Posts Tagged ‘Eudora Welty’

Eudora Welty Symposium at 30

The big day has finally arrived. The Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium will begin its 30th iteration with the kickoff in Poindexter Hall tonight at 7:30pm. Steve Yarbrough wil read from his fabulous novel The Unmade World as we explore the place of Southern writing in the world through our theme “As if the Ear of the World Listened,” a line from Delta Wedding.

weltyposter2018aIt’s always great to bring a dozen writers to campus, spend time with them, our students, and our community. My nerves usually start to settle down once everyone is in town and I pick them up from the hotel in a W van. This year, we’ll be without one writer: Silas House is down in his back and in some serious pain, so we’re talking about rescheduling for a later date. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 11 years of directing the symposium, it’s that you have to go with the flow. You can redirect it somewhat and try to keep everyone happy and moving in roughly the same direction (good food and great writing helps), but there are some things you just can’t do anything about, and you just have to let the momentum of the weekend develop as it will.

It helps that there are so many gracious writers out there, who will come and give us their all. Every year we think ‘this was the best group ever,’ and by and large that is pretty true. All years have been great, and ‘best’ is a relative term of course, but the group of writers usually gels. I expect no less in 2018, given that many of our writers are returning to the symposium and we have some wonderful new folks as well. In a few days, the blur that is the Welty Symposium will be over, and we will all be better for it, with new friends, new ideas, and more than likely with a bag full of new books.

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.

24th Annual Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium

Well, another Welty Symposium has come and gone. We had a great time with a dozen authors and a great audience that included students from two local high schools and the Mississippi School for Math and Science, as well as MUW students and alums and members of the community. Rather than running down the highlights, I will post an excerpt from my introduction to the keynote reader.

For a while now I’ve been interested in Eudora Welty’s first novel, The Robber Bridegroom. It was published in 1943, after she had published two collections of stories, and it was dedicated to Katherine Ann Porter. It takes a Brothers Grimm fairy tale and transports it to the Old Natchez Trace. Welty adds a few historical characters, such as the tough riverboat keel man, Mike Fink, and two of America’s earliest serial killers, Little Harp and Big Harp, who now is just a head that Little Harp keeps locked in a box, but that keeps calling to get out.

The story begins as the tobacco planter Clement Musgrove returns from a trip to New Orleans to sell his crop. Our theme comes from the second paragraph, which starts off, “As his foot touched shore, the sun sank into the river the color of blood, and at once a wind sprang up and covered the sky with black, yellow, and green clouds the size of whales, which moved across the face of the moon.” Clement goes in search of lodging for the night, but the first two innkeepers he meets are both missing an ear, the sign of their punishment for crimes committed elsewhere. When he reaches the third, honest inn, he still must share a bed with two fellow travellers. In the night, he is nearly killed by Mike Fink, yet is saved by Jamie Lockhart. At home, Clement rejoins his daughter and her stepmother, and as every bridegroom must have a potential bride, you might guess whom that will be. But not before there is plenty of robbery, murder, abduction, mistaken identity, jealousy, and yes even love.

From these elements we take our theme of “Crime and Passion in a Gothic South” to explore what has become of the Southern Gothic. We will look at crime, especially in Carolyn Haine’s mystery Bonefire of the Vanities, Michael Kardos’ thriller The Three-Day Affair,  and Olympia Vernon’s A Killing in This Town, though there are other crimes than purely legal ones. Josh Russell brings us abduction in A True History of the Captivation, Transport to Strange Lands, & Deliverance of Hannah Guttentag. Ghosts appear in Jessica Maria Tuccelli’s Glow and Chris Lowe’s Those Like Us with a story titled a “Ghost Tour.” Poets Frank X Walker, Anthony Abbott, Catherine Pierce, and Kelly Norman Ellis give us passions of all kinds with a few crimes and fears mixed in, and passion for gardening informs our Welty-Prize-Winning One Writers’ Garden, as you’ve just heard.

When I first saw the cover of Sonny Brewer’s novel The Widow and the Tree, I knew it would be a perfect fit for our theme. I was struck by its similarity to the illustrations in my copy of The Robber Bridegroom, and when I opened the book I found out why. Both were done by Barry Moser, though over twenty years apart.  As I read the book, I realized this was more than just coincidence. The Widow and the Tree.combines virtually all of the elements I found in The Robber Bridegroom. There is plenty of mystery about who is after the Ghosthead Oak, a five-hundred-year old live oak tree that has witnessed war and murder in its not so distant past, as well as drug deals and amours in its present life. The widow was passionate for her husband, and the veteran, a recluse from the Vietnam War, is passionate for the tree, the widow, and his privacy. Then there are those who seek to control and tame the tree, claiming it for the public good, though possibly with personal interests that make this act a kind of abduction. There are child abuse and threats of retribution. And much like Eudora Welty, Brewer considers the place of the wild and whether we have any right to own it, kill it, keep it alive, or tame it. His book raises many pressing questions and leaves us to sort out the answers, and he weaves this all into a spell-binding tale that will keep you turning its pages.

For Sonny Brewer is a consummate story-teller, and so it is no surprise that The Widow and the Tree has received accolades and awards, including most recently the 2012 Alabama Library Association Book award for fiction. Orion magazine called it “a marvelous and confusing little book.” And this was a positive review that notes this is the way with “serious literature” and that concludes: “The Widow and the Tree is spare, mean, loving, pungent. Sonny Brewer knows the Alabama coast, a culture threatened sure as the Ghosthead Oak.”

And Sonny does know the coast, having lived in Fairhope, Alabama, for many years. There he founded Over the Transom Bookstore and established the Fairhope Writers Colony that has fostered dozens of great Southern writers. He has collected their writings in five volumes of Stories from the Blue Moon Café and collected their reminiscences in Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Acclaimed Authors and the Day Jobs They Quit. He has published three previous novels: Cormac: The Tale of a Dog Gone Missing, A Sound Like Thunder, and The Poet of Tolstoy Park.And for the past year and a half, he has served as Editor-in-Chief at MacAdam Cage publishing. Yet more important than all his publishing credentials, Sonny Brewer is one of the most genuine people you are likely to meet. He cares for literature, and he cares for people, and this shows in his writing and in his life.

Welty Week

Every October, the week I look forward to most is this one. Each year Mississippi University for Women brings a dozen writers to campus to read from their fiction, poetry, and essays at the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium. It’s an intense three days (and intense preparation beforehand). Everything is lining up fairly well. So far, no crises, and only a few last-minute details to wrap up (have to save a few of those!). On Wednesday, the first couple of authors will arrive, and Thursday, everyone will descend. I’ve been doing interviews to try to encourage folks to come out to the W to hear free readings. And of course, we sell books.

For the past 5 years, I’ve been the director. Before that, I helped out any way I could, including running the book table for a couple of years. It’s a great chance to meet new writers and connect with people I’ve known for awhile. I’m always amazed at how gracious everyone is, and what a great time we all have.

If you’re anywhere near Columbus, Mississippi, you should stop by and check it out.