The 20th Annual Alabama Writers Symposium

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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…]

The 19th Annual Alabama Writers Symposium

2016 Alabama Writers Symposium
2016 Alabama Writers Symposium
2016 Alabama Writers Symposium

It is almost time for the Annual Alabama Writers Symposium, the literary event held in the literary capital of Alabama. The Alabama Writers Symposium was started by the Alabama Center for Literary Arts and is sponsored and hosted by Alabama Southern Community College. This year will be the 19th year that the event will be held. The dates  are March 31st – April 1st. Each year there brings a new theme, and this year’s theme is The Elephant in the Room.

2016 Guests/Speakers

There are some familiar faces returning for this years Alabama Writers Symposium, along with a few new ones. They will be leading discussion sessions, and the Harper Lee and Eugene Current Garcia Winners will speak at their awards gala. The lineup includes:

  • E.O. Wilson, the 2016 Harper Lee award winner
  • Greg Neri, author of Tru and Nelle
  • Kim Cross
  • Wayne Flynt, author and historian
  • Frye Gaillard, the 2016 Eugene Current-Garcia winner
  • Nancy Anderson
  • Chervis Isom
  • William Cobb
  • Kirk Curnutt
  • Dan Puckett
  • Ben Raines
  • Marianne Moates, author of Truman Capote’s Southern Years
  • Jennifer Horne
  • Don Noble
  • PowerLines Poetry
  • Artisans from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians
  • Songwriter CJ Watson

What To Expect This Year:

If you’re an Alabama Writers Symposium veteran, you may notice that things are just a little bit different this year. For one thing, the event normally spans over three days but this year everything will take place over only two days. There is also a new lady in charge, ASCC librarian Alisha Linam. However, even though the time frame is a little shorter, there will still be plenty of authors and scholars to see, and plenty of discussions and sessions to attend. There will be sessions held on Thursday and Friday. There will be an Awards Gala honoring the Harper Lee and Eugene-Current Garcia award winners, E.O. Wilson and Frye Gaillard. E.O. Wilson will also be speaking at the awards gala. There will also be discussion sessions with the award winners, as well as a fish fry luncheon on Friday. For more information or questions, you can visit the ASCC website, www.ascc.edu, or you can call or email Alisha Linam at (251) 575-8271 or alinam@ascc.edu.

What are your thoughts on the speakers? Have you heard of or read anything by any of them? Will you be attending this years symposium? We hope to see some of you there!

E.O. Wilson to Receive Harper Lee Award

E.O. Wilson
E.O. Wilson
“Plos wilson” by Jim Harrison – PLoS. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons –

Born June 10, 1929, in Birmingham, AL, E.O. Wilson spent most of his childhood in Washington D.C. and the areas surrounding Mobile, AL.  An unsettling milestone for the child who would become a world-renown scientist, E.O. was blinded in one eye during a fishing accident. His love of the outdoors kept him fishing for several hours after the ordeal and—not wanting to stop fishing–he never sought treatment.  Within a few months, the lens in his eye had to be removed, and he was prompted by the 20/10 vision left in his remaining eye to hone in on, “little things.”  This may have been the beginning of his interest in insects.

As a young adult, Wilson earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from the University of Alabama, and went on to Harvard University, where he completed his Ph.D.  He is currently a Professor Emeritus at Harvard University.

E.O. Wilson: American Scientist

Today, an American entomologist best known for his work in myrmecology– the study of ants– E.O. Wilson has been labeled with monikers including, “father of sociobiology” and “father of biodiversity” that celebrate his significant scientific career.    Some of his credits include penning the theory of island biogeography, along with Robert MacArthur, a mathematical ecologist, and creating the framework for Stephen Hubbell’s unified neutral theory of biodiversity.  Wilson also coined the term “scientific humanism,” and has propelled the public discussion concerning the relationship between science and religion.  E.O. Wilson also has a deep interest in microbiology and has played a key role in modern conversation efforts.

E.O. Wilson: Books and Publications

In 1971, he penned The Insect Societies and in 1975, he published Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. 1978 saw the publication of On Human Nature.  Wilson also co-authored Genes, Mind and Culture with Charles Lumsden before his initial Pulitzer Prize success of The Ants, with Bert Holldobler.  Wilson also published the autobiographical Diversity of Life in 1992, and Naturalist in 1994.  In 1998, E.O. Wilson published The Unity of Knowledge.  Since then, he has published an additional 13 books.

E.O. Wilson: Awards

Wilson has twice won Pulitzer Prizes—first for his work On Human Nature in 1979, and again for The Ants in 1991.  Three books authored by E.O. Wilson have ranked on the New York Times Best Seller List: The Social Conquest of Earth, Letters to a Young Scientist, and The Meaning of Human Existence.

E.O. Wilson is the founder of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, sponsor of the PEN/ E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.  In addition to his Pulitzer Prize recognition, E.O. Wilson has received the Newcomb Cleveland Prize, the Crafoord Prize, the Leidy Award, the Nierenberg Prize, the Carl Sagan Award for Public understanding of Science, and the International Prize for Biology, among others.

PBS recently aired, “Of Ants and Men,” a documentary based on Wilson’s work; Wilson has also been featured on “Discovering Alabama.”

E.O. Wilson will be honored on March 31, 2016 at the Alabama Writer’s Symposium in Monroeville

with the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year, based on his lifelong contribution to writing.  Wilson notes that he is honored to be recognized for the award, and that while he is primarily a scientist, he has tried to “honor (the State of Alabama) in works of both fiction and non-fiction.”

The 18th Annual Writers Symposium – Closing Brunch with Ravi Howard

Ravi Howard

The final event held at The Writers Symposium is the closing brunch. Symposium attendees come together to eat one last time and to hear one more speaker before they conclude their weekend. Ol’ Curiosities and Book Shoppe owner Spencer and manager Kristen attended the brunch. Both were eager to hear the featured speaker, because they both enjoyed his first novel.

jacquelineOnce again, Dr. Melinda Byrd-Murphy gave the welcome, and thanked several of the many people who contributed to this year’s Symposium. She also introduced those present at the main table, including ASCC president Dr. Reginald Sykes, the Rev. Dr. Ywell Cunningham, Monroe County Museum Director Stephanie Rogers, Jacqueline Trimble, Chrissy Nettles and keynote speaker Ravi Howard.

The invocation was given by the Rev. Dr. Cunningham, then guests enjoyed a buffet-style brunch, which was catered by the same local vendor that catered the previous meals. Jacqueline Trimble then gave another outstanding introductory speech, this time introducing the final keynote speaker of the weekend, Mr. Ravi Howard.

Author Ravi Howard

Ravi Howard
Ravi Howard

Ravi Howard is an Alabama native who currently resides in Mobile, Alabama. Howard has written two novels, Like Trees, Walking and Driving the King. He has also recorded commentary for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. His written work has appeared in The New York Times, Massachusetts Review and Callaloo. He made an appearance in the Ted Koppel documentary, The Last Lynching, on the Discovery Channel. Howard has received numerous fellowships and awards, including the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence in 2008 for his novel Like Trees, Walking. Furthermore, his television production work has appeared on HBO, ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and NFL Network. He received a 2004 Sports Emmy for his work on HBO’s Inside the NFL.

Howard talked briefly about his work, and then read an excerpt from his latest book, Driving with the King. Driving with the King is a fictional memoir of Nat King Cole and his driver and childhood friend Nat Weary, set in the 1950s. The story follows them from Los Angeles back to their hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, where they return to finish some business, and also where another soon to be famous person, Rosa Parks, was causing a commotion… and change.

When Howard finished his reading, Dr. Byrd-Murphy presented Howard with a framed “Monroeville: The Literary Capital of Alabama” picture as a token of appreciation for his participation in the Symposium. This concluded the Symposium, but afterwards Ravi Howard was available to meet attendees and sign books. Spencer and Kristen met the graciously humble Howard, and got signed copies of both Like Trees, Walking and Driving with the King.

Did you attend the closing brunch? Have you read either of Ravi Howard’s novels? Leave us a comment below!

18th Annual Writers Symposium – The Alabama Readers Theatre

Writers Symposium Library

On Friday evening of the 18th Annual Writers Symposium attendees were again given an option as to which event to attend, as two events were being held simultaneously.

At the Old Courthouse building, Monroeville’s annual production of the play To Kill a Mockingbird, which is based off of the novel of the same name by Monroeville native Harper Lee, was held. The production is very popular and has been performed every year for 26 years. It takes place on the courthouse lawn for Act 1 and inside the courthouse for Act 2.

The other event that took place was a reading from two books by The Alabama Readers Theatre, held at the Monroe County Public Library.

Alabama Readers Theatre

Interesting fact: Until 1984, this building was the LaSalle Hotel and Motel. Gregory Peck stayed here while preparing for his role as Atticus Finch in the movie adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Ol’ Curiosities and Book Shoppe owners Spencer and Ann attended the TKAM play, because they believed this may be one of their last opportunities to see it. OCBS manager Kristen attended the Readers Theatre production, primarily because she had never been to anything like it, and was extremely interested in it.

The Alabama Readers Theatre

The Readers Theatre was held on the second floor of the Monroe County Public Library. The Alabama Readers Theatre is comprised of the following individuals: Don Noble, Jennifer Horne, Bill Cobb, Loretta Cobb, Ed Williams, and Julia Williams.

Don Noble gave the welcome, introduced the readers and gave a brief history of the first book they would be reading from, as well as who would be reading what parts. First, they read excerpts from the book Addie Pray by Joe David Brown. This book was later adapted into a movie, Paper Moon.

Addie Pray is a novel set in Alabama in the Great Depression era. The story centers around a young girl, Addie, as she travels across the South with a con man, Long Boy Pray, who may or may not be her father. The book is narrated by young Addie, and has said to be a female version of Huckleberry Finn. Addie Pray is a funny, yet deep book. The film version varied from the book in many ways. First, the title was changed from Addie Pray to Paper Moon. While choosing music for the film, the director heard the song It’s Only a Paper Moon (by Billy Rose, Yip Harburg, and Harold Arlen) and decided to try Paper Moon as an alternative title. It stuck, and they later added a scene in the movie to justify the title change. Also, a lot of events were combined to make the movie flow faster and the majority of the ending of the book was dropped from the movie. The location was also changed; the book takes place mostly in Alabama, while the film takes place in Kansas and Missouri.

The readers then read The Seamstress, which is a short story by Suzanne Hudson. It was previously published, but most recently republished in a collection of stories titled All the Way to Memphis. The Seamstress tells the tale of Celeste, a seamstress who makes Mobile Mardi Gras gowns for upper class women. While literally working at their feet, she endures insults and being talked down to. However, Celeste will later have her revenge on one of the snobbish ladies who is downright mean to her because of class.

Where Addie Pray was more humorous in a dark way, The Seamstress was laugh out loud funny. Both book and story make the reader think deeper. While only excerpts from Addie Pray were read, what was read was intriguing enough to make Kristen want to read the rest of the book. However, out of the two, The Seamstress was her favorite. What she enjoyed most though, were not just the stories, but the overall presentation of them .

Did you attend the Readers Theatre or the To Kill a Mockingbird production? What did you think? We’d love to hear from you!

18th Annual Writers Symposium – Awards Luncheon

Writers Symposium

Awards Luncheon

One of the key events of the Writers Symposium is the Awards Luncheon that is held on the Friday of the Symposium. It is at this luncheon that one scholar is presented with the Eugene Current-Garcia Award and another writer and/or scholar is presented with the Harper Lee Award. This year’s luncheon was held at the Community House in Monroeville, Alabama and catered by a local vendor.

Welcome, Introduction and Presentation of the Eugene Current-Garcia Award

Guests were welcomed by Dr. Melinda Byrd-Murphy. Ms. Kay Lett, Director of Adult Education and Family Literacy at Alabama Southern Community College, gave the invocation. Guests were served lunch while Dr. Byrd-Murphy returned to the podium to give a description of the Clock Tower Bronze, which is presented annually to each Eugene Current-Garcia and Harper Lee award recipients. The Clock Tower Bronze was created by Frank Fleming. In addition to the Clock Tower Bronze, recipients also receive a $5,000 cash prize, which is funded by George F. Landegger.

Award LuncheonThe introduction of the award itself was given by Armand de Keyser. The Eugene Current-Garcia award recognizes a distinguished literary scholar of Alabama who excels in scholarly reflection and writing, specifically in regards to literary topics. The recipient is selected by the Association of College English Teachers of Alabama (ACETA), which is an organization that represents faculty from each of Alabama’s two and four-year, as well as doctoral, institutions.

Those eligible for the award are native Alabamians who have developed literary scholarship careers in Alabama or elsewhere; or those not born in Alabama but who have developed scholarly careers in Alabama; or those who briefly lived in Alabama and their literary scholarship primarily focused on Alabama writers and topics. Only living scholars are eligible.

Award LuncheonSteve Hubbard introduced the recipient of the 2015 Eugene Current-Garcia Award, Dr. Eric Sterling. Dr. Sterling earned his Ph.D. in English from Indiana University in 1992. Since that time, Dr. Sterling has been an instructor at Auburn University Montgomery. Only a few AUM faculty members have won both the Distinguished Teaching Professor Award and the Distinguished Research Professor Award, and Dr. Sterling is among them. Other awards he has received include being named AUM’s Alumni Professor last year, AUM’s Faculty Service Award, ACETA’s Calvert and Woodall award, and the Robert E. Hacke Scholar-Teacher Award granted by The College English Association. He also won the Amy and Eric Burger Award which is a national award for best essay on theatre.

Award LuncheonDr. Sterling has published four books, on topics including: Shakespeare and his contemporaries, seventeenth-century literature, ghettos during the Holocaust and Arthur Miller. He has published more than eighty articles that have appeared in literary journals and in essay collections that are published by university presses such as Oxford University Press.

Dr. Sterling has been the English department’s academic advisor for fifteen years—a position he thoroughly enjoys. He has also been director of the graduate program in liberal arts for six years.

Introduction and Presentation of the Harper Lee Award

Award LuncheonThe introduction of the Harper Lee Award was given by Jeanie Thompson. The Harper Lee Award observes the lifetime achievement of a writer who was either born in Alabama, or whose literary career was developed in Alabama. The recipient is selected by the Alabama Writer’s Forum, which is a statewide literary arts organization that was founded in honor of and stands committed to continuing Alabama’s strong literary heritage.

In order to be a recipient of this award, one must be a writer who is nationally known, and whose work has been recognized as outstanding by critics, publishers and editors alike. This can include publications in major magazines and literary journals, as well as books published with major houses or reputable smaller literary presses. Furthermore, the recipient should have received awards and honors from known experts in the literary arts field. To be eligible for consideration, one must be a native Alabamian whose literary career has developed in Alabama or somewhere else, or someone who is not originally from Alabama, but who has developed their literary careers in Alabama. Only living writers are eligible for this award.

Award LuncheonJacqueline Trimble gave a very detailed and in-depth introduction of the 2015 Harper Lee Award recipient— her friend, Hank Lazer. Hank Lazer was born and raised in California but came to Alabama in the 1970s. He met the woman who would later become his wife, and they raised their family in Alabama. Lazer remarked that pretty much all of his important writing and publishing has been done during the time he has lived in Alabama. Lazer has written 18 books of poetry, published through various presses.

In 2008 Lazer’s book Lyric & Spirit: Selected Essays, 1996-2008 was published by Omnidawn. Pages from these notebooks have been performed featuring soprano saxophonist Andrew Raffo Dewar at the University of Georgia and in Havana, Cuba. There are also features on these notebooks that appear in Talisman #42 and Plume #34.

Award LuncheonLazer, along with Charles Bernstein, edits the Modern and Contemporary Poetics Series for the University of Alabama Press. Lazer taught at The University of Alabama for thirty-seven years in various positions, including Professor of English, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs and the Executive Director of Creative Campus. Lazer retired from UA in January of 2014, but continues to teach there.

Did you attend the awards luncheon? Are you familiar with either Dr. Sterling’s or Hank Lazer’s work? We would love to hear from you in the comment section!