April 14, 2011 The Fellowship of Southern Writers convenes today in Chattanooga for the sixteenth biennial Conference on Southern Literature. For three days, more than fifty members of the Fellowship will gather before a packed audience to read from their work and talk on panels about topics as diverse as writers’ efforts to preserve the Southern environment, the role of mentors in a writer’s development, and Southern politics and Southern literature. They will also give out some coveted awards, and four writers with Tennessee connections are among the honorees this week.
Today poet Jeff Daniel Marion, currently the University of Tennessee Libraries’ Jack E. Reese Writer in Residence and formerly the poet in residence at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, will receive the James Still Award for Writing About the Appalachian South. “Since I knew James Still and was friends with him, this award is very deeply humbling,” Marion says. “I recall Mr. Still saying to me once that Daudet has the uncanny ability to pierce your heart with a single line. At the time my thought was that Still’s stories and poems have the same ability. And what’s a story or poem worth, if it doesn’t pierce the heart and linger long afterward?”
On Friday, poet Kate Daniels, a professor in the creative-writing program at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, will receive the Hanes Award for poetry. Daniels’s poems have twice been featured in Best American Poetry (in 2008 and 2010), and she has published scholarly books on Robert Bly and Muriel Rukeyser in addition to three other volumes of poetry: The White Wave, The Niobe Poems, and Four Testimonies. To read a sample poem from Daniels’s newest collection, click here.
Also tomorrow, Scott Russell Sanders, a Memphis native who is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at Indiana University, where he taught from 1971 to 2009, and who has published widely in both fiction and nonfiction, will be awarded the Cecil Woods Award for Nonfiction: “Previous winners have set a high literary standard, and I am honored to be thought worthy of joining their company,” he tells Chapter 16. “Receiving the award from the the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and in my native state of Tennessee, brings me extra pleasure. Although I spent only my first five years in Memphis before my father’s work carried us north, during my childhood we traveled every summer to see kinfolk in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, and I have continued to feel a strong connection to the South.”
Minton Sparks, a Nashville-based novelist and performance poet, will receive a special honor on Saturday: the first-ever Fellowship Award for the Spoken Word: “Up until recently I’ve felt like I was engaged in a genre-less pursuit,” she says of her spoken-word recordings and performances, which combine poetry, music, and even, at times, buckdancing. “Though I thoroughly enjoy that, I am completely surprised and honored to be recognized by the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Dorothy Allison made me want to tell stories in the first place with her book, Bastard Out of Carolina, so to be presented the award by her brave brilliant self is thrilling.”
Chapter 16‘s Maria Browning is attending this year’s Conference on Southern Literature. Be sure to check the News & Notes page each morning for her reports from Chattanooga.