35th Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium features Katy Simpson Smith
Novelist Katy Simpson Smith returns as the keynote author at the 35th annual Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium, Oct. 19-21 with her fourth novel, “The Weeds,” a meditation on the lives of two women from two centuries as they catalogue the flora of the Roman Colosseum. A Jackson native like one of her protagonists, Smith now lives in New Orleans yet remains an active presence in the state as founder of the Write for Mississippi project and other initiatives.
Publisher’s Weekly compares “The Weeds” to her previous novel “The Everlasting” as “another sensuous and sprawling story of the Eternal City” that shows how, like the weeds of its title, “women can fall through the cracks and still flourish,” while Library Journal claims that by “organizing her chapters by botanical family,” Smith “exemplifies the importance of combining science and storytelling,” creating a novel that is “erudite, playful and filled with fury about gender inequality.”
According to symposium director Kendall Dunkelberg, “Smith presents a compelling starting point” for this year’s theme “‘With an Instrument Made of Air’: the Transformative Magic of Story,” which is “inspired by Eudora Welty’s story ‘Circe,’ a reimagining of the well-known episode from Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ from the perspective of the divine sorceress.”
Smith’s reading will be held on Thursday, Oct. 19, at 7:30 p.m. in Mississippi University for Women’s Poindexter Hall. Sessions continue Friday at 9:30 a.m. until noon, Friday at 1:30 p.m. until 4 p.m. and on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
Smith will be joined by short story writer Halle Hill with her debut collection of stories “Good Women,” which People magazine has named a Must-Read Book for Fall 2023, saying “These sharp stories bring gallows humor to the Weight Watchers meeting, church study group, funeral parlor, emergency room — anywhere southern Black women are doing what it takes to get by.”
Other fiction will include Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s collection “The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You,” stories of New Orleans which the Los Angeles Timeslauds as “achingly truthful and incredibly accessible,” and De’Shawn Charles Winslow with his second novel “Decent People,” a murder mystery set in 1970s West Mills, North Carolina, that explores the racial tensions and complex social fabric of its fictional small town.
The symposium will also celebrate Eudora Welty Prize scholar Ethel Morgan Smith, who will discuss “A Path to Grace: Reimagining the Civil Rights Movement,” in which she combines memoir, interview and historical writing to chronicle the movement through the lives of ordinary citizens and literary luminaries the likes of Gloria Naylor and Nikki Giovanni.
The W’s own Ellen Ann Fentress will read from her debut collection of memoir and essay, “The Steps We Take.” Fentress teaches creative nonfiction in the university’s MFA program, and she will be joined by MFA alumna, Exodus Oktavia Brownlow with her debut essay collection “I’m Afraid That I Know Too Much About Myself Now, to Go Back to Who I Knew Before, and Oh Lord, Who Will I Be After I’ve Known All That I Can.”
Additionally, author Lee Durkee from Oxford, will return to the symposium with his memoir, “Stalking Shakespeare,” which the New York Times describes as an “absurd, unsolved hunt to find a definitive portrait of Shakespeare… that becomes a tragicomic tale in its own right.”
Poets joining the symposium include W alumna Christie Collins with her debut collection “The Art of Coming Undone” and trans Mississippi native K. Iver, with their debut “Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco.” University of Mississippi Professor Emerita Ann Fisher-Wirth will read from her sixth collection “Paradise is Jagged,” and Claude Wilkinson, a poet and painter from the Delta, will read from his fifth collection “Soon Done With the Crosses.”
On Friday afternoon, these 12 published writers will be joined by five high-school Ephemera Prize winners, whose poems, essays and stories were judged by Claude Wilkinson and Halle Hill.
Other Welty Series events include the Welty Gala, a university fundraising dinner featuring the first woman to pilot and command an American spacecraft, astronaut Eileen Collins, on Friday evening, and the Welty Art Gallery exhibit, “Intersections of Gender and Place,” which is ongoing in Summer Hall.
All symposium sessions and art exhibits are free and open to the public. No reservations are required. For Welty Gala tickets, contact the MUW Foundation. For information on the authors, books, and the Ephemera Prize, see the symposium website www.muw.edu/welty.
Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium Schedule
Thursday, Oct. 19, 7:30 p.m.
Katy Simpson Smith—The Weeds
Friday, Oct.20, 9 a.m. -Noon
Lee Durkee, “Stalking Shakespeare”
Maurice Carlos Ruffin, “The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You”
De’Shawn Charles Winslow, “Decent People”
K. Iver, “Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco”
Friday, Oct.20, 1:30-4:30 p.m.
Ann Fisher-Wirth, “Paradise is Jagged”
Halle Hill, “Good Women: Stories”
Claude Wilkinson, “Soon Done with the Crosses”
Saturday Oct.21, 9:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m.
Ethel Morgan Smith, “Path to Grace”
Christie Collins, “The Art of Coming Undone”
Ellen Ann Fentress, “The Steps We Take”
Exodus Brownlow, “I’m Afraid That I Know Too Much About Myself Now”