Southern Literary Festival 2015

The campus of University of North Georgia in Dahlonega made an excellent venue for this year’s Southern Literary Festival, and our small group from Mississippi University for Women had an excellent time. It was our school’s Homecoming, so only three students were able to get away.

The Festival was very well run, and everything went off without a hitch, as far as I could tell. Highlights for our group were the Third Place awards for the literary contest, since MUW student, Tamara Rutledge from Reform, AL, won one of the awards. The other prize sessions were also excellent, and confirmed just how high the competition is in the contest — each of 20-some schools submits the top two entries in their campus contests to the main festival competition, so everyone involved in the contest at that point has gone through a rigorous selection process. We were also thrilled this year to have our student literary magazine, edited by Mark Burr and Kristi Ezernack with Sarah Barrett as designer, selected for second place.

Other highlights for me were the poetry sessions, especially Sandra Meek and Karen Head, who both gave excellent readings, and I also had a chance to hear featured writers Tony Grooms and Frances Mayes read from new and published work. I was especially interested to hear parts of two new manuscripts by Tony Grooms (author of Bombingham) and to hear Mayes accounts of her new memoir about growing up in Georgia and her discussion of moving to Italy and integrating into the village where she bought the house that is featured in Under the Tuscan Sun. Sandra Meek is a poet I’ve admired for quite some time, and Karen Head’s discussion of digital poetry was especially apropos as I am thinking of the Writing for New Media class. Many other good ideas came out of these sessions, and our students enjoyed masterclasses on fiction, writing for young adults, and playwriting.

For me, one of the highlights is getting together with colleagues from around the regions. Discussions with Mike Smith and Don Allan Mitchell from Delta State, Beth Spence from Ole Miss, Nick Norwood from Columbus State, Jennifer Kates of Middle Tennessee State (next year’s host school) and her students, John Glass of UT Martin, and Carol Westcamp and Christian Gerard of University of Arkansas Ft. Smith (who will host in 2017 and put out the anthology of prize winners next year). I also got to talk with a few of the authors, and I’m probably leaving a few people out. And of course, I come home with a few new books and copies of the anthology.

And finally, hanging out with Tamara, Katy, and Rain, learning about the sessions they went to and talking informally about school, writing, etc. over dinner or between sessions was also fun. This year, they decided to take their own vehicle, which gave them a little more flexibility on what to do and may have allowed for a little more sight-seeing. This meant there wasn’t a 6-hour drive for extended conversation (or sleep for all who weren’t driving, which sometimes happens, esp. on the drive home). But we all made it through Atlanta traffic and were reminded of the advantages of living in a less urban area (a sentiment echoed by many of the other faculty I talked with).

There’s a lot of good energy with the Southern Literary Festival these days. Dana Carpenter (former Executive Director) and Beth Spencer (former c0-director and now executive director) have done a lot of great work to keep that energy going, and I’ll be doing a little more of that, now that I’ve been elected co-executive director (whereas previously I’ve been a member of the executive board, since MUW hosted in 2010). Delta State and UT Martin are both interested in hosting sometime in the near future, and MUW will likely take its turn again relatively soon as well. We’re always looking for more member schools, too.

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