Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Vandy on a Roll

What’s new in Tennessee books—and at Chapter 16—on February 25, 2010

The MFA program at Vanderbilt University is on a roll. First, the November/December issue of Poets & Writers named the fledgling creative-writing program—only four years after its founding—one of the top twenty graduate programs in the country. Then, two weeks ago, Beth Bachmann, a poet who teaches in the program, learned she had won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award for her book, Temper. Now the Blues Foundation in Memphis has announced that Vandy nonfiction writer-in-residence Peter Guralnick will be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. And the PEN/Faulkner Foundation has named Lorraine Lopez, author of the story collection Homicide Survivors Picnic, one of five fiction finalists for 2010.

The PEN/Faulkner Award is a national prize for fiction and the largest peer-juried writing award in the country. Nominations—this year more nearly 350 of them—are made by U.S. publishers, and three writers named by the foundation serve as judges. The 2010 judges were Rilla Askew, Kyoko Mori, and Al Young, and they have included Lorraine Lopez in extremely good company: the four other finalists this year are Sherman Alexie, Barbara Kingsolver, Lorrie Moore, and Colson Whitehead. (It’s worth noting the other Tennessee connection in this list: Morgan Entrekin—president and publisher of Grove Press, which brought out Sherman Alexie’s War Dances—is a Nashville native.)

For Lopez, news of the nomination was stunning: “It feels like a wish I didn’t even know I was wishing has come true,” she tells Chapter 16. “I’m in a state of amazement that is both thrilling and strange. There are so many wonderful books that have come out the past year that I feel immense gratitude to the PEN/Faulkner judges for selecting my book along with work by writers I have long admired.” Ben Furnish, managing editor at BkMk, a small press associated with the University of Missouri-Kansas City, is equally thrilled: “I have had some time to calm down after a day or so. And I haven’t calmed down at all—I just get more euphoric!” Furnish says he’s not really surprised by the news, however: “Deep down, we knew this was a remarkable book. Lorraine deserves this recognition, and her reputation is only going to grow as more folks discover her exquisite blend of humor and heartache. It’s a great privilege in life to work with such a talent.”

The PEN/Faulkner Award winner will be announced on March 23. All five finalists will be honored on May 8 in a ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. In the meantime, click here to read Chapter 16‘s review of Homicide Survivors Picnic, and here to read a review of An Angle of Vision, the essay collection Lopez recently edited.

Writer-in-residence Peter Guralnick, another member of the Vanderbilt creative-writing faculty, learned late last week that he would by inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis on May 5. Guralnick is the author of acclaimed biographies on Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke and is considered an expert on the blues. In fact, three of his books—Feel Like Going Home: Portraits in Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll Searching for Robert Johnson: The Life and Legend of the “King of the Delta Blues Singers,” and Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom—have already been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame as “Classics of Blues Literature.” Guralnick himself will be inducted in the “non-performer” category. Other inductees this year are fellow non-performer Sonny Payne, host of the King Biscuit Time radio show, and artists Lonnie Brooks, Charles Musselwhite, and Bonnie Raitt.

Not surprisingly, poet Mark Jarman, director of Vanderbilt’s creative writing program, is proud of his department—and perfectly clear on the reasons for the river of awards now flowing its way: “The story of the creative writing program’s success is its talented faculty. We always knew that Beth Bachmann, Peter Guralnick, and Lorraine Lopez were first-rate writers, and the world at large is acknowledging this,” he tells Chapter 16, noting that in 2008 poet Rick Hilles won a Whiting Award, and Tony Earley‘s novel, The Blue Star, warranted front-page coverage in The New York Times Book Review the same year. “I am proud of my association with all of my colleagues, and of the role of the English faculty at Vanderbilt in bringing them here.”

More literary news from around the state:

~Harrogate writer and environmental activist Silas House reviews a new album inspired by the desire to end mountain-removal mining;

~The Boston Globe reviews the audiobook version of Bloodroot by Morristown novelist Amy Greene;

~Bloodroot makes The New York Times‘s “Editor’s Choice” list;

~Amy Greene talks with NPR’s Weekend Edition ;

~The Washington Examiner reviews Good Ol’ Girls, the musical written by Jill McCorkle and former Nashvillian Lee Smith, with songs by Matraca Berg and Marshall Chapman;

~in a YouTube video, novelist Lee Smith discusses with the Southern Environmental Law Center the importance of land and place to Southern writers;

~Time magazine names the hundred best novels of the twentieth century; Tennesseans (and former Tennesseans) James Agee, James Dickey, Cormac McCarthy, and Robert Penn Warren make the cut here;

~poet Cathy Smith Bowers, who is published by Iris Press in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was named poet laureate of North Carolina;

~Memphis writer Rebecca Skloot continues to rack up more media coverage for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; Chapter 16 keeps a running list of Skloot sightings here.

This week on the site, Maria Browning profiles Knoxville-born (and nationally renowned) poet Nikki Giovanni; Paul Griffith talks with physician and writer Abraham Verghese, whose first book is a memoir about his work with AIDS patients in Johnson City and who will be speaking in Nashville on February 26 and 27; Ed Tarkington celebrates his creative-writing professor, National Book Award winner Bob Shacochis, who will be speaking in Nashville on March 1; Lyda Phillips talks with three-time Newbery winner Gary Paulsen, who will be reading in Knoxville on March 2; and Michael Ray Taylor reviews yet another brilliant work of literary nonfiction emerging from Memphis: Molly Caldwell Crosby‘s Asleep. You won’t want to miss a single story.