This year’s theme is “‘What might be out of sight. . .’: Focusing the Image, Composing the Scene, and Directing the Eye in Southern Literature.” According to Symposium Director Bridget Smith Pieschel, the theme was inspired by a family picture included in “One Writer’s Beginnings,” which Welty writes is of her grandmother as a lovely young woman, standing behind a chair to hide her pregnancy as her husband photographs her. “Then Welty comments on what ‘might be out of sight’ both in photographs, and by implication, in fiction,” says Pieschel. “Sometimes what we don’t see, what we don’t know, is just as significant as what is revealed.”

Ace Atkins is author of Crossroad Blues, Leavin’ Trunk Blues, Dark End of the Street and Dirty South. All feature the character Nick Travers, a National Football League star turned musicologist who finds himself solving mysteries as he tracks the history of the blues in New Orleans, the Mississippi Delta, Memphis and Chicago. Library Journal calls Travers “a gutsy protagonist” and Booklist says his exploits are “toe-tapping good fun for anyone who cares about the blues.” A former Auburn University football player, Atkins earned nominations for the Pulitzer Prize and Livingston Award while covering crime for The Tampa Tribune.

John Bensko’s recent short story collection Sea Dogs is set mostly along the beaches of the coastal South. Booklist says Bensko’s characters “experience abrupt and transfiguring change” while Barry Hannah calls Sea Dogs “a debut collection of stories of stunning originality.” Bensko has also written three volumes of poetry, including The Iron City, The Waterman’s Children and Green Soldiers, winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize in 1980. His poems and stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, and his most recent award was the 2000 McLeod-Grobe Poetry Prize.

Pamela Duncan’s debut novel Moon Women gives readers, according to Doris Betts, “sisterhood in Dolly Parton’s accent” and shows, in the words of Jill McCorkle, “a vast wisdom when it comes to the twists and turns of the human heart.” Her second novel, Plant Life, concerns the struggles and secrets of three generations of women who work at a North Carolina cotton mill and has been hailed by Lee Smith as “an American classic.” It won the 2003 Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction.

Ann Fisher-Wirth’s volumes of poetry include Blue Window, which poet Robert Hass says has “steel” and “nerve,” and the chapbook “The Trinket Poems,” runner-up in the 2003 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Chapbook Competition. Fisher-Wirth’s poems have appeared in Southwest Review, The Georgia Review, and The Kenyon Review, among many others. The recipient of numerous prizes, Fisher-Wirth received the 2004 Rita Dove Poetry Award from the Salem College Center for Women Writers and the 2004 Poetry Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters.

Joe Lee’s first mystery novel On the Record was called “a must read for anyone familiar with or fascinated by Mississippi, Jackson or Southern politics and pranksters” by the Clarion Ledger. Lee’s second novel Dead Air, which explores murder and intrigue in a Jackson television newsroom, has been called “a fast and furious read” by former news anchor Gene Edwards.

Tim Parrish is author of the short story collection Red Stick Men. According to The New York Times Book Review, Parrish’s “subtle irony and spare prose” evoke “the hard-won strength” of the blue-collar workers who live in the “industrial underbelly” of Baton Rouge, where the author lived for 27 years. Kirkus Reviews calls Red Stick Men a “refreshing–at times inspirational–debut collection about hard-working people trying to do the right thing.” Parrish’s stories have been published in Cincinnati Review, Missouri Review and New England Review, among many others, and he has been nominated for numerous Pushcart Prizes. He was the Sewanee Writers’ Conference Walter E. Dakin Fellow in 2001.

Josh Russell’s novel Yellow Jack, set during the New Orleans yellow fever epidemics of the 1840s, has been acclaimed by the Baltimore Sun as “an electrifying debut,” while the Chicago Tribune says it offers “virtuoso storytelling, evocative prose and original conception.” It was a Borders New Voices selection and a BookSense 76 Pick. Russell was the 2000 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Shane Stevens Fellow in the Novel, and his short stories have appeared in The Antioch Review, New Stories from the South and Carolina Quarterly, among others.

Daniel Wallace’s debut novel Big Fish, the poignant story of a son trying to find the truth in his dying father’s tall tales, explores what “might be out of sight” in the confluence of memory, reality and fiction. It has been hailed by critics as a comic, original mix of Southern folk tales, Greek myth and mundane life that Publishers Weekly says has “the transformative quality of fable and fairy tale.” Now translated into 18 languages, “Big Fish” was adapted as a feature film in 2003, directed by Tim Burton and shot on location near Montgomery, Ala. The film was a 2004 Golden Globe nominee for Best Motion Picture/Musical or Comedy. Wallace has written two other novels, Ray in Reverse, called “refreshingly savvy” by The Boston Globe, and The Watermelon King, which Booklist says is “stunning in its originality.” His stories have appeared in Story, Glimmer Train, Prairie Schooner and Shenandoah, among others. He also is an illustrator and cartoonist.

Martha Ward is the winner of the 2004 Welty Prize for her book Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau. Booklist says Ward bring “brings tumultuous nineteenth-century New Orleans vividly to life as she reveals the true nature of the equally maligned and mythologized” Marie Laveau and her daughter, who practiced New Orleans-style voodoo to help African Americans survive and escape slavery.

Lynn York’s novel The Piano Teacher is set in the fictional North Carolina town Swan’s Knob and follows the exploits of gentle piano teacher Miss Wilma as murder and romance turn her tranquil life upside down. Lee Smith says of The Piano Teacher, “Eudora Welty meets Miss Marple in this sweet, sexy Southern tour de force.” Haven Kimmel calls it a “gentle, funny, remarkably sexy novel” and says, “I adored the whole thing.”

Isabel Zuber’s novel Salt, which received Virginia Commonwealth University’s 2003 First Novelist Award, is the story of an imaginative young woman’s inner awakening as she hungers for a different kind of life in Appalachia at the turn of the 20th century. Critics compare Salt to Robert Morgan’s “Gap Creek” and Charles Frazier’s “Cold Mountain” and The New York Times Book Review calls it “a sweeping first novel.” A North Carolina native, Zuber has been awarded the Appalachian Writers Association’s Lee Smith Award for Fiction and the University of Tennessee Short Story Prize, and her volumes of poetry include Winter’s Exile and Oriflamb, which won the North Carolina Writers Network chapbook context in 1987.

All Symposium events will be held in Poindexter Hall on the MUW campus and are free and open to the public. The Symposium is made possible through the generous support of the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation.

Friends of the Welty Series