Posts Tagged ‘Southern Literary Festival’

Where Have I Been?

It’s been just over a month since my last post to this blog. Before that, I had been on a roll, posting frequently about creative writing pedagogy issues and my new textbook. So what happened?

Life — Okay, Spring Break

That’s right. Once every semester, even professors get to take a break. Often this is productive time spent grading and cleaning house. Occasionally, we actually take trips to keep up with our students! This year, I took a college trip with our 16-year-old junior in high school (hard to believe it!), Aidan. For Spring Break, we left the South and headed to snowy Ohio to visit Oberlin and Cleveland Institute of Music. We also took a morning to drive through the Cuyahoga River Valley National Park, see some beautiful, if chilly, waterfalls, and learn the correct pronunciation of the river, which sounded more like “Cayoga.” We had a great time, learned a lot about these schools and his ideas about college, and enjoyed the snow (the locals seemed to be getting pretty tired of it by now).


Book — Editing the MS

Shortly after Spring Break (thank goodness), I got the manuscript of A Writer’s Craft back from the copy editor. This meant going back over it with a fine-toothed comb, double-checking every comma and word. We didn’t always agree, and I will admit that she found some of my stray commas, though I corrected some of hers. The copy editor is in India, so there were some differences between American and International British usage we had to iron out, and a few places where she simply didn’t understand what I was trying to say (I doubt the copy editor is a creative writing instructor). And there were a few places where she called me out on potentially confusing or just awkward phrasings (not too many), and where her suggestions weren’t much better but did cause me to find another way to put it. And there were a few places where I simply put my foot down and said that’s what I really meant, darn it (or something to that affect). Then there was the task of checking the bibliography formatting and other mind-numbing but essential tasks. All in all, I’m glad to have had another set of eyes on the manuscript. It will be better for it. The final page proofs come back soon, and then I can create the index, which I’ve already been working on.

Southern Literary Festival

Yes, though I had a bad cold or possibly bronchitis, I hopped in the car and drove to Ft. Smith, Arkansas, for this annual meeting. I’m co-executive director and we’re desperately looking for a host for 2019, or I might have skipped it this time. The W won in the literary magazine category, but I couldn’t convince any of our students to take the 7-hour drive with me. The festival was great—I heard some great readings, had a chance to catch up with colleagues, and met some students from other schools—but I was still working on my edits and trying to recover from my cold, so it would have been a good year to stay home. Yet duty called.


Did I mention this traditional Spring Break activity? It didn’t happen this year, thanks to our travel, so after SLF, I had a fair amount of catching up to do. I’m now caught up to the point that all the grading I have left was turned in less than a week ago, so I’m pretty happy. Just in time to get serious about taxes…

Those are just a few of the things that kept me away from blogging, but I hope to get back to more entertaining or informative posts very soon!

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.

Southern Literary Festival 2014

Each year in the South, a group of undergraduate English majors and their professors descends on one member institution for a weekend of readings, workshops, and fun. This year, the host school for the Southern Literary Festival was Ole Miss (University of Mississippi to the rest of the country), who did a fabulous job arranging panels and entertainment. It didn’t hurt that the festival ran concurrently with the Conference on the Book, an annual event hosted in Oxford, so there were quite a few other authors milling around and some of the events were combined. So, for instance, we all got to witness the live Thacker Mountain Radio program as it was recorded for public radio, there was a Blues performance, and of course there was a chance to wander around the Square and browse in Square Books. SLF panels included readings by Cheryl St. Germain, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Chiyuma Elliott and Dereck Harriell, Megan Abbott, and of course the student prize winners, whose work was published in the annual literary magazine of the festival. Students also had master classes in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and playwriting, and there was an open mic where anyone could read.

Started in 1937 at Blue Mountain College by a group of professors, which included Robert Penn Warren from LSU, the festival has a long and storied history. It has fostered many young writers, including the young Flannery O’Connor, and has featured many greats of Southern Literature. Each year is a little different, tailored to the strengths and talents of the host institution. Yet each year features the literary contest, readings, and workshop or master class experiences. It is a great asset for Southern schools, and membership is open. So if you are associated with a college or university in or near the South, contact me or the current host for more information.

The opportunity to hear good writing and have conversations about craft, and the chance to interact with students and teachers from schools around the region is an incredible experience. Though I know well how hard it can be to pry yourself loose from the demands of the current semester, those days spent in a festival like this can be incredibly invigorating and rewarding. If you don’t live in or near the South, search for opportunities like this in your area. Then make the time to attend. You won’t regret it.

Mississippi Philological Association

Today is the annual meeting of the Mississippi Philological Association, a scholarly organization focused on language and literature, which also encourages creative panels. I’ll be reading a few poems at one of the sessions, Kim is reading a paper, and MUW has three students who will be reading fiction, poetry, and an essay. It was one of the first regional conferences I attended when I first was hired at the W in 1994, and it’s been a good group to be associated with. The journal of the association, POMPA, publishes creative and scholarly work side by side, and for quite awhile there was a very active group of poets who attended every year. Recently, I’ve been more involved in the Southern Literary Festival, so I haven’t always made the annual conference. But this year, it’s just down the road in Starkville, so I’m glad to be able to participate again. The association has also begun accepting more papers and writing from undergraduate students, so Kim and I really wanted to encourage our students to take part. I’m looking forward to hearing them read, and seeing them take advantage this opportunity for young writers and scholars to branch out from their own universities and see what other students and their faculty are doing.

Catching Up

This is just a quick post to apologize to any regular readers this site may have had… The past few weeks have been very busy, and I haven’t found time to post. What have I been up to? On March 29-31 I took a couple of W students to Lipscomb University in Nashville for the Southern Literary Festival — great time, and a great festival open to all schools in the South who become members of the association. Saw a great play, written by Tina Howe and performed by Lipscomb students and local professional actors, heard readings, and went to talks about writing. I also got to enjoy some of the student 10-minute play readings performed on Saturday morning. The weather was great, too!Hot Cross Buns

The following weekend was Easter, of course, so we did the traditional hot cross buns and eggs, sandwiched between grading essays and exams. In real life, I’m an English professor, which means if I travel for a weekend, I get way behind in my classes. Worth it, but you pay…

In the midst of all of that, I’ve been working all year on our web team to redesign the MUW website. We are working with a consulting firm and have had lots of communication back and forth about what we want for a design. I’m also on the search committee for webmaster, and I’ve learned more about Joomla! than I care to know.

And I’ve been working on my class on Belgian and European poetry, drama, and art for the study abroad trip I’ll be leading to Brussels this summer. We covered Symbolism, Dada, and Surrealism last week as an introduction. There are one or two details of that trip yet to be worked out.

The other major activity has been to help my mother sell the Motorette — but that story will have to be a separate post soon. It’s been a fun and interesting ride.

Two more weeks of classes and one week of exams, then things ought to settle down for a little while. In the meantime, I’ll try to work in a post or two! Maybe a recipe or two or some thoughts on poetry.