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…]

Kerry Madden on Harper Lee’s Writing Process

typewriter writing process

Kerry Madden’s captivating, concise biography of To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee explores many aspects of the writer’s life—from her childhood in a small, poor Southern town to her friendship with fellow writer Truman Capote. 

Perhaps one of the most interesting periods covered in the biography, entitled Up Close: Harper Lee, is the time Lee spent in New York writing her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

A Struggling Writer in the Big Apple

Harper Lee
A Photo of Harper Lee by Aaron White Photography

Lee left law school in 1949 to move to the city and pursue her dream of being a writer. Her childhood friend, Truman Capote, was already known in literary circles because of the success of his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms.

Capote introduced Lee to his friends and helped her find her way in this new, strange place. She worked as an airline reservation agent and wrote diligently in the evenings, carefully honing her craft. Madden writes about the sparse lifestyle that Lee maintained in order to live in a literary cosmopolitan:

Nelle couldn’t afford a fancy desk in her tiny apartment, so she used a door laid across two sawhorses as a writing table. She lived frugally, saving every penny for rent, groceries, cigarettes, pencils, paper, and typewriter ribbons so she wouldn’t have to ask her family for money.

Lee was a perfectionist, and according to Madden, she often destroyed drafts of her writing because she was unhappy with the quality of her craft. She toiled late into each night until she felt she had a few quality short stories to show her literary agent, Maurice Crain. Crain liked what he saw but encouraged Lee to try her hand at writing a novel.

The Writing Process: Write, Revise, Repeat

After a generous Christmas gift from some close friends in the city, Lee was able to take a year off work to devote all of her time to writing a novel. Madden writes:

With the freedom to write full-time, Nelle began dropping off batches of pages at Crain’s office. Crain gave her notes, which she incorporated into Go Set a Watchman. He did not like the title, so she changed it to Atticus. When Crain felt it was ready, he sent the manuscript to the publisher J. B. Lippincott. The Lippincott editors were interested.

To Kill a Mockingbird writing process
To Kill a Mockingbird

The editor assigned to Harper Lee, Tay Hohoff, liked Atticus but knew it still needed major revisions. In an interview, Hohoff explained: “At [that] point, [it was] more a series of anecdotes than a fully conceived novel.” Madden writes that Hohoff developed a close relationship with Lee, and the two worked for two and half years on the novel. Hohoff would offer notes, encouragement and feedback, and Lee would revise and rewrite.

A Masterpiece out the Window

Lee patiently worked, but the slow toil got the better of her one evening. She felt an overwhelming pressure to succeed—she was racked with doubt and fear that she would disappoint everyone who had helped and encouraged her. Madden describes the incident:

In a fit of rage, she tore the last sheet out of the typewriter, opened her window, and threw the entire manuscript out into the snow, watching the pages swirl through the air like giant snowflakes. Immediately, Nelle panicked and called Tay to tell her what she’d done—how two years of work was getting soaked with New York snow.

Calmly, Lee walked outside, gathered the pages, and hung them up to dry. Those damp pages would go on to become a beloved, critically acclaimed novel—one that has sold over 40 million copies, is taught in schools across the country and was adapted into a beloved, Academy Award-winning film.

Can you sympathize with Harper Lee’s arduous struggle in writing To Kill a Mockingbird? Have you ever felt like giving up a difficult task, but persevered in the face of fear and doubt? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you.

Suffering from Writer’s Block? Get Writing Inspiration from the Greats.

Shoppe News: Calling All Writers

writers on writingRecently we announced that we’re accepting book reviews from you, our loyal customers. If you review a book that is sold on our website, and if it meets certain criteria, we might publish your writing!

Writing can be a wonderful hobby—whether you blog, write short stories or reflect in your daily journal. Writing can help you sort out your thoughts, discover new ideas and better understand yourself and the world. Writing can also be difficult. It can be a lot of work, and often sitting down to get started is the hardest part.

It can help to draw motivation and inspiration from the greats. Here are five famous writers on writing—they discuss their craft, their process and their daily struggles and victories.

Writers on Writing

E.B. White

In an interview with the Paris Review, E.B. White, author of Elements of Style and Charlotte’s Web, discussed the conditions in which he writes. He advises that ideal conditions will never happen, and if you wait for them, you’ll be waiting a long time. Instead of waiting around for your writing to happen, you should spend that time actually writing.

I never listen to music when I’m working. I haven’t that kind of attentiveness, and I wouldn’t like it at all. On the other hand, I’m able to work fairly well among ordinary distractions. My house has a living room that is at the core of everything that goes on: it is a passageway to the cellar, to the kitchen, to the closet where the phone lives. There’s a lot of traffic. But it’s a bright, cheerful room, and I often use it as a room to write in, despite the carnival that is going on all around me. A girl pushing a carpet sweeper under my typewriter table has never annoyed me particularly, nor has it taken my mind off my work, unless the girl was unusually pretty or unusually clumsy. My wife, thank God, has never been protective of me, as, I am told, the wives of some writers are. In consequence, the members of my household never pay the slightest attention to my being a writing man—they make all the noise and fuss they want to. If I get sick of it, I have places I can go. A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami told the Paris Review about the strict routine he adheres to when he’s writing a novel. A healthy routine of work and exercise, and the act of repetition, helps him work long hours and enter a deeper state of mind.

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.

Jodi Picoult

In interview by Noah Charney, Jodi Picoult, author of My Sister’s Keeper, discussed her morning routine. Like Murakami, Picoult is aided by repetition and predictability, as well as getting out and talking to people.

I get up at 5 a.m. and walk for three miles with a friend (I do it for the gossip). I come home, shower, get my daughter off to school, make coffee and a bowl of yogurt with banana, and head up to my office.

Picoult also shared her views on writer’s block, which she believes doesn’t actually exist:

I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it—when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

Anne Lamott

In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott advises writers to break through the barriers and fears standing in their way by writing a terrible first draft (she uses more colorful language). She writes that it’s okay to mess up, make mistakes, and trudge forward and experiment:

Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived…Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation… Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.

Stephen King

Stephen King On WritingIn his book On Writing, Stephen King likens the creative process to the state of sleep. He suggests that both writing and sleep are long periods of stillness where our minds are free to roam.

In both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives. And as your mind and body grow accustomed to a certain amount of sleep each night — six hours, seven, maybe the recommended eight — so can you train your waking mind to sleep creatively and work out the vividly imagined waking dreams which are successful works of fiction.

Are you a writer? What process or routine helps you with your writing? If you love to read and write, consider submitting a book review of one of the books sold on our website!


5 Writers Who Studied Law

Up Close Harper Lee Kerry Madden

Writers and lawyers have a lot in common—they work long hours, they solve complex problems, and they have to read and write, a lot. It’s not surprising that many famous writers started out as lawyers or considered pursuing a career in the legal industry.

Here are five writers who studied law:

Harper Lee

Up Close with Harper Lee by Kerry Madden, law
Up Close with Harper Lee by Kerry Madden

Harper Lee spent her freshman year at Huntingdon College and then transferred to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa to study law. Both her father and her sister were lawyers, and she planned on following in their footsteps. She spent a semester in Oxford falling in love with England and British literature, and experienced a change of heart shortly before finishing her degree. According to Kerry Madden in her biography, Up Close: Harper Lee, “After her tenure in England, she began her last year at the University of Alabama, but on the verge of graduation with a law degree, Nelle knew in her heart she did not want to be a lawyer.”

After making what was “one of the most difficult decisions of her life,” Lee moved to New York to become a writer and went on to write the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. In 2008 she received an honorary law degree from the Alabama Bar Association for creating the character of Atticus Finch, who personified “the exemplary lawyer in serving the legal needs of the poor.”

Washington Irving

Before there were law schools, the legal profession was an apprenticeship system. Washington Irving studied under Judge Josiah Ogden Hoffman in New York City, and passed the bar when he was 23 years old. According to Irving himself, he barely squeaked by with passing marks. His passion was for writing, and he went on to write Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, among others. He developed a reputation as a man of letters, but he also served as an ambassador to Spain and helped to promote international copyright.

John Grisham

This one’s probably not much of a surprise. John Grisham went to the University of Mississippi School of Law and graduated in 1983. He worked as a criminal attorney and also served as a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives. He published his first novel, A Time to Kill, in 1989. His first bestseller, The Firm, came out in 1991, after which he decided to retire from law and devote his time to writing. Today, he has sold over 275 million books worldwide.

Scott Turow

One L by Scott Turow
One L by Scott Turow

Scott Turow literally wrote the book on what it’s like to be a first-year law student. He wrote the novel One L about his experiences as a student at Harvard in 1977—a book that is still widely read by current and future law students every year. He has also written nine fiction novels and sold over 30 millions books worldwide, including Presumed Innocent. He continues to write and also remains a practicing attorney with an impressive career.

Henry Fielding

Henry Fielding studied law for three years before he started practicing in 1740. He served as Justice of the Peace in both Westminster and Middlesex, as well a Chief Magistrate in London. He created a biweekly paper called The Covent Garden Journal, and, along with his half-brother, created what some consider to be London’s first police force—the Bow Street Runners. He also worked to reform the justice system and the conditions of prisons. Amidst all this, his most famous novel, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, was published in 1749.

Do you know of any writers who became lawyers or perhaps vice versa? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you.


Writers who Publish in their Late 20s and Early 30s

Harper Lee
Harper Lee, young writers
A Photo of Harper Lee by Aaron White Photography

In 1949, Harper Lee moved to New York City to pursue her dream of being a writer. She worked as an airline reservation agent to pay the bills, and she toiled for over ten years, writing short stories and what would become two novels. In 1957, she finished Go Set a Watchman—she was 31 years old. To Kill a Mockingbird was published three years later, when she was 34.

The late 20s and early 30s seem to be a common time for writers to finally publish, or publish their breakthrough or most famous work. Though many writers have published younger, and many writers have published far later in life (some have even started writing in retirement, it’s never too late to start!), the ages between 25-35 seem a magical time for writers. This is the time when they’ve gained some life experience, yet they still maintain the drive and optimism necessary to commit to writing.

Here are 9 other writers who published in their late 20s/early 30s:

Douglas Adams

Born in 1952, Douglas Adams moved to London after graduating from St. John’s College in Cambridge. He was determined to make it as a television and radio writer, and at 26 years old, he did when The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy started as a BBC radio comedy in 1978. He later converted the show into a series of books, which went on to become a television series, a computer game, a play, comic books and a feature film. Adams went on to write other novels and even some episodes of Dr. Who.

Stephen King

Stephen King was born in 1947 in Portland, Maine. His first published novel was Carrie, though he had written three others before it. It came out in 1974, when he was 26 years old. He’d written and published poems and short stories before then, and he’d also collected piles of rejection letters. He famously threw the manuscript of Carrie in the trash after starting it, but his wife Tabitha noticed and pulled it out. He wrote the story on a portable typewriter, but was convinced it was a loser. It wasn’t. He received $2,500 as an advanced for the book, and from his paperback rights later earned $400,000. The novel helped to solidify his career as a writer. (Source: Daily Mail.)

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899 in the Chicago suburbs. After serving as an ambulance driver in World War I, he went on to live in Paris and publish his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, at the age of 27. He continued to publish six more novels, six short story collections, and two nonfiction works in his lifetime, and more were published posthumously.

terrible literary couples gatsby
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Scott Fitzgerald

Another member of the “Lost Generation,” Francis Scott Key (F. Scott) Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He published his most famous work, The Great Gatsby, in 1925 when he was 29 years old. He’d already published two novels before then: This Side of Paradise (1920) and  The Beautiful and Damned (1922).

The Bronte Sisters

The Brontes were a family of writers. Born in 1818, Emily Bronte only published one novel in her lifetime—Wuthering Heights. She was 29 years old and wrote under the pen name Ellis Bell. Her older sister Charlotte wrote her most famous novel, Jane Eyre, when she was 31. The youngest Bronte, Anne, was 27 when she published her first novel, Agnes Grey. Talent must have run in the family! The sisters sent their manuscripts in together, and London publishers read them as a group.

J.K. Rowling

One of the most famous writers of the modern age, Joanne “Jo” Rowling was born in 1965 in Yate, Gloucestershire. One day, while stuck on a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990, an idea popped in her head—a boy discovers he’s a wizard and goes to a school of magic. The floodgates opened. Unfortunately she didn’t have a pen, as ideas kept flowing into her head. These ideas would later become Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which was published in 1997 when Rowling was just about to turn 32.

Going Home in Sharp Objects
Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects

Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, was born in 1971 in Kansas City, Missouri. She studied English and journalism and initially wanted to be a police reporter. Instead, after receiving her Master’s degree in journalism, she went on freelance at the U.S. News & World Report before working as a feature writer for Entertainment Weekly. In 2006, when Flynn was 35, her first novel—Sharp Objects—was published. Two of her novels have been adapted to film and a third will be adapted into a one-hour serialized television drama.

Writers can come from any background and publish at any age. Who’s your favorite author and what’s her story? Let us know!