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History

The Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium, an annual October event at Mississippi University for Women, was established in 1989 to honor Miss Welty and to commemorate the inauguration of Dr. Clyda Rent. During the Symposium, which is sponsored by the Humanities Division, Southern writers read from and discuss their works to an audience of several hundred. In 1996, the symposium and its director, Dr. Ginger Hitt, were presented the first-ever Chair's Award for Excellence by the Mississippi Humanities Council.

Each year a theme is formulated to provide coherence and to stimulate interest. Writers whose works seem to embody the theme chosen for a given year are invited to read from a work and to discuss some aspect of the work: Characterization, locale, autobiographical elements, problems of dialogue/dialect, etc. In its first twenty years from 1989 through 2008, 130 different writers and 48 scholars have appeared. Fourteen of these writers and four scholars have returned for a second or third symposium. A list of past themes and participants is provided below.

The symposium has established a reputation for showcasing new talent: Ann Patchett, Vicki Covington, Larry Brown, Dori Sanders, Jeanne Lebow, Nanci Kincaid, Clifton Taulbert, Elizabeth Dewberry, Dorothy Shawhan, Rebecca Wells, Judson Mitcham, Lynna Williams, Rebecca Wells, and Haven Kimmel appeared on the symposium program after publishing a single work, or in a few cases, two. They are now recognized as prominent contemporary southern writers.

Many writers featured at the symposium have been prize-winners on state, national, and international levels. Three have been Pulitzer Prize winners: Yusef Komunyaaka in 1994 for poetry, Edward Humes in 1989 for special reporting in journalism, Donald Justice in 1980 for poetry, and Natasha Trethewey in 2007 for poetry. Steve Yarbrough won the Pushcart Prize in 1998; Judson Mitcham won a Pushcart poetry prize in 1989; Al Young won the Pushcart in 1976 and 1980. Young is also the winner of the American Book Award in 1982, a Fulbright fellowship to Yugoslavia in 1982, and a PEN USA award in 1996, along with being named a Woodrow Wilson lecturer and a Rockefeller Distinguished lecturer.

Other awards abound. Mark Childress's Crazy in Alabama has been published in the United States, Great Britain, Germany (where it was abest seller for 10 months), Spain, Italy, France, Russia, Holland, and Denmark. It is now a movie as well. Lewis Nordan won the Notable Book Award from Alabama for three different books; twice he has been awarded the Best Fiction Award by the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. His novel Wolf Whistle won the Southern Book Award. Will Campbell was the first recipient of the Alex Haley Award for Distinguished Tennessee Writers; in 1995, he was awarded the Tennessee Governor's Award. Several writers have been recipients of writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, among them Elizabeth Spencer (several times, one for $40,000), Ellen Gilchrist, Dannye Romine-Powell, Brenda Marie Osbey and Judson Mitcham. Guggenheim fellowships have been awarded to Randall Kenan, who also won the 1995 Sherwood Anderson Award, to Elizabeth Spencer, to Donald Justice, and to Beverly Lowry.

Scholars, as well as writers, are invited to the conference. Mississippi University for Women and the University Press of Mississippi jointly award the Eudora Welty Prize to an outstanding work of literary scholarship. The prize consists of publication of the manuscript by the Press and a $1500 cash award by MUW. The winner of this prize is invited to present her or his work at the symposium. Prize winners are exemplary scholars in their respective fields; Phillip Page, the 1996 winner for his work on the novels of Toni Morrison, was awarded the 1997 Toni Morrison Prize by the Toni Morrison Society. Outstanding Welty scholars, such as Suzanne Marrs, Jan Nordby Gretlund, Michael Kreyling, Peggy Prenshaw, Rebecca Mark, and Peter Schmidt have appeared. Kreyling, Mark, and Schmidt are Welty Prize winners or finalists.


Themes and Participants:

 

2013 "'Alive as Ever, on the Brink of Oblivion': Southern Writers in the Eye of the Storm"

Writers: Steve Barthelme, Mitchell L H Douglas, Ellen Gilchrist, Holly Goddard Jones, Cary Holladay, Elizabeth Hughey, Michael Farris Smith, Adam Vines, Stephanie Powell Watts, L Lamar Wilson, Steve Yates

Scholar: Stephen Fuller

Director: Kendall Dunkelberg

 

2012 "'River the Color of Blood': Crime and Passion in a Gothic South"

Writers: Anthony Abbott, Sonny Brewer, Kelly Norman Ellis, Carolyn Haines, Michael Kardos, Christopher Lowe, Catherine Pierce, Josh Russell, Jessica Maria Tuccelli, Olympia Vernon, Frank X Walker

Scholars: Susan Haltom (Welty Prize) and Jane Roy Brown (Welty Prize)

Director: Kendall Dunkelberg

 

2011 "Crossing Cultures in the South: 'into the lovely room full of strangers'"

Writers: Sefi Atta, Joy Castro, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Minrose Gwin, Randall Horton, Pauline Kaldas, Michael Kardos, Michael F. Smith, Latha Viswanathan, and Jianqing Zheng

Scholar: Jean W. Cash (Welty Prize)

Director: Kendall Dunkelberg

 

2010 "'Never Think You've Seen the Last of Anything': Of Optimists and Other Endangered Species"

Writers: Shirlette Ammons, Wayne Caldwell, Mitchell L H Douglas, Beth Ann Fennelly, Connie May Fowler, Tom Franklin, Becky Hagenston, Sean Hill, Barb Johnson, Lorraine López, and Steve Yates

Scholar: Ellis Anderson (Welty Prize)

Director: Kendall Dunkelberg

 

2009 "Time Goes Like a Dream No Matter How Hard You Run"

Writers: Melissa J. Delbridge, Kendall Dunkelberg, Tony Earley, Becky Gould Gibson, Ravi Howard, Jim Murphy, Bridget Smith Pieschel, Jack Riggs, Natasha Trethewey, Frank X Walker, Jesmyn Ward, and Ken Wells

Scholar: Pearl Amelia McHaney (Welty Prize)

Director: Kendall Dunkelberg

 

2008 "Mirrors for Reality: the Past and Future Wrapped like Butterfly Wings."

Writers: Angela Ball, John Dufresne, Geary Hobson, Cary Holladay, Rheta Grimsley Johnson, Deborah Johnson, Rodney Jones, Hillary Jordan, Catherine Pierce, and Paul Ruffin

Scholars: Richard Megraw (Welty Prize) and Noel Polk

Director: Kendall Dunkelberg

 

2007 "'Amending but never taking back': Hope and Despair as the 'Closest Blood' in Southern Literature"

Writers: Rilla Askew, R.H. Brown, Ellen Douglas, Pia Ehrhardt, Nan Graham, Louise Hawes, Ava Leavell Haymon, Karon Luddy, Richard Lyons, Pennelope Stokes, and James D. Ward

Scholar: Jeff Weddle (Welty Prize)

Director: Bridget Smith Pieschel

 

2006 "'Passing the Torch' from the 'Foot of the Ladder': Teaching and Learning in Southern Literature."

Writers: Sonny Brewer, doris davenport, , Mindy Friddle, William Gay, Lynne Hinton, Lynn Pruett, Elizabeth Spencer, James R. Whitley, and Crystal Wilkinson

Scholars: Anne Goodwyn Jones, Dorothy Shawhan, Martha Swain, and John K. Young (Welty Prize)

Photographer: Maude Schuyler Clay

Director: Bridget Smith Pieschel

 

2005 "'Playing on the Air. . .Like a Signal or a Greeting': Convergent Voices in Southern Literature."

Writers: Bebe Barefoot, Jennifer Davis, Beth-Ann Fennelly, Tom Franklin, Silas House, Inman Majors, Ruth Moose, Gina Ochsner, Lee Smith, Brad Vice, Rosemary Wells, and Claude Wilkinson

Scholar: Darlene Unrue

Director: Bridget Smith Pieschel

 

2004 "What might be out of sight. . .": Focusing the Image, Composing the Scene, and Directing the Eye in Southern Literature

Writers: Ace Atkins, John Bensko, Pamela Duncan, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Joe Lee, Tim Parrish, Josh Russell, Daniel Wallace, Lynn York, and Isabel Zuber

Scholar: Martha Ward (Welty Prize)

 

2003 Their own visioning: The Power of Landscape in Southern Literature

Writers: Connie May Fowler, Carolyn Elkins, Cassandra King, Robert Morgan, Barbara Robinette Moss, Ron Rash, Jack Riggs, Natasha Trethewey, Brad Watson

Scholar: Christopher Maurer (Welty Prize)

 

2002 The Dear Dust of Our Long Absence: Journeys to and from the South

Writers: Jeanne Braselton, Moira Crone, Kendall Dunkelberg, Kaye Gibbons, Becky Hageston, Cary Holladay, and Paul Ruffin

Scholar: Stuart Chapman (Welty Prize)

Director: Bridget Smith Pieschel

 

2001 A Kindred Soul to Laugh With: The Comic Spirit in Southern Literature

Writers: Martin Clark, Lee Durkee, Jane Hinton, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Haven Kimmel, Sheri Reynolds, and Elizabeth Strout

Scholar: Suzanne Marrs

Director: Bridget Smith Pieschel

 

2000 Setting New Places at the Reunion Table: Inclusion in the Southern Literature of the New Century or "She knows we're all part of it together, or ought to be!"

Writers: Jill Conner Browne, Melinda Haynes, Tova Mirvis, Sena Jeter Naslund, and C.D. Wright

Scholars: Jan Nordby Gretlund and Robert Philipson (Welty Prize)

Director: Bridget Smith Pieschel

 

1999 Transforming Autobiography and History: Fiction as "The Continuous Thread of Revelation."

Writers: Rick Bragg, Louisa Dixon, Mary Hood, Lewis Nordan, Cynthia Shearer, and James Wilcox

Scholars: Pearl McHaney and Margo V. Perkins (Welty Prize)

Director: Ginger Hitt

 

1998 Celebrating a Decade of Emerging Southern Writers

Writers: Nanci Kincaid, Dennis Covington, Ellen Douglas, Jerry Ward, Steve Yarbrough, John Dufresne, and Ashley Warlick

Scholar: Jim Neilson (Welty Prize)

Director: Ginger Hitt

 

1997 The Place of Place in Contemporary Southern Writing

Writers: Rebecca Wells, Tim Gautreaux, Judson Mitcham, Dori Sanders, Al Young, and Lynna Williams

Scholars: Michael Kreyling (Welty Prize) and Ralph Hitt

Director: Ginger Hitt

 

1996 Murder, Mayhem, Mystery, and Madness: Gothic Elements in Southern Writing

Writers: Lewis Nordan, E. L. Wyrick, Mark Childress, Beverly Lowry, Brenda Marie Osbey, Edward Humes, John Armistead

Scholars: Philip Page (Welty Prize), Kim Whitehead, and Ralph Hitt

Director: Ginger Hitt

 

1995 A Southern Trinity: Politics, Family, and Religion

Writers: Kaye Gibbons, Dennis Covington, Will Campbell, Randall Kenan, Vicki Covington, Yusef Komunyaaka, Dorothy Shawhan, and Dannye Romine-Powell

Scholars: Charles Reagan Wilson, Jan Nordby Gretlund, and Ann Waldron

Director: Ginger Hitt

 

1994 Keeping the House in Order: Civil and Domestic Conflict in Southern Literature

Writers: Jill McCorckle, Donald Justice, Luke Wallin, Elizabeth Dewberry, Kalamu Ya Salaam, Peggy Webb, and Steve Yarbrough

Scholars: Martha Swain (Welty Prize), and James Keller

Director: Ginger Hitt

 

1993 The Shaping Spirit of the Imagination: The Creative Art of Southern Writing

Writers: Nanci Kincaid, Dennis Covington, Timothy Seibles, Paul Ruffin, Terry Everett, Mary Ann Ross, Tim McLaurin, and Vicki Covington

Scholars: Rebecca Mark (Welty Prize), Deborah Clarke, Linda Tate, and Sally Wolff

Director: Ginger Hitt

 

1992 Infinite Variety: The Many Modes of Southern Writing

Writers: Ann Patchett, Shelby Stephenson, Jeanne Lebow, Steve Shepard, Clifton Taulbert, and Eudora Welty

Scholars: Will Brantley (Welty Prize), Susan Snell, Helen Levy, Suzanne Marrs, and Dabney Gray

Director: Ginger Hitt

 

1991 Hearing Voices: The Southern Tradition of Storytelling

Writers: Vicki Covington, Ellen Gilchrist, Elizabeth Spencer, Jerry Ward, Dennis Covington, Lisa Koger, and Eudora Welty

Scholars: Peter Schmidt (Welty Prize), Peggy Prenshaw, Trudier Harris, Faith Pullen, Robert Phillips, and Bridget Smith Pieschel

Director: Mildred Moore

 

1990 Finding a Voice: A New Generation of Southern Writing

Writers: Clyde Edgerton, Larry Brown, Kaye Gibbons, Dennis Covington, James Clark, Dori Sanders, Vicki Covington, Ann Deagon, and Eudora Welty

Scholars: Nancy Walker (Welty Prize), Missy D. Kubitschek, and Thomas Richardson

Director: Rebecca Stockwell

 

1989 When Separate Journeys Converge: Southern Women, Southern Writing

Writers: Ellen Douglas, Vicki Covington, and Eudora Welty

Scholars: Marilyn White, Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, Suzanne Marrs, Price Caldwell, Nancy Hargrove, Jan Hawks, Rebecca Stockwell, and Deborah Plant

Director: Jane Hinton

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