by Terry Strickland” in the Eugenia Summer Gallery. Strickland is a contemporary figurative artist from Birmingham, Ala., whose work has received wide recognition, including most recently for her painting, "The Ascent," which was a finalist in the Favorite Subjects Competition 2009 in International Artist Magazine and for her paintings "Shahrazad Illuminated," which received an Art Renewal Center Staff Award in the online competition and "Plan of Attack," which was named a finalist in the ARC International 2008-2009 Salon. Her exhibit will be on display at MUW from Oct. 8 through Nov. 4.
Following the art reception at 7:30 p.m. in Cromwell Theatre, the department of music and theatre will present an open rehearsal of an upcoming production featuring work by acclaimed writer Horton Foote, who is best known for his screenplays of “ToKill A Mockingbird” and “Tender Mercies.” Foote was also awarded the Pulitzer Prize in drama for his 1995 play, “The Young Man From Atlanta.”
The symposium will continue Saturday, Oct. 24, at 9:30 a.m. with Bridget Smith Pieschel, editor of “Golden Days: Reminiscences of MSCW Alumnae 1926-1957.” The book is the result of many interviews conducted by the student/alumnae collaborative Oral History Program of MUW’s Center for Women’s Research and Public Policy, which Pieschel also directs. The center’s research focuses on all issues affecting women and girls and particularly on the history of MUW and women’s education, and Pieschel regularly speaks to civic and student groups about MUW’s history and 19th century women’s education. She is also co-author with Stephen Pieschel of “Loyal Daughters,” the centennial history of MUW. She is a past recipient of the MUW Medal of Excellence and a former director of the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium.
The second author of the morning, Ken Wells, is a native of Bayou Black, La., who has been called “one of the most compelling voices in fiction of the last decade” by The Los Angeles Times. He is author of four novels of the Cajun bayous—“Meely LaBauve,” “Junior’s Leg” and “Logan’s Storm”, collectively known as “The Catahoula Bayou Trilogy” and “Crawfish Mountain,” a satire of big oil shenanigans and political corruption in the hauntingly beautiful but beleaguered wetlands of Louisiana. A Pulitzer-Prize nominated journalist, Wells is also author of several works of non-fiction, including “The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous: Fighting to Save a Way of Life in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina” and winner of the 2008 Harry Chapin Media Award for a book of literary journalism.
Frank X Walker is the author of four poetry collections, including “Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York,” winner of the Lillian Smith Book Award. Called “a magnificent achievement” by Nikki Giovanni, the book re-imagines the Lewis and Clark expedition through the eyes of Clark's personal slave York. His most recent book “When Winter Come: The Ascension of York” continues his story. He has also published two other collections of poetry, “Black Box” and “Affrilachia.” A recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship in Poetry and founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, Walker co-produced the film documentary “Coal Black Voices, The History of the Affrilachian Poets” and is editor and publisher of PLUCK!: The New Journal of Affrilachian Art & Culture. He is currently writer in residence and lecturer in English at Northern Kentucky University.
The morning session will be followed by a picnic lunch with the authors on the lawn outside Cochran Hall. The public is invited to attend and bring their lunch, or box lunches can be purchased in advance for $9.25. Each box lunch includes a choice of sandwich (chicken breast, roast beef, roast turkey, ham with brie, or grilled Portobello with provolone) on a Ciabata Roll or Croissant, plus Grilled Vegetable and Orzo Pasta Salad, chips, a Double Fudge Brownie, and a choice of soda or water. Contact the College of Arts and Sciences office (Painter Hall, Room 111, (662) 329-7386) by Thursday, Oct. 15, to reserve a lunch. Payment in advance is required.
The symposium resumes at 1 p.m. with a reading by Jesmyn Ward, whose debut novel “Where the Line Bleeds: has been hailed by Publishers Weekly as “starkly beautiful.” Set on the rural Mississippi Gulf Coast, the novel follows the tensions between twin brothers, one a dock laborer and the other a drug dealer trying to alleviate their family’s poverty. The novel is an Essence Book Club Selection and an Honor Award recipient from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Ward’s essays and fiction have appeared in Oxford American, A Public Space and Bomb, among others. From DeLisle, Mississippi and the first person in her family to attain a college degree, Ward earned her MFA from the University of Michigan and is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.
Jack Riggs will read from his second novel, “The Fireman’s Wife.” Set in the low country and the hills of South Carolina, the novel tells the stories of Peck, a fireman struggling whether to save his marriage or let his wife have the freedom she seems to need; Cassie, his wife who yearns for the future she gave up when she married; and their daughter Kelly who is caught in the middle. Joane Wilkinson, writing for Booklist, praises Riggs for bringing “an intimate knowledge of the land as well as a feel for the emotional highs and lows of marriage to this sensitive novel of love and loss.” Named Georgia Author of the Year for 2009, Riggs is also author of the novel “When the Finch Rises.”
Closing this year’s readings will be symposium director and MUW professor of English Kendall Dunkelberg, whose second book of poems “Time Capsules” was published this summer by Texas Review Press. Poet Angela Ball writes, “Kendall Dunkelberg's `Time Capsules’ encompass eloquence and sense, memory and implication. These skillful poems give us much to admire and even more to taste, to see.” Dunkelberg’s first collection, titled “Landscapes and Architectures,” appeared in 2001, and he has published many translations, including “Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus,” poems of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, and “Outside the Lines: New Dutch and Flemish Writing,” a special issue of The Literary Review.
Doors will open half an hour before the morning sessions begin, and coffee will be served. Each session will have a break at the midpoint, and the audience is free to come and go during the breaks or between readings, which last approximately 40 minutes. Books by all the authors will be on sale before and after each session, as well as during the breaks; authors will be available for signings 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. The Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium has cooperated with the Common Reading Initiative and the Ina E. Gordy Honors College at MUW to bring Melissa Delbridge to campus to meet with students for a week before the symposium.
For more information, contact Dr. Dunkelberg, symposium director, at (662) 329-7386 or by mail at Mississippi University for Women, College of Arts and Sciences, 1100 College St., MUW 1634, Columbus MS 39701-5800. More information about the authors can be found at www.muw.edu/welty/ or on groups on Goodreads and Facebook.