Program of the 2006 Welty Symposium

Distinguished author and Mississippi native Elizabeth Spencer headlines the slate of nine writers and four scholars who read and discuss their work at the 18th annual Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium, Oct. 19-21. The symposium honors the life and work of Eudora Welty. The theme of this year’s event is “‘Passing the Torch’ from the ‘Foot of the Ladder’: Teaching and Learning in Southern Literature.” According to symposium Director Bridget Smith Pieschel, the theme emerged from her contemplation of “the conflicted relationship writers and readers often have with education and teachers,” which led her to Welty’s novel “Losing Battles,” about “the valiant effort of teachers to bring the light of literacy and learning to people who’d just as soon not be bothered with something so restrictive or unnecessary.” In the novel, the young teacher Gloria said of her mentor Miss Julia Mortimer: “What she taught me, I’d teach you, and on it would go. It’s what teachers . . . call passing the torch . . .” Pieschel was struck by the conflict between “rule-plagued teachers” and young creative storytellers who, more often than not, are “railing against the very culture the teacher is trying to preserve.” However, the teachers keep trying, and “they inspire flashes of brilliance that neither they nor their students expect, because it is the tension between these two cultures—written and oral—that creates much of southern literature.”

Sonny Brewer is a veteran newspaper editor, owner of Over the Transom Bookshop in Fairhope, Alabama, and board chairman of the Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts. His debut novel The Poet of Tolstoy Park offers, according to Publishers Weekly, a “heady blend of literary and philosophical references and some fine character writing,” while writer Pat Conroy calls it “one of those unique and wonderful books that sings a hymn of praise to the philosophical and spiritual part of daily life.” He is also editor of the annual anthology of Southern writing “Stories from the Blue Moon Café,” and his second novel, A Sound Like Thunder, was released this summer.

Maude Schuyler Clay has been hailed by The New York Times for “finding poetry in this slow, languorous countryscape” for her collection of photographs “Delta Land,” which chronicles the contemporary Mississippi Delta. Clay is a fifth-generation native of the Delta town of Sumner and two-time winner of the Mississippi Arts and Letters Award for photography. Her photographs are featured in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, among others, and have also appeared in many magazines, including Esquire, Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine and The Oxford American. In addition to her symposium presentation, Clay’s photographs will be featured in an exhibit in MUW’s Fine Arts Gallery in Shattuck Hall, with an opening reception hosted by the Department of Art and Design Thursday afternoon, Oct. 19.

doris davenport, a native of north Georgia, explores the voices of “Afrilacians,” African Americans living in Appalachia, in her latest volume of poems madness like morning glories. Booklist said Davenport’s long experience as a performance poet “comes through strongly in this unique collection,” which was a finalist for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance award in poetry. The author of five other poetry collections, Davenport has published poems in the anthologies Out of the Rough: Women’s Poems of Survival and Celebration, Women Writing in Appalachia and Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers, among others, as well as frequently in the journal Appalachian Heritage.

Mindy Friddle, hose debut novel The Garden Angel was hailed as “a comic delight” and “a standout” by Kirkus Reviews. Described by The Washington Post as “funny, down-to-earth and steeped in a sense of place, “The Garden Angel” was chosen by Barnes and Noble for its Discover Great New Writers series. A South Carolina native who now lives in Greenville, Friddle is a recipient of the South Carolina Fiction Prize, a fellowship in fiction from the South Carolina Academy of Authors, and The Walter Dakin Fellowship in Fiction from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She is also a two-time winner of the South Carolina Fiction Project and the Piccolo Spoleto Fiction Open.

William Gay made his publishing debut in 1998 at the age of 55 with a short story in the Georgia Review. His novel The Long Home appeared a year later and was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and a finalist for the Southeast Booksellers Association Award in Fiction. Booklist called his second novel Provinces of Night “southern writing at its very finest . . . packed full of that which really matters, the problems of the human heart.” Hailed as “an author with a powerful vision” by The New York Times, Gay has won both the William Peden Award and the James Michener Memorial Prize. A lifelong resident of Hohenwald, Tenn., Gay is also author of the collection of short stories I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down, which Publishers Weekly said “confirms his place in the Southern fiction pantheon” and his novel Twilight, which was just released this month.

Lynne Hinton, is best known for her Hope Springs triology, the saga of the friendship of five churchgoing women in Friendship Cake, Hope Springs and Forever Friends. A trained minister who has served two congregations in North Carolina, Hinton has, according to Booklist, “a deft touch with dialect and a deep understanding of the psyche of the women she writes about,” with a “strong message of faith and values.” Called “a born storyteller” by writer Lee Smith, she is also author of the novels The Things I Know Best, The Last Odd Day and The Arms of God, as well as the recent mystery Down by the Riverside under the pen name Jackie Lynn, called by Publisher’s Weekly “a distinguished debut” and “the setup for a great series.”

Anne Goodwyn Jones is the author of the influential book Tomorrow Is Another Day: The Woman Writer in the South, 1859-1936, which won the 1980 Jules F. Landry Prize, appeared in a second edition in 1995, and was the subject of a plenary session at the 2002 Convention of the Society for the Study of Southern Literature. She served as the visiting scholar at MUW’s Southern Women’s Institute in spring 2006, and she has delivered many keynote or plenary addresses on college campuses and at international conferences on her research interests, including William Faulkner, gender, women writers, feminist theory and southern cultures. Her topic at the symposium will be “‘Representing Slavery’: An In Medias Res Report on Teaching and Learning.”

Lynn Pruett’s debut novel, Ruby River, has been described as one of “sheer exuberance and elemental power.” Ruby River chronicles the courage and compromises of a newly widowed mother in a small Southern town in a masterful examination of family, marriage and community. She has been published in American Voice, Southern Exposure, Black Warrior Review and the anthology Telling Stories. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the University of Alabama, where she received her MFA, Pruett currently teaches fiction at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

Dorothy Shawhan and Martha Swain, co-authors of the book Lucy Somerville Howorth: New Deal Lawyer, Politician, And Feminist from the South will explore Howorth’s work as a champion of women’s rights and an appointee under every president from Franklin Roosevelt to Kennedy. Currently visiting scholar at MUW’s Southern Women’s Institute, Shawhan is past chair of the Division of Languages and Literature and professor of English and journalism at Delta State University and author of the novel Lizzie, about the daughter of a corrupt governor of Mississippi who starts a newspaper for women in the 1920s. Currently a resident of Starkville, Swain is Cornaro Professor Emerita of History at Texas Woman’s University and author of “Pat Harrison: The New Deal Years” and “Ellen S. Woodward: New Deal Advocate for Women,” past winner of the Eudora Welty Prize. She is also co-editor of Mississippi Women: Their Histories, Their Lives

Elizabeth Spencer has career as both writer and teacher that spans more than 60 years. Born in Carrollton, she is the author of nine novels and seven collections of short stories and the recipient of numerous awards, including the Award of Merit from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Governor’s Award from the Mississippi Arts Commission for Achievement in Literature, and the Cleanth Brooks Medal for Achievement from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Her works have been translated into 14 languages, and her novella The Light in the Piazza was adapted into a 1962 feature film and a 2003 musical that made its way to Broadway and won six Tony Awards in 2005. On the recent publication of Spencer’s The Southern Woman: New and Selected Fiction, Publisher’s Weekly hailed her as “one of the most distinguished of a group that includes Eudora Welty and Peter Taylor” and predicted the collection would “firmly secure her place in the canon of American short story masters.”

James R. Whitley’s volume of poems Immersion was chosen by Lucille Clifton for the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award. A lawyer and social activist as well as writer, Whitley has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his poems have appeared in Coal City Review, The Paumanok Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review and Xavier Review, among others. He is also the recipient of the Ironweed Press Poetry Prize for his collection This Is the Red Door, to be published by Ironweed Press, and author of two chapbooks, The Golden Web and Pietà.

Crystal Wilkinson is a Kentucky native. Her novel Water Street was a selection for the UTNE Reader Book Club, which called it “a sharp African-American updating of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.” Wilkinson is also author of a collection of short stories, Blackberries, Blackberries, named Best Debut Fiction by Today’s Librarian. A recipient of the Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature, she is a member of the Lexington-based writing collective The Affrilachian Poets. Her work has appeared in, among other journals, Obsidian II: Black Literature in Review, Southern Exposure, The Briar Cliff Review, Calyx, African Voices and Indiana Review, as well as numerous anthologies.

John K. Young is the recipient of the 2006 Welty Prize. He will speak on his winning book Black Writers, White Publishers: Marketplace Politics in Twentieth-Century African American Literature, which explores the power imbalance between African-American authors and white publishers and the frustrations of authors from Richard Wright to Toni Morrison with editors and marketers who insist on changes in their manuscripts. Currently visiting associate professor of English at Denison University, Young has also published articles in journals such as College English, African American Review, and Critique.

Elizabeth Spencer’s appearance on Oct. 19, followed by a book signing featuring all symposium authors, will be held in the Nissan Auditorium in Parkinson Hall on the MUW campus. The symposium sessions on Oct. 20 and 21 will be held in the ballroom of Cochran Hall. All events are free and open to the public.

The symposium is generously supported by The Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation and The Southern Women’s Institute. The Southern Women’s Institute is funded by a $496,000 Congressionally directed grant received through the assistance of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and administered through the U.S. Department of Education.