October 6, 2012 7:11:00 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Each autumn, one of the South's most stimulating literary events returns to the campus of Mississippi University for Women in Columbus. The Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium Oct. 18-20 honors one of the W's most famous alumnae and gathers a diverse, distinguished group of Southern writers and scholars to share their work with the public.
Inspired by Welty's dark fairy tale of the Natchez Trace, "The Robber Bridegroom," the 24th annual Welty Symposium adopts as its theme "'River the Color of Blood': Crime and Passion in a Gothic South." In keeping, a host of writers whose work deals with gothic crime and gender will speak in Columbus.
"This year's theme showcases a wide variety of styles and themes from mystery and thriller to serious explorations of civil rights-era slayings, from lighthearted humor to dark satire, from the passions of love and jealousy to a passion for gardening," said Dr. Kendall Dunkelberg, director of the symposium since 2008.
All events are in Rent Auditorium in Whitfield Hall on the MUW campus and are free to the community.
The three-day event opens Oct. 18 with a 7:30 p.m. address by keynote speaker Sonny Brewer.
Brewer's most recent novel, "The Widow and the Tree," is the story of a 500-year-old live oak and the widow who must live its history and fight for its destiny.
Roger Pickney, writing for Orion, calls it "spare, mean, loving, pungent," adding, "Sonny Brewer knows the Alabama coast, a culture threatened sure as the Ghosthead Oak."
Brewer, a Millport, Ala., native, returns to the symposium after a well-received 2006 appearance with his first novel, "The Poet of Tolstoy Park," which is currently being adapted for film.
He is founder of Over the Transom Bookstore in Fairhope, Ala., where he also managed the Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts and published the series "Stories from the Blue Moon Café" and edited the collection of essays "Don't Quit Your Day Job, Acclaimed Authors and the Day Jobs They Quit."
A reception and book signing with all symposium authors will follow the keynote address. Books will be for sale throughout the symposium.
Morning session, Oct. 19
The symposium resumes at 9 a.m. Oct. 19.
Affrilachian poet Frank X. Walker returns to Columbus with his fifth collection, "Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate this Ride." In it, he chronicles the life of Murphy, the son of a slave, who grew up to become one of America's most famous jockeys.
Atlanta-based author Josh Russell will read from his third novel, "A True History of the Captivation, Transport to Strange Lands, & Deliverance of Hannah Guttentag." A Southern Indie Booksellers Okra Pick for Fall 2012, Russell's novel intertwines a colonial American captivity narrative with a wicked satire of present-day academia that Creative Loafing calls "outright literary fun."
Jessica Maria Tuccelli joins the symposium with her debut novel, "Glow," the story of six generations of North Georgian women whose "family tree is crowded with slave owners and slaves, Native Americans, and the soldiers who drove them from their lands," according to a Publisher's Weekly review.
Poet Kelly Norman Ellis rounds out the morning session with a reading from her latest collection of poetry, "Offerings of Desire." Born in Jackson and raised there and in Knoxville, Ky., Ellis explores her Southern heritage in her new collection and in her first book, "Tougaloo Blues."
Afternoon session, Oct. 19
Following a break for lunch, the symposium resumes at 1:30 p.m. with Southern mystery writer Carolyn Haines, whose "Bonfire of the Vanities" is the 12th in her Sarah Booth Delaney Mysteries series.
Winner of Richard Wright and Harper Lee awards, Haines is known for her dark sense of humor and her love of pets and ghosts, personified in her detective's lovable canine sidekicks Sweetie Pie and Chablis and Jitty, the ghost of Sarah Booth Delaney's great-great-grandmother's nanny.
Catherine Pierce follows with a reading from her second book of poetry, "The Girls of Peculiar." Poetry Daily notes that "'Peculiar' is a place of memory conflated with imagination, where fear and desire mingle." Pierce is co-director of the creative writing program at Mississippi State University and has published two previous collections, "Famous Last Words" and the chapbook "Animals of Habit."
MUW alumnus Christopher Lowe returns to his alma mater to read from his debut collection of stories, "Those Like Us," a set of stories revolving around the fictional town of Wyeth, Miss., which seems to be not too far from Columbus. Lowe teaches creative writing at McNeese State University and serves on the editorial boards of Fiction Weekly, Fifth Wednesday and Trigger.
Artist panel, reception
The afternoon concludes with a 4 p.m. Artist Panel titled "Intersections of Gender and Place," with artists Meg Aubrey, Kate Kretz, Lesley Patterson-Marx, and Whitney Stansell in Rent Auditorium. A reception follows, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., in the Eugenia Summer Gallery.
On the evening of Oct. 19, the MUW Foundation hosts its annual fundraiser, The Welty Gala, with dinner and featured speaker Emmy award-winning journalist Byron Pitts, who will talk about his recent memoir, "Step Out of Nothing."
Pitts recounts his journey from being illiterate as a young man growing up in Baltimore to becoming a broadcast journalist and eventually being named Chief National Correspondent for CBS Evening News. For more information about tickets, contact the MUW Foundation, 662-329-7148, or visit web2.muw.edu/index.php/en/weltygala.html
Morning session, Oct. 20
The free symposium resumes at 9 a.m. Oct. 20 with Welty Prize winners Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown, talking about their book, "One Writers' Garden: Eudora Welty's Home Place," in which they explore Welty's and her mother's shared love of gardening and the way their garden reflected the trends and issues of their day.
Haltom is a Jackson-area garden designer, who led efforts to restore the garden at the Eudora Welty House. Brown is a landscape historian and award-winning travel and garden writer.
Next on the program, poet Anthony Abbott reads from his latest collection, "If Words Could Save Us." The co-winner of the 2012 Brockman-Campbell Award for the best book of poetry by a resident or native of North Carolina. Abbot has published six books of poetry and two novels and is professor emeritus from Davidson College.
Mississippi native Olympia Vernon will then read from her third novel, "A Killing in This Town," which Kirkus Reviews calls "an unflinching, relentless drama set in the lynching culture of the KKK ... a powerful, difficult work by a writer absolutely determined to see."
The symposium concludes with a reading by Mississippi State faculty member Michael Kardos from his debut novel, "The Three-Day Affair," which Publisher's Weekly has named one of its Best Books for Fall 2012. Kirkus Reviews calls it "An agonizing moral nightmare interspersed with flashbacks to happier times whose import becomes clear only in the final chapter."
"With poets, novelists, short story writers and scholars, there is something for everyone," said Dunkelberg. "All sessions are free, so whether you can come for an hour or for the full weekend, stop by MUW to hear some great new Southern writing."
Good to know
Doors will open and coffee will be served half an hour before morning sessions begin. Sessions will have a break at midpoint, and the audience is free to come and go during breaks or between readings, which last approximately 40 minutes, including time for questions.
Books by all authors will be on sale before and after each session, as well as during breaks; authors will be available for signing throughout the symposium, which is supported by the Robert M. Hearin Foundation.
For more information, contact Dunkelberg at Mississippi University for Women, College of Arts and Sciences, P. O. Box MUW-1634, Columbus MS 39701, 662-329-7386.
Learn more about the authors at muw.edu/welty, or at groups on Goodreads and Facebook.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.