The theme for this year’s symposium is “‘Playing on the Air. . .Like a Signal or a Greeting’: Convergent Voices in Southern Literature.” The theme was inspired, says Symposium Director Bridget Pieschel, by Welty’s volume of stories Golden Apples, in which characters “are influenced… by their memories of music, music which once gave order to their lives, just as the yearly June Recital gave order to the whole town and offered some an escape into an artificial life set to appropriate melodies.” Pieschel points to the influence of music on writers like Lee Smith, this year’s symposium headliner, whose novels The Devil’s Dream and Fair and Tender Ladies take folk songs for titles. However, says Pieschel, for many Southern writers working today, music may not be as overt an influence, but rather a “rhythm or a hint, a background thought ‘playing on the air’ as their stories and poems unfold.”

Bebe Barefoot has recently joined the MUW creative writing faculty, specializing in fiction. An Alabama native, Barefoot received a 2002–2003 American Dissertation Fellowship from the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation for her combination of creative nonfiction and traditional scholarship in an experimental biography of avant-garde author Kathy Acker. Barefoot has been awarded two Mary Lily Research Grants and received the 2001 Stephen Karatheodoris Memorial Award for Research on Women.

Jennifer Davis is an Alabama native whose debut short story collection Her Kind of Want won the 2002 Iowa Short Fiction Award. Booklist calls Her Kind of Want a “memorable debut” and says Davis’ Southern women characters are “riveting,” with “bad luck and no money” but also “unexpected strength.” Stories from Davis” forthcoming collection of stories Our Former Lives in Art have appeared in The Paris Review, The Oxford American, The Georgia Review, Epoch, One Story and Fiction. She is also winner of the 2004 Reynolds Price Short Fiction Award and a 2002 Pushcart Prize nominee.

Beth-Ann Fennelly is a poet and author of Tender Hooks, which explores new motherhood in what Booklist calls “awesome, humanely humbling” ways, and Open House, winner of the 2001 Kenyon Review Prize and a Book Sense Top Ten Poetry Pick. Fennelly is also the author of the award-winning chapbook A Different Kind of Hunger and the recipient of a Pushcart Prize. Her poems have appeared in TriQuarterly, Shenandoah, and The Georgia Review, among others. In 2002 she read from her work at the Library of Congress at the invitation of the U.S. Poet Laureate.

Tom Franklin has been described by Booklistas a “splendid stylist who explores moral issues.” Franklin’s collection of stories Poachers, set in the south Alabama backwoods, was named 1999 Best First Book of Fiction by Esquire and awarded a 1999 Edgar Award for the title story. His novel Hell at the Breech, which explores a small-town feud in 1890s Alabama, is called “historical fiction at its best” by Booklist and received the 2004 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Prize. Franklin was 2002–2003 Tennessee Williams Fellow in Fiction at the University of the South and 2001–2002 John and Renee Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi.

Silas House is a Kentucky native whose three novels Booklist calls a “long love letter to Kentucky.” After publication of his first novel Clay’s Quilt, Lee Smith hailed him as a “a young writer of immense gifts,” while his second novel A Parchment of Leaves won the James Still Award for Special Achievement from the Fellowship of Southern Writers and was a selection of both the Literary Guild and the Doubleday Book Club. House’s most recent novel Coal Tattoo displays his talent, says Publisher’s Weekly, “for understanding the cadences of mountain folk religion and the way that music sustains people’s spirits.” House’s short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Night Train, The Louisville Review, and New Stories from the South. He is also a music writer for No Depression magazine and a frequent contributor to NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

Inman Majors is a Tennessee native whose novel Wonderdog is acclaimed by Booklist as “sharp and hilarious” and a “welcome contribution to the unofficial canon of ‘loser lit'” that includes John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. Majors is also author of the novel Swimming in the Sky, the story of a recent college graduate looking for purpose in life, which Library Journal calls an “engaging story” told with “considerable insight and compassion.” His poems have appeared in The Antioch Review, The Connecticut Review, Crazyhorse, and other journals.

Ruth Moose from North Carolina is the winner of numerous PEN awards and two National Endowment for the Arts grants, among other honors. Her volumes of poetry include Finding Things in the Dark, Making the Bed, and Smith Grove. She is also the author of two short story collections, The Wreath-Ribbon Quilt and Dreaming in Color. Her stories and poems have been published in Atlantic Monthly, Prairie Schooner, The Nation, Southern Poetry Review, and many other magazines.

Gina Ochsner is a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee and winner of more than twenty awards for her short fiction, including the 2000 Flannery O’Connor Award and the 2001 and 2003 Katherine Anne Porter Prizes. She is the author of two collections of stories, The Necessary Grace to Fall and People I Wanted to Be, in which, according to Booklist, “wholly sympathetic characters miraculously stumble into small moments. . .which connect them to a world that’s magical, merciful, and infinite.” Ochsner’s work has been featured in The New Yorker, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, and many other magazines.

Lee Smith, who will open the symposium, is the author of nine novels, including Oral History and Saving Grace, as well as three collections of short stories, two of which were named New York Times Notable Books. Smith’s latest novel, The Last Girls, was a New York Times bestseller and co-winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award. Called a “a bittersweet comedy with a fine sharp edge” by Kirkus, The Last Girls traces the lives of four women who take a Huck Finn-style raft trip down the Mississippi River during college and duplicate the trip thirty-four years later. Smith was given the Academy Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1999 and has received numerous other awards through the years, including a Lila Wallace/Readers Digest Award, the Robert Penn Warren Prize for Fiction, and two O. Henry Awards.

Darlene Unrue is the author of “This Strange Old World” and Other Book Reviews, Understanding Katherine Anne Porter, Truth adn Vision in Katherine Anne Porter’s Fiction and the forthcoming Katherine Anne Porter: The Life of an Artist.

Brad Vice is a Tuscaloosa native whose collection of short stories The Bear Bryant Funeral Train won the 2005 Flannery O’Connor Award. Barry Hannah says Vice’s stories “carry forth in a new open air, not the old Southern cluster of lyrical depression,” while Erin McGraw calls them “complex” and “gorgeous.” Vice’s stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Atlantic Monthly, Southern Review, Best New American Voices, and New Stories from the South.

Rosemary Wells has written or illustrated over 60 books for children during her 30-year career, including the acclaimed Max and Ruby series. Her work was won numerous awards from the American Library Association, School Library Journal, and the International Reading Association. Her collaboration with folklorist Iona Opie on the nursery rhyme collection My Very First Mother Goose won over a dozen awards, including a Parents’ Choice Award and an ALA Notable Children’s Book award. Wells is a regular contributor to literacy campaigns, encouraging parents and caregivers to read aloud to children. She will be appearing at the symposium in conjunction with an exhibit of her art in Shattuck Gallery, sponsored by the Department of Art and Design.

Claude Wilkinson of Nesbit, Mississippi, is a poet whose collections include Joy in the Morning and Reading the Earth, winner of the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award. He also received the 2000 Whiting Writers Award, given annually to ten writers of exceptional promise, and the 1999 Walter E. Dakin Fellowship in Poetry. His poems have appeared in numerous magazines, including Atlanta Review, Oxford American, Georgetown Review, and Southern Review, and he was 2000–2001 visiting writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi. Also a visual artist, Wilkinson has exhibited his drawings and paintings in museums throughout the South.

All symposium events will be held in Poindexter Hall on the MUW campus and are free and open to the public. This program was adapted from an article written by Kim Whitehead.

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