Posts Tagged ‘Welty Symposium’

Spring Break

Sweet AlmondIt’s spring in Mississippi, and at The W, we’re just coming off of Spring Break. Students may have been to the coast for spring break revelries or may have gone home to visit families. Some faculty may have done that, too, but many of us have been using our break from teaching class to catch up on grading or get ahead on projects that are hard to get to while classes are in session.

I’ve been working through my 38 faculty evaluations and am nearly finished — I didn’t quite reach my goal, but have only a couple more regular faculty to look at and then the dual-enrollment faculty, so the end is in sight.

For those who wonder what this is like: each faculty member sends me their self-evaluation of what they’ve done in teaching, scholarship, and university service for the past calendar year, then I review their course evaluations, syllabi, etc. and write a narrative on all three areas. For adjunct and part-time faculty this is primarily focused on teaching, but for tenure-track faculty scholarship and service are also important. This will be the basis of our conferences, where we discuss the past year and each faculty’s plans and goals for the future.

I’ve also been working on the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium, and now have a theme — “But Here I am, and Here I’ll Stay”: Claiming Our Place in the South” from “Why I Live at the P.O.” — and five confirmed authors with more invitations out and the start of contract talks for our keynote. I can’t name names until all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, but the five who’ve committed so far are Mary Miller, Cary Holladay, Ann Fisher-Wirth, T. J. Anderson III, and Ashely M. Jones.

I’ve also been able to spend a little time outside working in the yard or just doing schoolwork on the back porch, so have been able to enjoy our sweet almond, quince, and other plants that are in bloom. And of course I cuaght up a little on my grading, though there’s always more of that to do! And I started my advising calendar for grad students. Advising will keep me busy for the next several weeks, and in the meantime, our son Aidan comes home on his spring break, and I’ll be getting ready for #AWP19. More on that soon…

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.

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.