The theme of this year’s Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium is “’Amending but never taking back’: Hope and Despair as the ‘Closest Blood’ in Southern Literature,” and was inspired by Welty’s story “The Wanderers,” in which the character Virgie Rainey, while gazing out at the houses and fields of the hometown to which she has returned, “never doubted that all the opposites on earth were close together, love close to hate, living to dying; but of them all, hope and despair were the closest blood—unrecognizable one from the other.” According to Symposium Director, Dr. Bridget Pieschel, this close tension informs the highly acclaimed work of Ellen Douglas, who headlines the symposium on the evening of October 18. In recent essays, Douglas explores what she has called the “tangle of truth and lies, facts and purported facts, imaginary and real events” of her own family’s life. “We can’t understand our own youthful natures or family histories,” says Pieschel, “until we view them through the lens of age, one of the painful ironies of life.” She notes that, after a long career writing fiction, Douglas now reflects on the dichotomy of “truth and lies” in a way reminiscent of Welty’s character Virgie’s reflection on “hope and despair.”

Rilla Askew’s novel Fire in Beulah received the American Book Award and the Myers Book Award for its portrayal of what The Washington Post hailed as “a haunting, engrossing portrait” of both black and white families in the tense buildup to the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. In her latest novel Harpsong, her “command of language is a pleasure to behold,” says Publishers Weekly, presenting a hardscrabble struggle for survival in the Dust Bowl with “bittersweet immediacy.” Askew’s story collection Strange Business received the Oklahoma Book Award, and her first novel The Mercy Seat was winner of both the Oklahoma Book Award and the Western Heritage Award.
R.H. Brown is the author of the memoir Call Me Gullah: An American Heritage, which explores his family’s history as Gullahs living on the Sea Coast Islands bordering South Carolina and Georgia. Brown says that even many African-Americans remain uninformed about Gullahs, descendents of African slaves who have to a remarkable extent been able to maintain African forms of language and culture in their strong communities. Born on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, Brown served as an Army Medic in Okinawa during the Vietnam War, worked for many years as a radio announcer, and is now a reporter for Columbus’ television station WCBI.
Ellen Douglas has published six novels, two collections of short fiction, and two collections of essays. Two of her novels, A Family’s Affairs and Black Cloud, White Cloud, were named among the ten best fiction titles of the year by The New York Times, while her novel Apostles of Light was nominated for a National Book Award. Her fiction has received many prizes, including Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Awards for her novels The Rock Cried Out and A Lifetime Burning, the inaugural Hillsdale Prize for a body of fiction from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and in 2000, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature. Douglas has been writer-in-residence and creative writing professor at many schools, including Millsaps College and University of Mississippi.
Pia Ehrhardt’s debut collection of short stories Famous Fathers and Other Stories is set in and around New Orleans. The New York Times says it’s “quite amazing what Ms. Ehrhardt accomplishes” in these tales of infidelity and struggling marriages, while Booklist calls the stories “fascinating and moving.” Her stories have been published in Mississippi Review, Pindeldyboz, and Word Riot, among many others, and her fiction was included in Norton’s 2006 Sudden Fiction anthology. She is also winner of a Narrative Prize from Narrative Magazine for what became the title work in her story collection.
Nan Graham is the author of the essay collections Turn South at the Next Magnolia, a Southeaster Bookseller Association bestseller, and In a Magnolia Minute: Secrets of a Late Bloomer. A native of Tallahassee, Florida, Graham is a commentator for WHQR public radio in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she first presented many of these essays. Writer Pat Conroy says Graham “is so relentlessly Southern she makes me feel that I was born in Minnesota,” while the St. Petersburg Times calls her work “bright, witty and warm.”
Louise Hawes’ most recent young adult novel The Vanishing Point explores the life of female Renaissance painter Lavinia Fontana, was an Independent Booksellers Booksense Pick. Booklist says that in her novel Waiting for Christopher, “Hawes‘ simple, eloquent words reveal complex truths of family love and sorrow,” while her novel Rosey in the Present Tense appeared on the Children‘s Book Council‘s post-September 11 Booklist on Trauma, Tragedy, and Loss. Hawes was among the charter faculty in the nation‘s first MFA program in Writing for Children at Vermont College and is also author of the new collection of adult short fiction Anteaters Don‘t Dream. In addition to her appearance at the symposium, Hawes will be in residence the week before the event leading special workshops for the Honors Learning Community and in conjunction with the new “Reading Initiative” for this year’s freshman seminar students, who are all reading her novel Waiting for Christopher.
Ava Leavell Haymon is the author of the poetry collections The Strict Economy of Fire, which follows a group of American women trekking the Himalayas, and Kitchen Heat, about the stresses and comforts of domestic life. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Southern Review, and Shenandoah, among many others. She teaches poetry writing in Baton Rouge and New Mexico and reads her poems throughout the country. She also works in the Louisiana Artists in the Schools program, and the Baton Rouge theater company Playmakers has produced numerous of her plays for children throughout Louisiana.
Karon Luddy is a 2007 winner of a Parent’s Choice Award for her young adult novel Spelldown, which follows a 13-year-old’s struggles with first love and family trauma on her way to the 1968 National Spelling Bee. Publisher’s Weekly calls it is “a resonant, applause-worthy work of fiction,” while School Library Journal cites its “audacious and endearing protagonist” and says it “celebrates the music of the era, the flavor of the South, and the magic of words to empower young people.” Luddy’s stories have appeared in The South Carolina Review and Timber Creek Review, among others, and she is also author of a collection of poems, Wolf Heart.
Richard Lyons has publised three collections of poetry. His most recent volume, Fleur Carnivore, was deemed “a stunning collection” by poet William Olsen and won the 2005 Washington Prize. His volume Hours of the Cardinal was selected for the 2000 James Dickey Award, while his first collection These Modern Nights won the 1988 Devins Award. Currently director of creative writing at Mississippi State University, Lyons is also the recipient of the YHMA/The Nation Discovery Award for Poetry and the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets.
Penny Stokes’ most recent novel Delta Belles charts the troubled reunion of four 1969 graduates of Mississippi College for Women in what writer Lynne Hinton calls “a song of enduring friendship.” Booklist says that, in her novel Circle of Grace, Stokes “crafts an inspiring tribute to the power of true friendship” with “abiding warmth and moving sensitivity.” Stokes is also the author of nine other novels, including The Blue Bottle Club, The Amber Photograph, and The Memory Book.
James D. Ward is the author of the suspense thriller Fuhrer‘s Heart: An American Story. The novel follows an ambitious young African-American scholar who battles underground write supremacists in the New Orleans academic world. A former journalist and now Associate Professor of Political Science at MUW, Ward cites his work in these professions and his experience living in Louisiana during white supremacist David Duke’s bid for political office as influences on his work.
Jeff Weddle was awarded the 2007 Eudora Welty Prize for his book Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of the Outsider and Loujon Press. Weddle charts Jon Edgar and Louise Webb’s life in New Orleans’ French Quarter where they founded the literary review Outsider, which featured writers like Charles Bukowski and Allen Ginsberg and was hailed by the Village Voice and New York Times as among of the best of its day. The Webbs’ Loujon Press went on to publish books by Bukowski and Henry Miller. Now assistant professor of library and information studies at the University of Alabama, Weddle has published scholarly work in Publishing History and Beat Scene, while his poetry and fiction have appeared in Chiron Review, Slipstream, and many other magazines.

Other Welty Weekend events which Symposium participants are invited to attend include an Art Exhibit by Terri Jones, who has shown her work throughout the U.S. and abroad. The Memphis Flyer says that Jones’ minimalist work explores “subtlety in all its various definitions.” She is recipient of a Southern Arts Federation/NEA individual artist fellowship, served as a Tennessee Exchange Artist in Switzerland, and was one of nine artists asked to create work for the Mississippi Museum of Art’s Works in Progress series. The opening for Ms. Jones’ exhibit will be held, Thursday, October 18, at 4:30 in Shattuck Gallery, and the exhibit will be open to the public during gallery hours throughout the weekend, sponsored by the Department of Art and Design.

During the lunch break at noon on Friday, October 19, participants may attend the MUW Woman of the Year Leadership Banquet and Award Presentation in the Mary Ellen Weathersby Pope Banquet Room in Hogarth Dining Center. Banquet tickets are required and will be available for sale through the Southern Women’s Institute and at the door, though planners request that reservations be made by phone or email by October 10. MUW President Claudia Limbert initiated the Woman of the Year award in 2004 to honor alumnae who have provided significant, positive recognition and service to their alma mater while advancing the status of women in Mississippi and the region. This year’s recipient is The Honorable Kay Beevers Cobb, class of 1963, former presiding justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court who retired in May. According to Limbert, “MUW Woman of the Year recipients are selected based on their personal record of achievement and commitment to the life-changing benefits provided by a higher education.” At the banquet, Cobb will receive the award from Limbert and present some remarks on women’s leadership.

On Friday evening, symposium participants are invited to Cromwell Hall, where MUW’s Department of Music and Theatre will offer a “readers’ theatre” based on the department’s upcoming fall production, Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Wit. This introduction to Wit, according to director and MUW theatre faculty member Brook Hanemann, will be moving and entertaining in itself, but will also preview the full production slated for October 25-27 in Cromwell Theatre.

All events except the Woman of the Year banquet are free and open to the public. Welty Series programs are financially assisted by a generous grant from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation. Supplemental Welty Series funding is provided by the Welty Series Endowment and the MUW Foundation. The MUW Woman of the Year Leadership banquet is co-sponsored by the Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship, an MUW center directed by Lucy Betcher and funded by a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration. SBA funding should not be construed as an endorsement of any products, opinions or services. All SBA-funded projects are extended to the public on a non-discriminatory basis.

Friends of the Welty Series