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Welty Writers’ Symposium to feature international and Southern writers

The 23rd annual Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium will be held Oct. 20-22. All events are free and open to the public in Rent Auditorium of Whitfield Hall on the campus of Mississippi University for Women, thanks to support from The Robert M. Hearin Foundation. The theme of this year’s symposium is “Crossing Cultures in the South: ‘into the lovely room full of strangers,’” which is drawn on a quote from Welty’s story “The Bride of Innisfallen.” With this year’s theme, the symposium celebrates the role of international writers in Southern literature and the influence of other cultures on Southern writers.
The keynote session will begin, Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. with author Judith Oríz Cofer, who has published 12 books of essays, fiction, young adult fiction, and poetry, including “Reaching for the Mainland,” “The Latin Deli,” “A Love Story Beginning in Spanish,” and this year “Lessons from a Writer’s Life” and “If I Could Fly.” Cofer was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the United States at the age of four when her family came to Patterson, N.J. At the age of 15, she moved to Georgia, where she attended high school and college, and where she is now regents and Franklin professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. She was recently inducted into the Georgia Writers’ Hall of Fame and included in the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
A reception and book signing with all symposium authors will follow the keynote address. Books will be for sale throughout the symposium.
The symposium will resume at 9 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 21, with a reading by Latha Viswanathan, who was born in India and has worked there and in the Philippines, England, and Canada as a journalist and copywriter before coming to the United States. She currently lives and writes in Houston, Texas. Her debut collection of short stories, “Lingering Tide,” will be released in the U.S. and Canada in October. Her story, “Cool Wedding,” set in Houston and New Orleans, was selected for inclusion in “New Stories from the South.”
Nigerian-born novelist Sefi Atta follows. Atta has lived in Meridian since 1997. She is the author of two novels “Everything Good Will Come” and “Swallow,” as well as the short story collection “News from Home,” which received the 2009 NOMA Award for publishing in Africa. The jury described Atta as “One of the most original, imaginative and gifted fiction writers in Africa, and arguably the best of her generation.” She has also received the 2006 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa and the PEN International David TK Wong Prize.
Next is poet Randall Horton, who was born and raised in Birmingham, Ala.. Horton has published two books of poetry and is a recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize and an NEA Fellowship for Poetry in 2010. His debut collection, “The Definition of Place,” delves into his family history and the history of race relations in North and Central Alabama from the turn of the 20th Century through the Civil Right Era, while his second collection “The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street” explores his time in Washington, D.C., and his relationship to his father.
Rounding out the morning panel is Pauline Kaldas, who at the age of 8, emigrated from Egypt to the United States. As an adult, she returned to Egypt and taught at the University of Cairo for three years. She is associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Hollins University in Roanoke, Va., and is author of “Letters from Cairo,” “Egyptian Compass” and “The Time Between Places: Stories that Weave in and out of Egypt and America.” In addition, she has edited “Dinarzad’s Children: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Fiction.”
Following a break for lunch, symposium resumes at 1:30 p.m. with MUW’s Common Reading Initiative author, Joy Castro, whose debut memoir, “The Truth Book,” was named a Book Sense Notable Book by the American Booksellers Association and was adapted and excerpted in The New York Times Magazine. In it, Castro chronicles her adoption and childhood in a Jehovah’s Witness household, including the abuse she and her adoptive brother suffered at the hands of her stepfather, as well as the bitter custody battle she faced after fleeing to live with her adoptive father. Caroline Leavitt, writing for the Boston Globe, called the memoir “Gorgeous, disturbing, and grippingly alive,” adding “Castro’s book offers the kind of hope her background never supplied.”
The second author of the afternoon, Ann Fisher-Wirth, has published three books of poetry, “Carta Marina,” ”Five Terraces” and “Blue Window,” as well as three chapbooks “Walking Wu Wei’s Scroll,” “The Trinket Poems” and “Slide Shows.” She teaches poetry writing, literature and environmental studies at the University of Mississippi and has been a frequent traveler, first growing up in an Army household and later as university instructor in Belgium and a Fulbright scholar to Switzerland and Sweden. Booklist praised “Carta Marina” as a “breakthrough book from a significant poet.”
Michael Kardos, originally hails from the New Jersey shore and now is assistant professor and co-director of creative writing at Mississippi State University. He has recently published his collection of short stories, “One Last Good Time,” which Booklist praised as “An impressive debut…” for its “…surprise outcomes and absurdist touches.” His first novel, “The Three-day Affair,” is due out next year.
The afternoon session concludes with a Round-Table Discussion featuring all 12 authors. The theme of this year’s discussion is “The South as Cultural a Crossroads,” and the public is invited to come with questions about the authors’ works, the theme or the process of writing and publishing. This is a time for more informal discussion with the authors who have appeared at the symposium, as well as those who will be on the program on Saturday.
Friday evening, the annual Welty Gala fundraiser, with dinner and featured speaker Sebastian Junger, award-wining journalist and author of “The Perfect Storm,” “A Death in Belmont” and “Fire,” will be held. Contact the Office of Development at (662) 329-7148 for ticket information.
Saturday morning, Oct. 22, the symposium resumes at 9 a.m. with Michael F. Smith, a Mississippi native who has lived for extended periods abroad in France and Switzerland. He is associate professor of English at Mississippi University for Women. His debut novella “The Hands of Strangers,” set in Paris, portrays a young couple whose daughter has been abducted while on a school trip. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly notes: “In this anxiety-ridden little gem, Smith captures the essence of the helpless, making more of an impact than most novels three times its size.”
Next on the program is Southern literature scholar, Jean W. Cash, professor emerita of English at James Madison University. Dr. Cash will discuss her most recent biography, “Larry Brown: A Writer’s Life,” which has been awarded the 2011 Eudora Welty Prize. Dr. Cash met Larry Brown in 1989 just after he published his first collection of short stories, “Facing the Music,” and has followed Brown’s writing throughout his career. In 2008, she edited “Larry Brown and the Blue-Collar South” a collection of essays on Brown’s writing and life. She has also published the seminal biography, “Flannery O’Conner, A Life.”
Next is Mississippi University for Women alumna Minrose Gwin, author of the memoir, “Wishing for Snow,” which deals with her mother’s mental illness and her own struggles to come to terms with it, and the novel “The Queen of Palmyra,” which recounts the turbulent race relations of the fictional Mississippi town of Millwood. Publisher’s Weekly praised the novel as “affecting and disturbing,” noting it “shows the terror and tragedy in one divided Southern community whose residents have no interest in reconciling.”
The symposium concludes with John Jianqing Zheng, who was born in Wuhan, China, and is currently professor of English and chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages at Misssissippi Valley State University, where he edits “Valley Voices,” “Haiku Page” and “Poetry South.” He is the author of poetry collections “The Porch,” “Deltascape,” “Found Haiku” (from Eudora Welty’s “Delta Wedding,” for example), “minis” and “The Landscape of the Mind.” Zheng is also editor of and contributor to the scholarly collection “The Other World of Richard Wright: Perspectives on His Haiku.”
Each day of the symposium, doors will open half an hour before the morning sessions begin, and coffee will be served. Sessions will have a break at the midpoint, and the audience is free to come and go during the breaks or between readings, which last approximately 40 minutes, including time for questions. Books by all the authors will be on sale before and after each session, as well as during breaks; authors will be available for signing throughout the symposium. All sessions are free and open to the public, thanks to a generous grant from The Robert M. Hearin Foundation. Contact the Symposium Director, Dr. Kendall Dunkelberg, at Mississippi University for Women, College of Arts and Sciences, P. O. Box MUW-1634, Columbus MS 39701, (662) 329-7386. More information about the authors can also be found at the symposium website www.muw.edu/welty or on our groups on Goodreads and Facebook. For information on the Welty Gala, contact the Office of Development at (662) 329-7148.

Joy Castro

Michael Kardos

Pauline Kaldas

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