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Welty Symposium features bright literary lights Oct. 24-26

 

Special to The Dispatch

 

Esteemed Southern writer Ellen Gilchrist will give the keynote reading for the 25th annual Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium, held Oct. 24-26 on the Mississippi University for Women campus. The symposium returns to newly-restored Poindexter Hall with the theme "'Alive as Ever, on the Brink of Oblivion': Southern Writers in the Eye of the Storm," inspired by Welty's final novel, "Losing Battles." All sessions are free and open to the public, thanks to a grant from the Robert M. Hearin Foundation. 

 

Long considered a major voice in Southern literature, Gilchrist, a Vicksburg native, is the author of eight novels, two collections of poetry, two collections of essays, and 12 collections of short stories, including "In the Land of Dreamy Dreams," her best-selling first story collection, and "Victory over Japan," which won the National Book Award in 1984.  

 

She has been a commentator for National Public Radio and taught creative writing at the University of Arkansas. Booklist calls her collection of essays, "The Writing Life," "Beautiful in its lucid, limpid eloquence; in the remarkable wisdom about human nature it displays; and in its delicious cocktail of sarcastic humor, disarming candor, and face-slapping intelligence."  

 

Gilcrhist will read from "The Writing Life," as well as from her writings on Eudora Welty and her forthcoming collection of stories, "Acts of God," Thursday, Oct. 24, at 7:30 p.m. in Poindexter Hall. 

 

A reception and book signing with all 12 symposium authors follows. Books will be for sale Thursday night and throughout the event. Also at the symposium this year will be the editors of Mississippi's newest literary magazine China Grove, the debut issue of which includes an interview with Gilchrist and a new short story, as well as previously unpublished Welty letters and a host of other fiction, nonfiction and poetry. 

 

 

 

Friday morning, Oct. 25 

 

The symposium continues at 9 a.m. with a reading by poet Adam Vines of Birmingham, Ala. His debut collection, "The Coal Life," explores the cultural landscape of early 20-century Alabama coal towns. The Antioch Review praises Vines for his "neat stanzas and muscular, loaded lines" that situate "his poems in this restless, ambiguous middle zone where most of us live our lives." Vines currently teaches at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, where he edits the Birmingham Poetry Review. 

 

 

 

Holly Goddard Jones (9:40 a.m.) will read from "The Next Time You See Me," a literary mystery set in a small Kentucky town similar to the Western Kentucky town where Jones was born and raised. The New York Times praises her novel, noting "Ms. Jones has a talent for making even scenes apart from the central mystery feel suspenseful," and calling the novel "equally impressive" as "her terrific book of short stories, 'Girl Trouble.'"  

 

 

 

Poet Mitchell L. H. Douglas (10:30 a.m.) returns to the symposium to read from his new collection "lak al-fə bet," winner of the 2011 Lexi Rudnitsky/Editor's Choice Award from Persea Books. Douglas follows the history of a Southern family after the death of its matriarch. Publisher's Weekly praises it as "Haunted by questions of blackness" and "packed with risk and conflict, but also beauty."  

 

 

 

The morning concludes with the short fiction of Stephanie Powell Watts (11:10 a.m.), who recounts stories from her childhood growing up as a Jehovah's Witness in North Carolina in her debut collection "We are Taking Only What We Need," for which she received the Ernest J. Gaines Award in 2012. Watts was also awarded a Pushcart Prize for the story "Unassigned Territory."  

 

 

 

Friday afternoon 

 

MUW's own Michael Farris Smith begins the afternoon session at 1:30 p.m. with a reading from "Rivers," his dystopian novel set on the Mississippi Gulf coast plagued by relentless hurricanes. Released in September, "Rivers" has been garnering rave reviews. Library Journal named it one of four "hot debuts" and Indiebound chose the novel for its September "Indie Next List."  

 

As Kirkus Reviews notes in its starred review, "This world is chilling -- all the more so for its believability -- and it is peopled by compelling, fully realized characters, some of whom only exist in the form of ghosts. In contrast to this bleak world, Smith's prose is lush, descriptive and even beautiful."  

 

Florida poet L. Lamar Wilson (2:10 p.m.) follows with his debut collection "Sacrilegion," winner of the Carolina Wren Press Poetry Series prize and a bronze medal in poetry from Independent Publisher. Lamda Literary describes the collection as "a multi-voiced gospel, transcribed -- as if in tattoo inks -- from searing experience, religion is the presiding Father, sacrilege its rebellious Son, and legion the holy swarm of ghosts, revered ancestors and fallen angels, that haunt a kaleidoscopic narrative." Wilson is a teaching fellow and doctoral student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.  

 

Acclaimed short fiction writer Steven Barthelme (2:50 p.m.) will read from his latest collection of stories "Hush Hush." Barthelme is director of the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi and is a frequent contributor to magazines such as The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine and The Yale Review. Booklist has hailed this collection, saying it "firmly establishes his reputation as a master of the short form." 

 

A panel discussion with all symposium authors at 3:30 p.m. on the subject of "Writers in the Storm" will round out the afternoon. Writers will be asked to share some of the storms they have faced in their careers, as well as to answer questions and give advice. 

 

Artist panel 

 

An artist panel discussion for the Welty Art Exhibit, "Intersections of Gender and Place," will be 2:30-4 p.m. in the Art and Design building Friday. The exhibit's opening reception will be 4:30-6 p.m. The exhibit is open in the Eugenia Summer Gallery during normal gallery hours through Nov. 7. 

 

 

 

Evening gala 

 

MUW's annual Welty Gala Friday features noted journalist and New York Times best-selling author Po Bronson. He is perhaps best-known for "What Should I Do with My Life," named by Business Week as one of the "Top 10 Business Books of the Decade." In addition, Bronson and his wife Ashley Merryman have co-authored two essay collections: "NurtureShock" and "Top Dog."  

 

The Welty Gala is MUW's annual fundraiser for the Eudora Welty Chair in Humanities. It begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Pope Banquet Room of Hogarth Student Union. Receptions for donors with Bronson and with symposium authors begin at 6 p.m. For more information and reservations, contact the Office of Development and Alumni at 662-329-7148.  

 

 

 

Saturday, Oct. 26 

 

The Symposium resumes at 9 a.m. Saturday with Steve Yates, whose new short story collection "Some Kinds of Love" chronicles the foibles of love across time and culture, from contemporary Jackson suburbia where Yates now resides to the Missouri Ozarks of 1833, the setting of Yates' Civil War novel, "Morkan's Quarry." Publisher's Weekly refers to Yates' latest offering as a "sturdy story collection," in which "good things happen to bad people, or more accurately in these cases, things happen to people." 

 

Eudora Welty Prize winner Stephen Fuller (9:40 a.m.) will discuss "Eudora Welty and Surrealism," examining Welty's most productive period, during which she wrote "A Curtain of Green" and "Delta Wedding," among other books. Fuller chronicles Welty's connections to the New York school of surrealists, including Salvador Dali, Wallace Simpson, Elizabeth Arden, and Charles Henri Ford, a Columbus native who edited the influential surrealist journal View. Fuller ties Welty's take on the Southern Gothic to these surrealist influences and expands the scope of Welty scholarship in new international directions.  

 

Poet Elizabeth Hughey (10:30 a.m.) reads from her collections "Guest Host" and "Sunday Houses The Sunday House," which won the Iowa Poetry Prize. Library Journal wrote of Hughey's work: "To read these poems we must drop our preconceived notions and let the poem happen to us as it emerges out of its shell -- familiar but worthy of wonder." Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review and Verse Daily, among others. She is a founding member of Desert Island Supply Company, a writing workshop for kids in Birmingham. 

 

Cary Holladay (11:10 a.m.) returns to conclude the symposium with readings from her two newest collections of stories, "Horse People" and "The Deer in the Mirror," winner of the Ohio State University Prize in Short Fiction. Laced with pathos and humor, Holladay's stories chronicle the history of Virginia's horse country, and range from the Old Dominion State in the wake of the Revolutionary War to Alaska during the Gold Rush.  

 

Lee Smith has said that "Holladay writes with a majestic mastery of language, history, and character, telling tales both tough and true, brilliant and always surprising, like a diamond held up and turned in a shaft of sunlight." 

 

 

 

You should know 

 

For each session, doors will open a half hour early, and there will be a chance for book sales and coffee. Authors will be available throughout the symposium to sign books. There will be a break mid-way through the sessions on Friday and Saturday, and there is time for question and answers with each author, when audience members may slip in or out if they are unable to stay for the full time. No tickets or advance reservations are required. 

 

To learn more about the symposium, visit muw.edu/welty.

 

 

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