Posts Tagged ‘columbus ms’

Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium Wrap-Up

It is hard to believe that two weeks ago today we at Mississippi University for Women were in the throes of another fabulous Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium. Hard to believe that two weeks have passed and hard to believe what a great weekend it was. Every year we say it was the best and couldn’t get better. Every year exceeds our expectations (or our memory), but this year truly was unique.

The Symposium began in earnest for me on Wednesday morning, Oct. 22, when I picked up the inimitable Carol Ruth Silver from GTR airport. A tour of the Tennessee Williams home and lunch on the Riverwalk. Conversations about San Francisco, Chinese dual-language education, recycling, and of course the Freedom Rides in Mississippi on a gorgeous fall day brought me out of the stress of planning the weekend and provided a bit of calm in the storm. In the evening, dinner with Tim Parrish at The Little Dooey followed by some conversation over beers at our house was another welcome island in the stream of tying up a few final details, putting out fires, and writing my introduction for the next night’s keynote session.

Thursday was busier than normal (so I’d been working ahead), since we have a grant to produce a half-hour video of interviews with four of the symposium authors. That meant getting pizza for lunch, meeting with the interviewees over lunch, and then taping interviews all afternoon. These went great, and actually provided an excellent kick-start to the symposium, since I got to know the authors and I felt the energy building as we talked. Tim and Carol Ruth were shuttled over to WCBI for interviews on the local station in the midst of all of this, and our other authors started to arrive, so things were really getting underway. I had brought my clothes for the evening down to campus and changed in my office, so I could pick everyone up in the university’s big van and bring them to dinner at 5:00, and then the real public part of the symposium began.

Tim Parrish’s reading at the keynote was inspired. He has been so gracious and enthusiastic throughout the symposium and the months leading up to it, that everything went off without a hitch. Maridith Geuder had suggested creating more of a set for the video production, so Tim read from a wing-back chair on stage. This arrangement made the readings much more casual and intimate. Tim dedicated his reading from Fear and What Follows to his dad who passed away this year, and he read passages that dealt with his father’s influence. He also read from his novel The Jumper — all I can say is get a copy of both of these books and read them. You won’t be disappointed! It was a fabulous reading with great Q&A after, and we hardly wanted to break for the book signing and reception (though the food was well worth it).

It’s hard to give highlights of Friday and Saturday, since everyone’s readings were great. I especially enjoyed Carol Ruth Silver’s reading and discussion of her time as one of the Freedom Riders in 1960s Mississippi and her days in Parchman prison as a result of that civil disobedience. The bravery of all the riders is almost impossible to fathom, especially when you hear of some of the prison episodes or think about the violence that they could have confronted with an angry mob.

I always love the poets, and John Bensko, Amy Fleury, Shayla Lawson, Derrick Harriell and Richard Boada were no exceptions. Each had their individual style and grabbed the audience in different way. This year was a nearly perfect mix of styles, yet each poet responded to the others and themes could be traced in all of their work, crossing over to the fiction as well. One of my favorite parts of the symposium was the Q&A, in part because the writers this year were so engaged with each other.

Friday afternoon featured our Common Reading Initiative author Deborah Johnson and the two judges of our inaugural high school writing contest, The Ephemera Prize. Derrick Harriell and Katy Simpson Smith gave great readings and then did double-duty introducing and commenting on the prize winners: 5 MSMS students. Three of the students were able to read their work in person; the other two who were on a music tour for their school, had recorded their reading, which we played for the audience. All five did a fantastic job and we were impressed with the quality of their work.

As usual, Friday evening we all were invited to the Welty Gala, and enjoyed the opportunity for a few more receptions, good food, and a fascinating speech by Robert Edsel on The Monuments Men and the work that is still ongoing to retrieve art and cultural artifacts stolen during World War II. And in the morning we met for four more readings.

Nearly everyone’s travel plans allowed them to stay for the full symposium this year, which was another great part of its success. Tim and Shayla originally had been scheduled to depart at noon and would have missed out on some of the morning session, but Delta kindly rescheduled their flights until 2:30 (I’m kidding, of course, though Delta did reschedule the noon flight for 2:30, we have no idea why, but we were glad!) After the last reading by David Armand, those of us who could stick around went out for lunch at Profitt’s Porch, a Welty tradition. Bright sun through the trees, good food, the view of Officer’s Lake, and even a bald eagle sighting made the perfect conclusion to the weekend. Steve Pieschel whisked our air travelers to GTR in time for their flight, and goodbyes were said to those driving home. Kim and I got back in time to catch Aidan’s soccer game that clinched their State rec-league championship, and then we all came home and collapsed.

Unexpected Pleasures

One of the challenges of living in a small town can sometimes seem to be the lack of culture. There’s actually more to do than you might realize, and sometimes it’s just that you can’t find the time to do it. Life can keep you busy, but getting out to enjoy some culture when it comes around is vital to recharging those batteries. This spring we’ve had a couple of nice surprises in the form of live music.

The first came when Jim Brock invited Aidan to come play a song with his band, The Echoes, at the dance they play every 1st and 3rd Saturday nights. Though it was a busy Easter weekend, we knew we wouldn’t have another opportunity to do it anytime soon — Aidan’s soccer schedule aligned with the next several weekends, so he would be out of town. So we drug ourselves down to the dance a the senior center and had a blast. The music was old-time country. The people were more than friendly. Had we known, we might have even brought some food for the potluck at intermission. It turned out we’d met one of the dancers at a rest stop in Oklahoma a couple years back — the Mississippi plates with Lowndes County got their attention then — and all of us got on the dance floor. I’m not well versed in the two-step, so I was the most reluctant (and line dancing is not up my alley, so I didn’t even try to go their). I don’t think I broke anyone’s toes, but I might need to practice before we decide to go back, which I’m sure we will. Aidan played Faded Love with the band (on Mr. Brock’s fiddle). It was a lot of fun.

An even bigger surprise came when we learned that Tish Hinojosa was coming to town. I’ve known about Tish since my days at UT Austin, and have always enjoyed her music. The chance to see her live in a solo show it Columbus was just too good to pass up — and the ticket price couldn’t be beat — even though the concert was on a Wednesday night in a week when all kinds of grading and final reviews are coming due, not to mention committee meetings, awards days, a Suzuki performance, and coming on the heels of a long soccer weekend for Aidan and Kim. We almost didn’t get it together to get our tickets and drag our behinds out of the house, but we did, and we certainly enjoyed it. Tish is still singing in top form, though it’s been at least fifteen years since I last heard her live. The Arts Council space is so intimate, we were in the last row and still only a few feet from the stage. We bought a CD and had it autographed. It felt like having the artist in your living room. It is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen often in small town Mississippi, so we knew we had to take advantage of it no matter how tired we might be the rest of the week. And it was definitely the right choice.

Tish is traveling on a long driving tour of the US (her home these days in Hamburg, Germany), and will be playing lots of small venues along the way it seems. Check her website for the  tour dates. Make time to go out and see her, if she’s coming anywhere near you. Or if you can’t do that, find another live music venue, even one as unassuming as the local senior center if there’s a dance, and take a break from your daily routine. You’ll be glad you did.

Local Culture

This weekend, we took in a little of the local culture and had a lot of fun.

Friday night, thanks to organizers Chris Hannon and Adele Eliot, there was an open mic night at Cafe Aromas in downtown Columbus MS. I took a few poems to read, and Aidan brought his fiddle. Since there weren’t a ton of people willing to perform, we each got to go twice. I read six poems, mostly newer ones. One thing I realized as I was reading — if I’m going to keep doing that in low-light situations, I’m going to have to try harder to memorize (or nearly memorize) the poems before I go. Reading was a bit of a challenge, but still the poems went over well, and I had fun trying them out loud. Aidan played four songs and got lots of applause. For us, though, it was as much fun to listen to the other poets and musicians as it was to perform ourselves. Everyone did a great job, and it was a treat to hear some live music and spoken word for a change. This is planned as a monthly gig, so hopefully it will keep going for awhile. The crowd was decent, close to 50 people, and really filled up the space, so that’s a good sign. We could use more poets, so maybe I can encourage a few of my students to give it a try.

Saturday was very different. This time we went more mainstream for our culture, taking in a Mississippi State / U of Alabama basketball game at The Hump (Humphrey Stadium at MSU). Aidan had a great time, especially since he got to take a friend from school, and Kim and I enjoyed it, too. Still, being with a crowd of 8,000 (though some season ticket seats weren’t really filled) and listening to the loud music during every break in the game was a bit different from the previous night. Probably there weren’t too many others in the crowd who had done both. It was a close game, and the Tide lost, much to Aidan’s disappointment. Still, it was worth going to see.