The 20th Annual Alabama Writers Symposium



Photo: Alabama Writers Symposium Facebook Page

Hailed as the literary capital of Alabama, Monroeville has produced several notable authors. It would only make sense then, for Monroeville to be the home of one of Alabama’s most celebrated literary events, the Alabama Writers Symposium.

Every spring, writers, scholars and readers gather in Monroeville for two days of readings and discussions, as well as workshops. In addition, two awards are presented during the Alabama Writers Symposium: the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer and the Eugene Current-Garcia Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Literary Scholar. Last year, an additional award was added: the Truman Capote Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of Literary Non-Fiction or the Short Story. These awards are made possible by a grant graciously provided by George F. Landegger.

This years Symposium is extra special, as this will be the 20th Annual Alabama Writers Symposium. The Alabama Writers Symposium is hosted by the Monroeville branch of Coastal Alabama Community College, formerly known as Alabama Southern Community College.

The 20th Annual Alabama Writers Symposium will kick off on Thursday April 20th, with a memoir writing workshop at Coastal Alabama, taught by writer, poet, editor, and teacher, Jennifer Horne. Discussions will begin at noon on Thursday, in the courthouse of the Monroe County Heritage Museum. Featured speakers for Thursday will be: Jacqueline Trimble, Nancy Anderson, the Alabama Bicentennial Panel, Brad Watson and Kirk Curnutt.

On Thursday evening, a dinner and awards presentation will be held at the Monroeville Community house. Michael Knight will accept the Truman Capote Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of Literary Non-Fiction or the Short Story. Knight resides in Knoxville, Tennessee and is employed by the University of Tennessee, where he teaches creative writing. Knight is the author of a book of novellas entitled “The Holiday Season”; two novels, “Divining Rod” and “The Typist”; and three short-story collections, ” Dogfight and Other Stories,” “Goodnight, Nobody,” and his latest work, “Eveningland.”

This years Eugene Current-Garcia Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Literary Scholar will be given to Alabama Writers Symposium veteran Kirk Curnutt. Curnutt is an English professor, as well as a chair of English at Troy University. Curnutt has penned fourteen books, three of which are novels. His scholarly works mainly center around Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. In addition to teaching and writing, Curnutt is also the co-director of the Alabama Book Festival.

Finally, The Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer will be presented to Brad Watson. Watson is an alumnus of the University of Alabama. He has written several books including: ‘The Heaven of Mercury,” “The Last Days of the Dog-men,” “Aliens in the Prime of their Lives,” and “Miss Jane.” All of his works have either been nominated for, or have received awards. Watson currently teaches creative writing at The University of Wyoming.

On Friday morning, attendees will gather back at Coastal Alabama, where featured speakers will resume discussions. Friday morning keynote speakers will include: Jeanie Thompson, Kyes Stevens with the Alabama Prison Arts + Educaon Project, Frye Gaillard, Michael Knight, Deidra Suwanee Dees with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Don Noble and Jennifer Horne.

A luncheon will then be held at the Monroeville Community House, with guest speaker Yaa Gyasi. Gyasi’s debut novel “Homegoing” made quite an impression in the literary world, even being nominated as one of Oprah’s Ten Favorite Books of 2016 as well as one of Time’s Top Ten Novels of 2016. A book signing will follow the luncheon.

Don’t worry, the party doesnt end there! Guests will return to Coastal Alabama for afternoon discussions and book signings. Those speaking Friday afternoon include Miriam Davis, Jaime Primak Sullivan, T.K. Thorne, Sue Brannan Walker and Katherine Clark.

Tickets were previously sold for the awards gala and luncheon, as well as an optional ticket to the opening night presentation of the play “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Friday night. However, all discussions on Thursday and Friday are free and open to the public. There will also be several opportunities throughout the weekend to meet these distinguished writers and speakers and to have books signed as well.

The 20th Annual Alabama Writers Symposium is sponsored by George Landegger, the Alabama State Council of the Arts, and the Alabama Humanities Foundation. In addition to Coastal Alabama Community College, the Symposium is hosted by The Monroe County Heritage Museum, The Association of College English Teachers of Alabama, as well as The Alabama Writers Forum.

Have you attended a past Symposium? Are you attending this years 20th Annual Alabama Writers Symposium? What events and/or speakers are you looking forward to most? I am looking forward to ALL of it, but I am most excited to attend the memoir writing workshop, the awards gala and to hear Yaa Gyasi speak at the luncheon on Friday. We hope to see you there! [Read more…]

How Fiction Makes A New Language Come Alive

fiction and new language
fiction and new language
Fictional stories can open up a world of new language opportunities.

Learning a new language is never easy, and doing it successfully calls for all of the assistance you can find. In addition to structured educational programs and self-directed language tools, you can also get a lot of help from fictional material composed in the language you’re trying to learn. Here’s a basic guide to the process.

How Fiction Makes A New Language Come Alive: Written Fiction

Reading fiction in your target language is a time-honored way to strengthen your vocabulary and your understanding of grammar. (Obviously, it’s not so great for practicing your pronunciation.) While you will get more mileage out of works that you pick based on your own interests, do not overlook the fact that there are likely a lot of learning aids available for classic authors. Reading Jules Verne to help you learn French, for instance, is such a common tactic that you will have no difficulty finding study guides on the subject.

When it comes to selecting works that fit your degree of familiarity with the language, you may find fiction written for children and young adults to be extremely useful. These works typically feature limited vocabularies and (somewhat) simple grammar plus illustrations to guide you through each page, which is perfect for someone picking up a second language. A lot of youth-oriented fiction is even written with the goal of improving language skills; it is easier to learn a new language when you have the author on your side!

No matter what novel or story you pick to read in a new language, keep an eye out for one potential pitfall: Not all authors are interested in writing accessible fiction. Hit the Internet and read up on a writer’s stylistic reputation before you commit to reading his or her work. José Saramago, for example, is probably the most famous modern writer of Portuguese fiction, but he uses a very idiosyncratic and challenging style.

How Fiction Makes A New Language Come Alive: Movies and TV

Movies and TV shows can be excellent language learning tools, but you have to approach them with the right methodology to get the most out of them. The biggest step you need to take is to concentrate on actively studying rather than passively viewing. This is the secret to unlocking visual fiction’s true learning potential.

Unless you are already quite fluent, do not challenge yourself to digest a movie or show you have never seen before. It’s not “cheating” to start with a subtitled version! Begin with the translated work, and watch it a few times to familiarize yourself with the characters and the plot. This will give you important context clues when you take a closer look at the language being spoken.

When you are ready to actively study the actor’s lines, do not try to chew through an entire show or movie at once. Pick out dialog-heavy scenes that are relatively self-contained and no more than 10 minutes long. Study these excerpts in detail, focusing on each line. You will want to break individual lines down when you start studying; by the time you have mastered a scene, you should be able to repeat the actor’s lines and thoroughly understand their meanings.

How Fiction Makes A New Language Come Alive: The Challenge Round–Online Video

As your language skills grow, sometimes you are ready for a genuine challenge. Thanks to the Internet, you have a great way to test your ability to comprehend a spoken language without any “safety net.” You can do this by trolling YouTube (and other video sharing sites) for videos made by native speakers of your target language.

Bear in mind that this is more of a test of your past accomplishments than a way to build your skills! In most cases, you won’t find a direct translation of the video you are watching, and even if you do there is no guarantee as to its accuracy. Trying to grasp online video is a real acid test, but it is also a superb way to fully immerse yourself in a language the way it is actually spoken.

While consuming fictional works won’t suffice to teach you a language on its own, it can be a powerful adjunct to a more structured course of linguistic study. By seeing and / or hearing the language in action, you will get a realistic view of how it operates. This helps you master tricky concepts, understand dialect and idiom, and develop a more vibrant, natural sense of the language as you learn it.

About the Author

Laurent Huc is the director of Nacel International, a language learning experience that incorporates educational travel for complete immersion. To learn more about the exciting and effective programs offered by Nacel, visit


Charles J. Shields: A Remembrance of Harper Lee

Charles J. Shields

Charles Shields BiographyCharles J. Shields: Background

Charles J. Shields is a literary biographer and the author of the newly revised, MockingbirdA Portrait of Harper Lee, from Scout to Go Set a Watchman (Holt 2016). The earlier version in 2006 became a  New York Times bestseller. He and his wife reside in Charlottesville, Virginia. Upon request, Charles Shields gifted us with the following remembrance of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird:

Charles J. Shields: A Remembrance of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

I grew up in what was called a planned community for ex-GIs and their families, south of Chicago, after World War II. As a child, I thought everyone’s father had been in the military and now worked in the city. All of my classmates were white. This wasn’t just happenstance: it was the result of the community developers, banks, and local realtors discouraging minority families from purchasing homes in that town. The first Black American to shake my hand was the father of a friend on the track team who was giving me a lift home, my junior year of high school. I feel ashamed remembering how strange that moment felt.

When I visit high schools today, I’m struck by a paradox. Racism is not the issue it once was because the students are so diverse; and yet, To Kill a Mockingbird is all the more teachable. Now, the novel inspires discussions in the classroom about differences of religion, politics, and lifestyle, and understanding “the other.” The book has become a springboard for confronting forms of discrimination and hatred most readers wouldn’t have considered fifty years ago.

To Kill a Mockingbird will continue to be read however because of a trait it has in common with all great works of literature. All enduring works of literature read you, the reader, as you read the book. What I mean is, important books and stories probe your convictions; silently, they ask what you stand for. You can leave a piece of escapism on an airplane seat and not think about it again because, well, you’ve never been a movie star; you don’t belong to a secret, criminal organization. But when you read To Kill a Mockingbird, you have to wonder, even if just subconsciously: Would I do what Atticus did? Would you risk being vilified for sticking to your principles? What if people said, as they hint to Atticus, that your children are suffering because of what you’re doing? What if a family member, such as Atticus’s brother Jack, argued it was wrong-headed and foolish of you to ruin your reputation over a forgettable incident with a predictable outcome?

That’s why it’s good to reread To Kill a Mockingbird now and againbecause the story reminds you that it isn’t easy to be a better human being, but it’s important for all of us to try.

You can learn more about Charles J. Shields at  You can share your own remembrance of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird by emailing us at


The Fan Art of To Kill a Mockingbird

The Fan Art of To Kill a Mockingbird

Fan Art of To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird is 54 years old.  That’s fifty-four years of influence that began with the novel, and perhaps grew to a pique with the movie, and was recently given a new face in the sequel (really an earlier draft of Mockingbird) that is Go Set a Watchman.  Through the years, both professional artists and novice fans have put art to story that Harper Lee brought to the world, and some of that artwork is simply exquisite.  As a writer and as a lover of good art, I could spend hours perusing the great pieces that came from the muse of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  It’s amazing how great art inspires, well, great art– thus, this blog post highlighting just some of the Fan Art of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Of course, this site is partial to Harper Lee, and because our store is based in her hometown, anything remotely Mockingbird captures our attention.  We’d like to share a few of the cool fan art and commercial art pieces we’ve discovered of late.  In that vein, we’ve created this online gallery– take a few minutes to check out some of the great artwork fans and students of one of the greatest American novels have created based on their love for the exceptional story that is beloved not only here in Monroeville, but around the world.  (Note that not every piece in the Gallery is fan art, we’ve added a few interesting professional pieces as well…) Of course, we’d love to add to the pieces in the slideshow below, so let us know if you stumble upon great  Mockingbird or Watchman fan art.


Fan Art of  To Kill a Mockingbird: Slideshow

Fan Art of To Kill a Mockingbird:  Open Call — Let us share your work!

Did you enjoy the Mockingbird  Fan Art slideshow?  Let us know your favorite pieces of Mockingbird-related artwork and why they appeal to you.  If you’re an artist, we’d love to share your  Mockingbird  art with our readers.  Please email to tell about your To Kill a Mockingbird  inspired creations.

Truman Capote Other Voices Book Club

Other Voices, Other Rooms

Other Voices, Other RoomsLast month, the Friends of the Library, the Monroe County Museum, and Monroeville Main Street collaborated efforts and started a book club that honors another one of our local literary heroes, Truman Capote. Going forward, this club will meet once a month at the Monroe County Museum and discuss a Capote book over a “brown bag” lunch.

This month’s meeting will be held this Thursday, March 10th at noon. The book being discussed this month is “Other Voices, Other Rooms.” Alabama Southern Community College librarian Alisha Linam  will be leading the discussion. She will also be announcing the line-up for this year’s Alabama Writer’s Symposium, which will be held March 31st-April 1st.

About Other Voices, Other Rooms

Published in 1984 and written in Southern Gothic style, Other Voices, Other Rooms was Capote’s first published novel. It has been said that Capote was drawn to write this book after taking a walk in the woods while living here in Monroeville, Alabama.  Other Voices, Other Rooms is a coming-of-age story and features themes of searching, alienation, and self-acceptance. It has also been said that this novel is in a way, an autobiography of Capote himself.

If you are local, and you are interested in attending this months book club, don’t forget to bring your own lunch! Come prepared to discuss this wonderful book with other book lovers. If you have questions or need more information, please call Anne Marie Bryan at 251-362-0433 or Nathan Carter at 251-575-7433.

We hope to see you there!

The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono

The Man Who Planted Trees

As a bookstore owner you have hundreds of books come through your shoppe weekly if not daily and it becomes a little overwhelming at times. You never get a chance to read even a small percentage of those no matter how many you hold back for your reading pile (or in my case room). The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono is just one of those books that crossed my desk and I put aside for an easy read. Sometimes as readers we need those small stories to read between longer novels while we are still digesting the material from them. The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono is an amazing story of how one man can change the world for the better and a story you won’t mind reading time and time again.

The copy of The Man Who Planted Trees that came across my desk was a used copy that got picked up at an estate sale and once I finally got around to reading it I was touched by the simplicity of the story. Sometimes life seems to go by so fast that we don’t realize the simple things around us. I am not trying to be a softy or even persuade anyone to buy a copy, but what I do wish is that you will watch the video below of the story and let me know what you think. We only have a few copies here at the shoppe. If you would like one and you see that we are out, please call us at 251-494-9356.


The Man Who Planted Trees from Max Urai on Vimeo.