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…]

Black History Month: The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963

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thSince February is Black History Month, I thought it would be a great time to talk about the children’s book The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963. Written by Christopher Paul Curtis, this children’s historical fiction novel takes place, for the most part in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Story

The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 is the story of an African American family, the Watsons, who live in Flint, Michigan. The year is 1963, of course. The Watson family consists of Dad (Daniel), Mom (Wilona), Byron (older brother), Kenny (narrator) and Joey (younger sister). Byron starts getting into some trouble, so his parents decide the best course of action is to let him spend the summer with his maternal grandmother in Birmingham, Alabama. The Watson family then takes a road trip to Alabama. While there, the family witnesses a historically tragic event, based off of an actual event that the author writes into the story. The grandmother’s church is bombed, with children inside, who either die or end up injured as a result of the bombing. Kenny doesn’t understand what has happened. He thinks he is imagining things, because he has not encountered racism to this degree before. The parents want to avoid explaining the tragedy more than they absolutely have to, so they return home to Michigan with all three children.

The Reality

The actual event that Curtis used as basis for his fictional church bombing was the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing. This event took place during the Civil Rights Movement in September of 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama. An African American church was bombed by KKK members, resulting in the injury of twenty-two people, and the death of four little girls. This tragic event happened at a time when progress when seemingly being made in the South regarding racism. Schools were beginning to be integrated. Then this happened. However, as grim and tragic as it was, this bombing was a pivotal point in the Civil Rights Movement and would later be used as fuel to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 

While The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 does touch on a delicate subject, for the most part the book is humorous. This is a great middle grade children’s book because not only do they learn a bit of history, but it is presented in a way that is enjoyable as well.  Have you read The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963? What were your thoughts? Leave us a comment below!

 

Small Business Saturday Monroeville, Alabama Book Store

Books on Planes and Trains

Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday was held for the first time in 2010, as a sort of response from small business owners to big box retailers’ Black Friday and e-commerce stores’ Cyber Monday shopping experiences.  Small business owners needed a way to increase sales and to remind people that “shopping small” contributes greatly to the health of local economies.

Small Business Saturday: Growing Annually

While the idea was first trademarked and promoted by American Express, national recognition of Small Business Saturday goes well beyond the corporation that started the trend.

Today, small businesses and other organizations around the United States encourage customers to shop locally, and support their neighbors, bolster community, and interact face-to-face with the shop owners who give their cities and towns character by providing goods and services that encourage economic growth, tourism, and local partnerships, and teamwork.

We’re glad to be a part of the big movement that helps small businesses thrive.  Encourage your friends and neighbors to shop locally and don’t forget to come shop at Ol’ Curiosities and Book Shoppe in Monroeville, Alabama for small business Saturday!! We will be open from 9am to 6pm.

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Monroeville

Monroeville Courthouse Alabama
Monroeville Courthouse Alabama
Monroeville Courthouse

Kathy McCoy’s Monroeville: Literary Capital of Alabama brings the history of a small, Southern town to life through pictures. Monroeville is the hometown of famous writers Harper Lee and Truman Capote, among others. It’s also the inspiration for the town of Maycomb—the setting of Lee’s classic, beloved novel To Kill a Mockingbird. These and other factors contribute to Monroeville’s designation as “literary capital of Alabama.”

Ten little-known facts about Monroeville, the Literary Capital of Alabama

  1. Monroeville was originally called “Centerville,” but later changed its name to Monroeville after James Monroe.
  1. Cotton was an important crop in Monroeville, and continues to play a major role in its industry today—Monroe County is one of the top cotton producers in the state.
  1. In 1929, the courthouse was burned down by an arsonist who had been stealing morphine to feed his drug habit. The pharmacy was located on the first floor of the courthouse, and the arsonist burned down the entire building to hide his crimes.
  1. Dr. George Washington Carver visited Monroeville on February, 14 1934. He remains one of the most prominent visitors to ever speak at the courthouse.
  1. Harper Lee supposedly wrote part of To Kill a Mockingbird in the law office of A.C. Lee—a corner street building in which her father practiced as a title lawyer.
  1. Harper Lee’s father, A.C. Lee, served as editor and owner of The Monroe Journal, the local newspaper, from 1929 to 1947.
  1. In 1962, To Kill a Mockingbird director Robert Mulligan and star Gregory Peck walked through Monroeville to gather ideas for the film. They were accompanied by Harper Lee. When the group toured the courthouse, Mulligan stated: “The balcony is particularly beautiful, the prettiest I have ever seen. It’s a marvelous old courthouse, and we are going to get as close to it as we can.”
  1. Each May, the Monroe County Heritage Museum produces a theatrical version of To Kill a Mockingbird, featuring an amateur, all-local cast. The first half of the play is performed on the lawn of the courthouse, and the second half moves both cast and audience inside for the court scene.
  1. Truman Capote spent five years in Monroeville living with his cousins. His favorite cousin, Nancy Rumbly Faulk, “Sook,” would be one of the few stable forces in his life. She would serve as a model for several characters—kindly old ladies—in his books and short stories.

    Monroe County Jail
    Monroe County Jail
  1. The Old Monroe County Jail still stands today, located behind the courthouse. It was built sometime before 1880 and found its way into Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird—when Atticus stands watch over Tom Robinson one volatile evening.

Have you read Kathy McCoy’s Monroeville: Literary Capital of Alabama? What are your favorite fun facts about Monroeville? Let us know!

 

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!

Janice Law’s American Evita

Janice Law's American Evita

Janice Law's American EvitaJanice Law’s expert penning of American Evita: Lurleen Wallace is a unique look at two women, distanced in both time and geography. Law points out common threads in the lives of Eva Duarte, Argentinean radio actress turned politician and philanthropist, and Lurleen Burroughs Burns Wallace, dime-store clerk turned governor of Alabama.

Janice Law’s Story of Two Distinctly Different Women

While the histories of these two female forerunners are compelling in and of themselves, Law’s insights into what made their personalities and successes is even more intriguing. Janice Law points out that, by every standard, these were two women who should not have obtained the successes they did in a world dominated by male politicians. But their stories are transitions from unassuming and, by some accounts, poverty-stricken, to influential and prosperous.

American Evita: Lurleen Wallace details the trials and tribulations of both women, along with anecdotal information about the men they loved and supported—men that they catapulted to political success, while waiting, watching, and learning in the background. With these lessons came notoriety and love from the public. Each woman sought to make the world around her better once her influence was established. Each woman also made an impact within a limited amount of time, unaware of the fatal diagnoses that they would eventually face.

A Unique Vantage Point

Janice Law shows us that, beyond the wives of Juan Perón and George Wallace, Eva “Evita” Perón and Lurleen Wallace grew to be beloved public figures, independent of the men they married. They worked hard to help the poor and the under-advantaged with whom they identified so personally. Law also shows us how their husbands both kept the truth of their medical conditions from them, and how these women dealt with the pain and eventual death those secrets would cause.

Readers of American Evita: Lurleen Wallace by Janice Law are given a fascinating vantage point, not only of the political struggles that Eva and Lurleen found themselves reeling from, but also of the dynamics of their relationships with powerful men. While Eva Perón and Lurleen Wallace were extremely different in motivation and demeanor, they shared a similar plight as they made their ways to their own political pinnacles. Janice Law outlines these journeys.

Global Implications

American and international audiences will recognize the bias these women faced, and the great odds each surpassed. Their fights to the end were difficult and dictated too often by powerful men, yet each found her niche, her purpose, and her way of shaping the world.

Like other histories of Alabama and the American South, Janice Law’s American Evita: Lurleen Wallace is a must read, not only for those who enjoy well-told history, but for those enamored with stories of underdogs who overcome great odds. This book is an excellent read for those inspired by stories of strong women doing great things—feats of which their male counterparts might never have thought them capable.

Have you read Janice Law’s America Evita? Are you planning on reading it? Let us know!