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Novelist Connie May Fowler to headline 22nd annual Welty Writer's Symposium

 

Special to The Dispatch

 

Best-selling novelist Connie May Fowler will be joined be 11 other authors in honoring the legacy of Mississippi University for Women alumna Eudora Welty during the 22nd annual Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium Oct. 21-23, on MUW campus. 

 

The event organized by the Department of Languages, Literature and Philosophy and College of Arts and Sciences is free and open to the public. The weekend will also include an art exhibit hosted by the Department of Art and Design, and a performance by the Department of Music and Theatre. 

 

The theme of this year's symposium is "'Never Think You've Seen the Last of Anything': Of Optimists and Other Endangered Species," and is inspired by Welty's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Optimist's Daughter." According to symposium director Dr. Kendall Dunkelberg, "the theme of optimism seems particularly appropriate in a time of economic recession and the environmental crisis caused by the oil spill in the Gulf." 

 

 

 

Keynote speaker 

 

A search for optimism figures prominently in "How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly," the latest novel by keynote speaker Connie May Fowler, who will read Thursday, Oct. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in Nissan Auditorium of Parkinson Hall.  

 

The book recounts the life of the title character as she confronts a loveless marriage and the ghosts of her own past and the past of her Florida home, on a day of magic and discovery that features an ancient oak tree, a one-armed angel, a one-eyed man, and the All-American Dynamite Dwarf Carnival.  

 

"Fowler lends magic and voice to the singular Florida landscape," writes Annie Bostrom for Booklist. "... She blurs the line between the written and the writer as we witness Clarissa's brave discovery that the real truth is often the most risky tale to tell." 

 

Fowler, who makes her second symposium appearance, has also published the memoir "When Katie Wakes" and five other novels, "The Problem with Murmur Lee," "Remembering Blue," "River of Hidden Dreams," "Sugar Cage," and "Before Women Had Wings," which was made into an Oprah Winfrey Presents TV movie. Her reading will be followed by a reception and book signing with all symposium authors. 

 

 

 

Oct. 22 morning session 

 

The symposium will resume at 9 a.m. Friday, Oct. 22, with the work of North Carolina native, Wayne Caldwell, whose novels "Cataloochee" and "Requiem by Fire" recount the changes and difficult choices forced on a community that existed on land destined to become part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Publisher's Weekly praises Caldwell's fiction for its "rich historical background" and "unhurried story about resiliency and the unifying power of community." 

 

Another North Carolinian, poet Shirlette Ammons follows with a reading from "Matching Skin." Ammons' latest book includes the 5-song CD "John Anonymous," a collaboration with the Carolina Chocolate Drops and other artists. Indy Week praises her efforts, noting "Her ability to move between disciplines and venues is rare, her hunger to try new things, intense." She has published one previous book of poetry "The Stumphole Anthology of Backwoods Blood" and plays bass and sings vocals with her soul, funk and hip-hop band Mosadi. 

 

Next, Lorraine López will read from her recent short story collection, "The Homicide Survivors Picnic," one of five finalists for this year's prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award.  

 

These 10 stories, set in the South and portraying characters that live on the edge, "make an impact, bringing the reader face-to-face with situations that are realistic and gritty but never hopeless or pitiful," writes Alex Myers for New Pages Book Reviews. López teaches at Vanderbilt University and is a previous recipient of the International Latino Book Award and many other awards for her publications. 

 

Concluding the morning program will be Alabama native Tom Franklin, who currently teaches creative writing at the University of Mississippi. His newly released novel "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter" brings us the story of two friends from a small Mississippi town, who are torn apart by circumstance and reunited by tragedy. Washington Post Book World calls it "beautifully written and potent." USA Today proclaims it "another literary knockout."  

 

 

 

Oct. 22 afternoon session 

 

After a break for lunch, the symposium will resume at 1:30 p.m. with the fiction of Barb Johnson, whose recent collection of short stories, "More of This World or Maybe Another" portrays the lives of residents of a New Orleans neighborhood who all frequent the Bubble Laundromat, where their stories at times intertwine. Johnson's debut collection has been dubbed "an insightful literary gem" by Booklist. She is the recipient of an A Room of Her Own Foundation Freedom Award, which has allowed her to quit her day job as a carpenter and work on a new novel. 

 

Affrilachian poet Mitchell L. H. Douglas follows with a reading from his collection "Cooling Board: A Long-Playing Poem" on the life and times of soul music legend Donny Hathaway. Playing on the conventions of vinyl music albums, Douglas has collected his poems on two "sides," one telling of Hathaway's rise to fame and the flipside portraying the struggles in his career. Both include "alternate takes" of original poems that introduce new information and competing interpretations of the events in this musical odyssey. 

 

Becky Hagenston returns to the symposium with a reading from her latest book of short fiction, "Strange Weather," which won the 2009 Spokane Prize. A Starkville resident and associate professor of English at Mississippi State University, Hagenston has also published the story collection, "A Gram of Mars," and her work has appeared widely in magazines, been performed as part of Stories on Stage at the Sacramento Poetry Center, and selected for an O' Henry prize, a Great Lakes College Association New Writers Award, and many other prizes. 

 

 

 

Round table 

 

The afternoon session concludes with a round table discussion featuring all 12 authors. The theme is "Optimists and Other Endangered Species," and the public is encouraged to come with questions about the authors' works, the theme, or the process of writing and publishing. 

 

"This is a time for more informal discussion with the authors who have already appeared, as well as those who will be on the program on Saturday," said Dunkelberg. Light refreshments will be served. 

 

 

 

Evening events 

 

From 5:30-7 p.m., the Department of Art and Design will host an opening reception for an exhibit by Gulfport ceramics and fiber artist Lee Renninger in the Eugenia Summer Gallery of the Fine Arts Building. Known for her sculptures and mixed media installations, Renninger works with ceramics and textiles to explore the interweaving of politics and fashion. The exhibit will run from Oct. 14 through Nov. 4; normal gallery hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

 

At 7:30 p.m. in Cromwell Theatre, the Department of Music and Theatre will present a preview of selected scenes from the fall production "12 Angry Jurors," an adaptation of the play by Reginald Rose. The full production will be presented Oct. 28-30. 

 

 

 

Oct. 23 morning session 

 

On Saturday, Oct. 23, at 9 a.m., Steve Yates reads from his debut novel "Morkan's Quarry." Set in Civil-War-era Missouri, Yates' novel explores the divided loyalties and impossible choices faced by two generations of Morkans as they try to hang onto the family legacy and are forced to contend with both Union and Confederate forces who battle for control of the Ozark hills and quarry resources. A Springfield, Mo., native, Yates has lived for many years in Flowood, where he is marketing director for the University Press of Mississippi. 

 

Georgia poet Sean Hill will read from his debut, "Blood Ties & Brown Liquor," which the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has called "an innovative collection of bluesy, meditative poems that is certain to mark Hill's emergence as a major new voice in American poetry." In a call and response

 

 

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