Posts Tagged ‘Welty Symposium’

A Fitting Finale to #AWP18

What a great experience this AWP was! And what a fine ending. This evening, I went to an inspiring poetry reading, presented by the Academy of American Poets, featuring Layli Long Soldier, Khaled Matawa, and Mark Doty. In contrast to last night, there was no tension in the room and the poems were allowed to be political. Long Soldier read her response to the apology to native peoples signed into law under Barack Obama, after a preface where she recounted how it had been written and signed, but not read aloud and without any native leaders present. Matawa read a new series of poems about the migration crisis from the Middle East and Africa, and Doty read poems about his neighborhood  in New York with many references to the political situation in the U.S. The poems were not strident, yet they beautifully expressed the complexity of our time.

The most fitting ending, though, was that as I was coming out of the reading, I happened to check my email and saw that Tar River Poetry had sent the page proofs for a poem that will appear in this spring’s issue.

So the conference began with a poem accepted and published at The Ekphrastic Review and ended with news of another publication. I know “Birdsongs” had been accepted, but hadn’t been notified yet which issue it would appear in, so this was excellent news.

Between these two bookends, AWP was another great experience. This year, we had several students from our low-res MFA program in attendance, including one alumna, Tammie Rice, who helped organize our book table and got us some great swag (thank you again Tammie!). I got to talk to a ton of people, including several contributors to Ponder Review and Poetry South, as well as several teachers interested in A Writer’s Craft and someone at New Pages who might blog about it. I handed out lots of flyers and even a few exam copies I had on hand. I also got to reconnect with writer friends and make new friends at the book fair, and we had a great time at the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium panel, celebrating our 30th year. As always, it was incredibly busy, exhausting, and rewarding!

See you next year in Portland, where hopefully more great things will happen, though I doubt I’ll be able to match the experience of publishing a poem on the first and last day of the conference again!

Isle of Caprice

2-24-700x460This morning, I ran across an interesting article about the Isle of Caprice, which included this postcard and 5 historic pictures from the island, which was cut in half by a hurricane and eventually washed away entirely. I was glad to hear confirmation of the story I first heard from Christopher Mauer, when he came to The Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium to talk about Walter Inglis Anderson. That story led to the poem, “Isle of Caprice,” which started my on my journey into the life and art of Walter Anderson. Though I knew of Anderson’s art when I heard the story, the image of the artist drinking fresh water from a pipe rising out of the waves of the gulf inspired me to explore his artistic vision further and led to my book, Barrier Island Suite.

Here are a couple of interesting facts, I learned from the article today:

The original name of the island was Dog Keys. Walter Anderson speaks of Dog Keys Pass in his logs (I titled another poem after it), and I’d never been able to identify which island or keys it referred to. Now I know that he was referring to the place where Isle of Caprice was located.

The article also confirms that name of the island during its heyday as a resort as Isle of Caprice — some have questioned whether it was Isle of Capris or some other spelling. I’m glad to know that detail is historically accurate!

The article also confirms what I’d always suspected, that the island was just outside of federal jurisdiction, so it was legal during prohibition to sell alcohol there. Unfortunately, the resort only existed for about 3 years before the Great Depression hit and tourism was dramatically reduced.

For more details and especially to see photographs of the island that once thrived off the coast of Mississippi, go to Only In Your State

Book Review: Before He Finds Her

Before He Finds Her: A NovelBefore He Finds Her: A Novel by Michael Kardos

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An engrossing read, Kardos’s second novel captivates both as a thriller and as a character study that asks deep questions about love, family, truth, and the will to change. As anyone who has read The Three-Day Affair might expect, Kardos weaves a complex and excellently crafted narrative that alternates between the the days leading up to the murder of Allie Miller, of which her husband Ramsay is accused and the present where Ramsay is believed to be in hiding and still a threat to his 17-year-old daughter, Meg, even as she goes looking for the truth. Both narratives are full of suspense and revelations that alter our understanding of the crime and the characters involved. Kardos keeps us guessing throughout, and the payoff is satisfying both in terms of what we learn of the crime and what we may learn about ourselves, reflected in the story’s mirror. It is a book you won’t want to put down, even after you’ve read the final page.

View all my reviews

Another thought on Grad School Funding: Ask Your Boss!

This past week, I spent at #AWP15, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ annual convention. There, I got lots of valuable information and had a great time running into writers I know from the Welty Symposium or from AWPs past. More on that in a later post, I hope! What I wanted to mention before I get to any of the fun stuff, was a bit of advice I gleaned about paying for grad school.

This came from a panel on Low-Residency MFA programs like our new one, where the directors were lamenting the fact that most low-res programs can’t offer the levels of financial aid that full residency programs offer. They don’t have as many scholarships, as a general rule, and the practicalities of having distance-learning students work as teaching assistants makes this less common (though we’re hoping to do this with at least one or two people next year).

One advantage that Low-Residency students have, though, is that they usually are employed! This means they can pay more towards their education right away, and it means that they have a resource most typical students don’t have: an employer!

Several low-residency directors noted that their students receive financial aid from their employers, and that these employers are not always in writing-related fields. One director told of a young woman who worked in a warehouse (if I remember correctly), and who got a scholarship simply because the company wanted to promote education. It’s one fringe benefit that many companies have, either out of altruism or because the company wants to keep employees who are driven to improve themselves, regardless of whether the skills have an immediate application to their current jobs.

As an aside, I had an interesting, somewhat related conversation with one of our alums yesterday. She gave up a career in teaching English (after deciding teaching 8th graders wasn’t her calling!) and went into business. Her skills as an English major were invaluable to her throughout a distinguished career in marketing and management. I’m reminded of this because a company might be able to use your skills developed in grad work in English, writing, or another field, in ways that aren’t immediately apparent. More bosses understand this than you might imagine (and some may have been in your shoes at one point in their lives).

So, when looking for financial aid, if you are employed and especially if you can stay with the company while you’re in school, don’t overlook the closest source of funding you may have: your boss! Ask politely whether there is a policy about continuing education for employees. The company may not fund your full degree (though it might), but it could make it a little easier for you with a partial scholarship. Be open with your employer about your plans and your needs in a low-residency program (or in a nearby full residency program, if that is your plan). At the very least, your boss may be able to work with you with flex-time or other options that can make it more manageable to juggle graduate school and a job.

And don’t think your employer has to be in a related field or that your job in the company has to be a high-end position in order for you to be eligible. It doesn’t hurt to ask! I would suggest having a plan to combine work and study, so that if there is any resistance to the idea, you can show how your educational goals will not get in the way of you doing your job. Most employers will be supportive, and some, maybe more than you think, will actively support your goals with some funding.

New Year’s Resolution: A New Book of Poems

This title is a little misleading. Last year one of my resolutions was to finish a book of poems on the Mississippi artist Walter Anderson. As is so often the case, it didn’t quite work out the way I planned. It worked out better.

While I didn’t finish the manuscript of “Barrier Island Suite,” I did make some good progress on planning and writing some of the poems that would go in the added sections, on researching the biographical details I would need to complete those sections, on making initial contacts with the family, and finally on working out an agreement with my publisher, Texas Review Press. Paul Ruffin and I started talking about the project in November. He asked to see the manuscript, and in January, he wrote to say he was interested in publishing the collection in 2016 and was on board with the additions that I had outlined in my proposal. Now I’m hard at work and making good progress on those poems I’ve been working on for the past year, and I need to get back in touch with Anderson’s family to work out the details of the book, since we’d like to use some of the artwork, along with the poems.

For those who don’t know Walter Anderson, he lived in the first half of the 20th century in Ocean Springs, MS. He’s best known for his watercolors of the flora and fauna on the Mississippi gulf barrier islands, though he also did numerous drawings and sketches, sculptures, block prints, and three major murals — two that were in public spaces (the Ocean Springs high school and community center) and one that was very private (in his cottage) but is now on display at the Walter Anderson Museum in Ocean Springs. He also wrote logs of his travels to the islands and elsewhere, some of which were published as The Horn Island Logs of Walter Inglis Anderson.

I originally began these poems as a single poem, inspired by a talk given by Christopher Mauer at the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium. Mauer had written Fortune’s Favorite Child, a biography of Anderson, and it won our Welty Prize. I knew a little of Anderson’s work and was taken by his story, his bouts with mental illness and his many long visits to the islands that inspired him and seemed to help him manage his mental state. That poem led to a couple more on the barrier islands themselves, and I thought I ought to write some more. So I got a copy of the logs and started reading (while on sabbatical). A couple more turned into twenty, and I knew I had something, but wasn’t sure if it was a chapbook, a section of a book, or a book on its own.

Gradually over the years, I came to the decision that these poems were too different from my others to be part of a collection, and that they were a little too much for a chapbook, but not quite enough for a full-length collection. My initial idea for the book had been to focus only on the time on the barrier islands, not on the time on shore, but as I’ve considered expanding it, I’ve realized that some of the shore life needed to be included. So that is where I’m working now. Those poems will take different forms than the island sections, giving the suite a more varied tempo, and they will provide contrast and increase the tension in the work as a whole. At least that is the goal.

It’s exciting to return to this material, and it’s exciting to have something a little more concrete than a New Year’s resolution to keep me going.

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.

High Gear with Bright Spots

Have you noticed it’s that time of the semester again? It’s been a month since my last blog post, and that’s because I’ve been busy! It happens every semester that school takes over, but this time it seems to have happened earlier than most. I’ll blame it on SACS. For those not in education (in the South), that’s the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and it’s time they evaluate Mississippi University for Women for accreditation. That means lots of people on campus have to scramble to tell them who we are and what we do (and to get our ducks in a row before we have to do that!), and I’m one of those scrambling, since I head one subcommittee and serve on another. A few more committees have cropped up, and then there are the usual classes — it’s midterm time and grading is in full swing.

But there are brighter moments, even if they’ve added to the stress. For one, the family all gathered in Albuquerque last month to celebrate my niece’s wedding with a lovely ceremony out in the desert with a view of the Sandia Mountains behind. Great food and even dancing were enjoyed by all. Aidan proved he has rhythm, and his parents even took a step or two on the dance floor. And we got to spend a few days with Rudy, Michael, Elizabeth and the whole Lucero clan, which is always great fun. Aidan, Rudy, and I took a hike one day up a trail into the mountains a ways. On that hike we even saw a tarantula cross our path. That weekend was a much appreciated break from the daily routine of school.

Another Bright Spot in the fall is always the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium. It keeps me hopping, organizing authors (every plane ticket has been reserved and I have al their other travel plans), buying books (making my last orders for the book table this week), planning food and beverages for our lunches, dinners, and receptions (have met with food services once, more meetings to follow, I’m sure), writing publicity (our press release is out, the poster is printed, and the program is almost ready to go press). Things are looking pretty good, though there’s always the nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something (usually true, though usually I remember in time). It’ll be a great group and a wonderful weekend when it arrives in just over two weeks. I hope to make a few posts on this year’s authors before the time comes!

So my apologies to my blog readers that my attention has been elsewhere. It’s part of the cycle, maybe a bit more intense this time around, but I hope to be able to post more frequently again soon!